Adam Polselli took his degree in Film and Video Studies to San Francisco and earned his position as a Design Director at Dropbox, a tech company obsessed with making work better for people. He shared his career wisdom in our quick Career Choice is a Life Choice Q&A Session this week.
KC: Thanks for joining me today, Adam! What is your official position?
AP: I’m a Design Director at Dropbox, headquartered in San Francisco.
KC: When you started your career, did you know this is what you wanted to do?
AP: I’ve always loved to tinker and figure out how things work. When my family got our first computer and an Internet connection, I quickly made a hobby out of figuring out how to design and build websites. By the time I was 14, I was getting hired to create websites for clients, and it remained a passion of mine throughout high school and college.
I ended up majoring in Film and Video Studies at the University of Michigan. By graduation, my gut was telling me to move to the Bay Area—where start-ups like Facebook, Twitter, and Google were becoming household names—and leverage my love of design. After a couple months, I landed my first start-up job, working as a web and graphic designer. I stayed for close to a year before getting an offer to work as a product designer at Rdio, a small music streaming start-up. I jumped at the chance to work as a product designer, which is a really fun role that encompasses everything from researching customer needs, to developing concepts, to designing and shipping software.
In 2012, I left Rdio to go to Dropbox, a fast-growing unicorn. After a couple years, I moved into a management role for the first time in my career, and since then I’ve been honing my leadership skills to help teams across Dropbox deliver everything from Dropbox Business, to a mobile doc scanner, to a full redesign of Dropbox’s web and mobile apps.
KC: I love the term “unicorn”! Not everyone gets an opportunity to include that in their resume. That said, what do you value most about your current role?
AP: I value being able to empower other product designers to do their best work. A large part of my job is to coach people through challenges like building relationships with their partners in product management and engineering, and figuring out how to collect the right data to make informed, strategic design decisions. I also love recognizing and amplifying my team’s ideas so that they can increase their influence in the organization and contribute to the company’s success. After six years at Dropbox, I get the most satisfaction out of seeing how much my directs have grown in their careers.
KC: And, what has been the biggest learning to date from your career path?
AP: I’ve learned that great designers can come from anywhere. The job requires a breadth of skills—data analysis, user research, using the scientific process, systems thinking, visual design, prototyping—and a lot of these skills can be picked up in a variety of fields, including psychology, engineering, human-computer interaction… even film studies! Because of this, the field of product design is filled with people of very diverse backgrounds. Many of us never even formally studied design. Being a good product designer simply starts with curiosity, empathy, and a knack for solving problems.
KC: And, lastly, when you are looking for new team members, what is your favorite interview question to ask candidates?
AP: “Why?” I’m always trying to gauge a candidate’s intentionality, whether in how they make design decisions or why they’ve chosen to consider a role at Dropbox. Strong candidates are always able to clearly articulate their rationale, which then helps me gauge their thoughtfulness, critical thinking, design process, and product intuition. Always be asking, “Why?”
Thanks so much for your time and sharing your story, Adam! It is inspiring to anyone looking for a career with a start-up! If you’re not one of the +500 million users trusting Dropbox, you can sign up for a free account today.