It was just a few weeks before 2016 when I first joined the East Coast Product team, and as we enter 2017, I round out my first year as a part of the ECP family. As I start a new year, I like to reflect on the previous year and my accomplishments. East Coast Product is the first agency I have ever worked for, and it’s been a crazy ride. There are a few things that I wish I had known before joining an agency. Since hindsight is always 20-20, here are some pros and cons of working at an agency that could help someone in the same situation.
Constantly working with new and exciting projects
Working at an agency means you rarely work on the same project for a very long time. The work is dynamic. You rarely feel stuck in a slow project because by the time you do, you’re onto something else. You’ll work on a social good platform for three months, a year on a hotel industry project, six months on a marketing application, etc.
With a workload this varied, your day-to-day is kept interesting, challenging, and rewarding. There are constant opportunities to learn more about the business side of various industries, and how to work with a diverse set of people. Currently, we’re working on a small-business marketing platform, a construction safety application, and a prototype for the healthcare industry, just to name a few. Also, we have some awesome projects in the pipeline that we’re really excited about. There’s never a dull moment at ECP.
Opportunity to have an impact
When you’re assigned to a new project for a client, you have the opportunity to make an impact from day one. Usually, you’re working directly on the project with the client team leaders. At ECP, this direct engagement is crucial. We believe in constant connection and communication with clients instead of an over-the-wall approach to work. We insert our team members into client projects as if they were employees the client hired on their own. Slack has been a great, simple tool to create this seamless connection with clients. Designers and developers are in constant communication throughout the day. This connection with clients is key to giving our designers and developers the ability to truly understand the client's needs and have a significant impact on the project.
Because we’re still a young company (18 people as of the writing of this post), you get to have a ton of ownership over projects. There aren’t 100s of people here...yet, and you’re not assigned to the same task day in and day out. The work varies and there are always new challenges, as I mentioned previously. The difference between working at a small vs a large company is you can’t hide at a small company. When something happens, it’s on you. You have to figure it out. If you’re surrounded by great team members--that won’t be a problem. Everyone will have your back, and you’ll pull through together. Recently, we had a situation where we knew we needed more hands to get full testing coverage on an app. Everyone jumped on board to make sure testing was successful, even the business-side people! This comes from the company culture. Everyone at ECP believes in helping our clients above all else. It’s why we work here. We want to see our clients succeed, and we’ll bring in everyone we can on the team to make it happen.
Downtime in-between projects gives you an opportunity to learn something new
You only work on one project at a time and managers try to give you some cushion in between projects, so that provides a much needed break. I like to use my down time at ECP to try out new things I read or heard about, read a good book, write a blog post or two, or give a presentation at a meetup. For example, after publishing a blog post about WebdriverIO, a tool I’ve been using for testing for the past year (here’s the GitHub repo that goes along with it), I was invited to speak at a local meetup group of testers called Testival. This wasn’t my first public speaking experience, but it was going to be my first tech talk. I was pretty nervous to say the least! But, I wanted to nail this presentation. I used my nerves to motivate me to work hard on my talk and the presentation, and it paid off. During the presentation there were so many great questions and discussion that it lasted a whole 30 minutes longer than expected!
Agency life is cyclical
There are no constants when working at agencies. Peaks and valleys, feasts and famines - they’re real. In the off-season, there can be some serious downtime.
The rest of the company and I see this as a positive rather than a negative. This downtime can give you some space to hone your craft even further and try something new. Learning and growing is such an important aspect of working at ECP because we want to continue to serve companies in new and unique industries. During our downtime, we started building an Open Source project called Skeleton. We want to show people our process for building web apps, which we believe to be the most efficient way possible.
I think the key to this drawback of agency life is you need to be self-motivated. If you have a hard time coming up with projects for yourself and managing your time when you’re not assigned to client work, you’ll have difficulty working at an agency. That’s just the truth of it, and it’s something to consider when you’re making the decision to work at one.
Eventually you have to say goodbye to projects
It’s always hard to say goodbye to a project that you’ve been a part of for weeks or months. When you work at an agency, this is a frequent occurrence, and it can be bittersweet. I’ll readily admit that. That said, new projects will come along and you will have a whole new set of problems to figure out and solve. These new projects allow you to stay up-to-date on the latest technologies, improve your skills, and rise to the top of your field. Every client’s needs are different and every project will require you to think about new solutions.
There’s an inherent up-and-down nature to working at an agency. At East Coast Product, we don’t feel the need to be secretive about it. You should work for an agency because you love problem solving and varying your work. The hope is you find an agency that makes you feel valued as a member of the team and lets you grow your career in a way that feels authentic to you. Agency life may not be for everyone, but if you are looking for an opportunity to build a multitude of new and unique products, and, above all, push yourself to new limits, well I think it might be for you. I know it was the right move for me.