University of Southern California - B.A. in Broadcast Journalism
Michelle Asp's diverse career path has led her from bartender to comic book colorist to reality TV producer. While these stops may seem varied, she'll be the first to tell you that the diversity prepared her well for her current role as director of creative technology with United Future, a digital agency specializing in experiential-media products.
Working in a digital field that is experiencing a nearly constant evolution, Michelle is dedicated to pushing herself both creatively and technically — whether it's researching industry trends or jumping into new programming languages. It's the same fierce drive that led her to realize that in a male-dominated field sometimes a woman has to assert herself and proactively pursue opportunities and leadership roles. Sometimes being a woman means asking for what you want.
It might be a challenge, but Michelle is proof that it's certainly one worth taking.
Worry less about what you are saying and how you're coming across and more about hearing and understanding what is being said to you.
What inspired you to pursue a career in digital?
Even though I’ve had a crazy array of jobs and careers -- reality TV producer, bartender, restaurant owner, comic book colorist, journalist, motion graphics designer -- I’ve always been interested in the creative aspects of technology. Digital is a diverse field and my eclectic background has prepared me well for a career in this industry.
What do your day-to-day responsibilities include?
Every day is different, but on a typical day I will attend strategy meetings with account and creative teams, discuss a new project with a client, design a comp for a project pitch, work with a developer to solve a coding challenge and art direct designers.
What has been the project so far that you’ve been the most proud of?
The redesign of Holland America’s website was rewarding from a career perspective because of the favorable response it received and the boost in business it created for the client. But the project I’m most proud of is the website and content management system for The Resort at Pelican Hill. I managed the project from start to finish and did all of the design and programming on my own. It was incredibly challenging and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I learned new programming languages and spent many sleepless nights working through the user interface design. It is very rare to get the chance to work with a client who completely trusts you and will give you free reign creatively as well as technically, but once that relationship is established, it can be a very fulfilling experience. I’m proud of the project, but more than that, I’m proud of the connection I was able to make with the client.
What is one thing people might not realize about your job?
People who do what I do are expected to be problem solvers who can come up with solutions on the spot, whether it is a coding question, a strategy for a client or the best way to handle a design conundrum. What people don’t realize is that these quick answers are based on years of experience and hard work. I compare it to when a chef whips up a little something in the kitchen. That perfect dish she whipped up in five minutes actually took years to create.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
Technology is advancing at an exponential rate and the digital space is constantly evolving. A major part of my job is keeping up with these changes. At night, when the house is quiet and the kids are asleep, I have to keep myself from turning on the computer and doing just a little more research.
What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your job?
I think the obvious answer to this is something you’d hear from most working moms about not spending enough time with their family, but I work really hard to make whatever time I can spend with my kids count. I think I’ve found a good balance there. I’d have to say the biggest personal sacrifice I make is not allowing myself to pursue personal interests that aren’t related to my work or my family.
What is one lesson you've learned in your job that sticks with you?
This is actually a lesson I learned when I was a journalist that has applied to every job I’ve ever had: worry less about what you are saying and how you’re coming across and more about hearing and understanding what is being said to you. Be a good listener.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?
I think the biggest challenge for women in technology is moving into a leadership role. I don’t think there is a question about whether we can lead tech teams, but there seems to be an assumption that we don’t want to. In my own experience, I’ve seen male counterparts being promoted and pushed up the ladder into leadership roles almost automatically. There is a built-in assumption that men want to lead, but the same doesn’t apply to women. I don’t feel that we’re being held back; it is more that we aren’t being considered. It’s not impossible to move into these roles, but it is definitely a challenge. My best advice to women in technology who want to become leaders is to be proactive about asking for opportunities and to not assume you’re automatically going to move up the ladder.
What are some of the rules you live by?
Be kind. Be thankful. Keep learning.
What advice do you have for women who want to work in digital?
Things are changing and advancing so rapidly in digital that as needs arise, new jobs are constantly being created to fill the gaps. It is a very broad field and almost any background is beneficial. If you are interested in a career in digital, my advice is to pursue your interests and connect the dots later. Digital is the Wild West; it’s still defining itself. If a specific job doesn’t exist yet, that doesn’t mean it never will. You may even be the one who does it first.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
My father-in-law told me that once a person reaches a certain level of success in their chosen profession, it is their responsibility to become a mentor and teach others their craft. That is where I see myself in five years (or sooner) -- acting as a mentor and teacher.