How This Girl Went From Design School to Working in STEM
STEM and art have more in common than you think. Just ask Kait Schoeck, the industrial designer of Microsoft Devices. She’s the reason why your Surface tablet (and the super-hyped new laptop) looks so amazing. She's also the perfect example of how STEM translates beyond traditional science, technology, engineering, and math careers. Below, find out out how the Seattle resident went from RISD to Microsoft below, plus get her advice for pursuing your passions—no matter how unexpected the result may be.
What were you like as a teen, and what do you wish you could tell your teenage self?
As a teen, I had a lot of energy and stayed very busy. When I was not on the court as the captain of my varsity volleyball team or spending time with friends and family, I loved tinkering in the art room. If I could tell my teen-self anything, it would be to trust my intuition completely. As an adult, it’s what guides me. The art room was where my intuition flowed and where I trusted it the most in high school. I enjoyed the projects and who I was in that room. It wasn’t until my art teacher pushed me to consider art school that I even considered my hobby could become a career.
How exactly did you get to where you are now, professionally? What was the step by step process?
Once I realized art school was my path, getting into the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) was the first step. The second step was to create a strong body of work. Luckily, the atmosphere at RISD naturally drives students to produce their best. I practically lived in the machine shops, in the Industrial Design department. Once I had a few internships under my belt, my next challenge was to figure out what I wanted to do after graduation.
I was considering a few different options when Ralf Groene, the creative director of Surface at Microsoft, came across my website during my senior year of college. We exchanged a few emails and set up a phone call. I flew out to meet the team and was immediately drawn to the culture and the people and was excited to accept the opportunity. I’m able to prototype ideas right there in the labs at Microsoft - the shop and machines allow me to stay grounded to what I know how to do best: problem solve and create, just like RISD.
What do you wish you had known then that you know now about having a career?
Confidence is key. I’m still working on this every day. I have to challenge myself to speak up and be my own best advocate, but it has helped create opportunities at work that never would have happened otherwise. As I transitioned from college to my career, finding my voice was uncomfortable at first. But, pushing myself to really believe in my work and myself is what set me up for success once I started working at Microsoft.
What advice about work do you have for teens or for people just starting out (whether that’s an internship or actual job)?
Stay balanced in your creativity, your family, your work, your social life and your responsibilities. For example, dividing your creativity between work and personal projects is really important. For me that means getting back into painting in my spare time (my current painting is of David Bowie), because I've learned side-projects make me happy. It keeps your thinking fresh and helps you stay motivated.
We have so many readers who are curious about the different careers in STEM/tech, but aren't necessarily "math people." What advice do you have, as someone with an art background, who works at a tech company?
The advice I would give is trust your intuition—the way you approach a problem might be different from others, but how you arrive at a solution can be just as important as the solution itself. I am always pleasantly surprised with how people of all different backgrounds approach problems both at Microsoft and at art school. During my freshman year at RISD we were introduced to paper folding, new ways to fold paper to create beautiful sculptures.
A couple of years later, I visited the MIT Media Lab during a collaborative studio, and happened to walk by a professor who also taught paper folding. What I saw was so familiar, the same shapes and results, but completely different methods of approaching the same project—they used math and geometry, whereas my fellow art students were creating by trial and error and playing with materials. It was then that I realized how important collaboration is across fields; if we can arrive at the same solution from different angles, imagine what we would come up with together. There are many ways to approach a problem, so trust your own angle.