This is the second in a series of articles highlighting members of the 1 Second Everyday team. Our team is small, remote, and global. We have twenty employees, spread across nine different time zones, with no permanent central HQ. Like the community of folks who use 1SE, we come from all over.
Sharon Rosenberg is 1 Second Everyday’s Senior Product Designer and Resident Nomad (oxymoron intended). Trying to keep up with Sharon isn’t easy. When I first sat down to chat with her, she had recently arrived in Toronto, on her way from a two-month stay in Panama to a meet-up in New York City, before heading off to a design conference in Copenhagen and then a wedding in Morocco. By the time I sit down to actually write this article, (almost a month later), Sharon is in Lisbon, having left Morocco sooner than planned when her traveling companion’s passport mysteriously went missing. By the time this article is published, she will have traveled to London for a brief visit before meeting up with the rest of Team 1SE for our semiannual retreat (this time in Cancun!). She’ll probably be in Mexico City for the Dia de Los Muertos festivities by the time anyone reads this. But eight countries in six weeks is extreme, even for Sharon. Her travels aren’t usually quite this busy.
Sharon, 27, hails from Sacramento, California, and attended school at UC Santa Barbara, where she trained in set design before transitioning professionally into UX/UI design. She had started doing design work as a side-gig while still in college, and when it became clear that making a living in the film industry was going to be a long slog — potentially years of unreliable and underpaying jobs — she shifted focus. “I still liked design,” says Sharon. “I wanted to keep doing that. I figured ‘I’ve gotten pretty good at this UX side gig, maybe I could do that.’” So she moved to San Francisco, enrolled in an intensive UX/UI design program, and soon she was contracting for a major utility company in California.
Around this time, she went to a Q&A meetup held by Remote Year about working remotely. Remote Year is a company that provides digital nomads with transportation, workspace, and private accommodations along specific travel routes. People traveling with Remote Year spend about a month in a given city before traveling to the next one in the route. Programs vary in length from four months to a year. In each city, Remote Year also provides opportunities to attend social events, take side trips to nearby cities, monuments, and cultural sites, and participate in projects aimed at volunteerism and positive global impact. In addition, participants in past Remote Year programs have the opportunity to “citizen” onto a current program, effectively joining in on the program for a limited time.
Travel has always been a big part of Sharon’s life, and she knew that remote work is a growing trend that’s gaining acceptance by a variety of employers. She’d first been introduced to Remote Year through an advertisement on Instagram, but at the meetup, she decided that she wanted to give the digital nomad lifestyle a go. In addition to providing Sharon with information on how to successfully work remotely, Remote Year provided her with tips on presenting the idea to her employer, as well as a slide deck to show how successful working remotely can be. With these tools, Sharon was able to convince her manager to let her take the opportunity to work while traveling in Europe. But then, just before Sharon left for her first Remote Year excursion, her manager quit the utility company, setting off a series of events that would lead — eventually — to Sharon snagging a job at 1SE.
A Series of Fortunate Events
A month into her first Remote Year trip, her world got upended. “I was in Prague. First week there. I got a Slack message from my stand-in supervisor who told me that contractors were not allowed to work remotely from abroad,” Sharon relates. “This really surprised me since I had cleared it with multiple departments three months before I left, and had already been gone a month before they informed me.” Sharon’s memory of the event still carries some bitterness. “No notice, no severance, no opportunity to come back.” Sharon suddenly found herself in Europe, unemployed, and with a substantial sum of money already sunk into her four-month trip. “So now I had to find a way to pay for being in Europe for four months without an income. So that was really scary.” But Sharon isn’t easy to deter. “On the flip side,” she says, “I had no job and I had a summer in Europe.”
She quickly discovered one of the huge benefits of being part of a community of like-minded travelers. “It was a blessing in disguise. When that happened, I was already in this community of other people who were working in remote jobs.” In many ways, Remote Year instills a spirit of teamwork into its traveling groups, called programs. Each program even receives a unique team name. Sharon’s first program received the apt name Kairos, which loosely translated, means “the opportune moment for action.” Sometimes the universe speaks to us, I guess. “I had tons of resources,” Sharon says. “Somebody was there to help me with my resume. Someone else walked me through setting up my own freelancing business. Through the Remote Year group I got a bunch of little freelance gigs to help me through, to get me on my feet again.”
Sharon has a kind of nonchalant fearlessness that’s pretty rare, and that permeates everything she does. She’s a dedicated explorer who enjoys taking the time to really investigate new places on foot. “I do a lot of meandering. That’s one of my favorite things to do, especially when I’m alone in a new city. I’ll find an area that has a lot of stuff to do, and go walk around for a couple of hours and see what I find. Maybe I’ll find a cool museum or stumble upon a cool park. When I get to a new city, that’s the first thing I’ll do is just plop myself in an area and go explore.” In today’s world of guided tours and detailed atlases, this kind of open-ended wandering seems almost anachronistic, but really it’s a symptom of something at the core of Sharon — she’s just kind of a bad-ass.
Through the short-term remote design projects she landed while touring Europe, Sharon was able to make enough to keep her head above water through her first four-month Remote Year trip. But she’d also made a plan to spend several months in Chiang Mai, Thailand after the conclusion of her tour of Europe, and she still didn’t have a steady income. So she made a deal with herself. “If I get on the plane to Chiang Mai and I don’t have a job lined up, I take a two-week vacation, I go home, I start from scratch and move in with my parents and I’ll figure it out. If I have a job, I’m going to stay in Chiang Mai for a bit, replenish my resources, and I’ll keep doing this.” That was when a fellow traveler posted a job listing at 1 Second Everyday on the Remote Year job board Slack channel. Sharon notes that many Remote Year travelers use 1 Second Everyday to document their voyages. It makes sense. As a daily video journal, 1SE is almost tailor-made for experiences like those provided by Remote Year. In fact, the app was inspired by a similar trip. For more on that story, check out The Origins of 1 Second Everyday.
With only days left before her flight to Thailand, Sharon sent in her application for the Product Designer opening. “I’d been using 1SE for years, and when I saw the job posting come up, I was like ‘Oh my God I love them! I’m just going to apply and see what happens.’ I just fangirled on my application. ‘I just wanted to say I love you, goodbye!’” 1SE Chief Product Officer Jason Forest notes that Sharon was an instant and obvious culture fit. Many of us on Team 1SE were fans of the app before we worked here. “In product design, when trying to build a better experience for the people who are using the app,” Jason adds, “it’s so huge to find a talented designer who has also already been using the app for years.” The day before her plane took off for Chiang Mai, she got the call. As of October 15, 2018, Sharon had been hired as 1SE’s first full-time product designer.
Working Remotely with 1SE
Sharon came in with an understanding of how 1SE functioned and of the pitfalls we’d already fallen into. This, combined with her design chops, made her a great candidate right off the bat. One thing that really sealed the deal for the company, though, was Sharon’s experience with Remote Year. “We’re a fully distributed company. That’s really important to us,” Jason says. “We love that we can have members of the team who travel the world.” Being a fully-remote startup gives 1SE the flexibility to utilize asynchronous communication to get a lot done. It also requires that everyone on the team be a self-starter, since often our workdays overlap at weird times, if at all. Sharon had successfully worked and traveled with Remote Year for months, and she had overcome the loss of the job she’d started her travels with. She was organized, disciplined, smart, and (an oft-used adjective around the virtual 1SE water-cooler), scrappy.
“I think Sharon is the quintessential example of what you can do with a distributed company,” Jason says. “She’s trying to be very present in her goals of, you know, touching every point on the planet.” It takes a lot of determination and organization, but Sharon makes it work, no matter where she is in the world. Sometimes she has to work late into the night or get up well before dawn. Jason’s three sons mean that he sometimes has an irregular schedule too, but between Jason and Sharon, they’ve worked through it to design a product that the whole 1SE team is proud of. It’s not always a smooth process.
“We’re finding our way,” Jason says, laughing. “I’m a fine artist at heart. I love to just get a bunch of people in a room and spitball and spend hours weeding out bad ideas. It’s just how my brain works. I thrive off that. I’m not so sure that’s true of Sharon, but she’s great at putting up with it.” Sharon has the perfect brain for both product design and remote work. She’s very task-oriented and very very organized. “Sometimes it is a struggle, but when we get to the end of our long brainstorms, she can take her to-do list and build out the wireframes, and she seems very happy with that.”
When I first sat down to interview Sharon, I had only a vague idea of what product design actually is. She explains her role at 1SE like this: “I design for problems or areas for improvement that exist within the app. The core of my job is listening to users and implementing fixes for user pain points to improve the functionality of the app.” User experience (UX) design, she describes as the skeleton of the app. User interface (UI) design, then, is the skin. UX/UI design is an iterative process of feedback, mockups, prototyping, and testing.
Sharon works almost entirely with Jason, a guy that I’ve known for almost twenty years, and who I’ve worked with on a lot of creative projects myself. We’re both full-blown art-brains, and when Jason and I work together, it can sometimes sound like a couple of crazy people yelling nonsense at each other. It’s great and we love it, but there is absolutely no way that he and I could do what he does with Sharon. “She’s a great counterbalance for me,” he says. “She wants to know that there’s some kind of plan in place, but she’s also very cool about deviating from that if a better idea comes along.” Sharon’s approach to design is very meticulous and research-driven, and she’s able to keep Jason more or less reigned in. “For this, I needed someone with Sharon’s much more process-driven and tempered point of view, so I don’t go blowing the wheels off the car and then need to figure out how to make it drive again.”
Despite the time zone difference between them often meaning that their workdays only overlap by a couple of hours, despite trying to work on the same creative designs from thousands of miles apart, and despite jet-lag, food poisoning, nearly getting thrown in prison in China (that’s a whole article all by itself), and all of the other adventures and misadventures that come as part of the package of world travel, Sharon has not let Jason blow the wheels off the app. At some future point, Sharon assumes that she’ll decide to settle in somewhere. But as she says, “it could be in a year, or five years, or when I’m eighty. But at some point, I’m going to need to get a dog.” Right now, the leading contender for Earth base Sharon is the Condesa area of Mexico City, a neighborhood dotted with dog parks, international restaurants, and art deco architecture. Until then, Sharon will keep traveling, both with Remote Year and on her own, a modern explorer in a modern sea.