Philadelphia is where Matt Thomas got his start in technology.
After leaving the Army, Thomas studied interactive media design at the Art Institute of Philadelphia and started his career at an interactive agency. He later went on to chair the PhillyCHI meetup and run interaction design at Bresslergroup.
“I often tell people it was the greatest experience of my career,” Thomas said of working at Bresslergroup. “It was incredibly rewarding to work with a company in Philly that co-designs physical and digital products, and truly grounds their approach in user research.”
But Thomas, now 33, felt like his career options were limited in Philly. He’s leaving the city to become Samsung’s UX design manager.
In his Exit Interview, Thomas talks about going into the field of tech and design before the UX industry really took off, why Dallas is the right move for him and why Leonardo da Vinci is his muse.
How did you come to live and work in Philly?
I was getting out of the Army in 2005. After a long year in Iraq, I was highly motivated to get back to school and start a career in technology and design. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I was looking at city schools in New York and Philly. At the time, there very few schools that were offering bachelor’s degree programs which hybridized technology and design — and the fields of “user experience” and “interaction design” weren’t really a thing yet. The Art Institute of Philadelphia had a very promising program called Interactive Media Design, and in the end, I chose Philly because it had that big-city feel, colonial charm, and was far more manageable than NYC. Not to mention it’s also much closer to the beaches in Atlantic City where I grew up. 😉
I got my first internship at an interactive agency during my senior year of college. I was offered a full-time position upon graduation. And so Philly would become a more permanent home for the next 8 years.
What’s next for you? What prompted the move?
After working as pretty much a consultant for the last 10 years, I knew it was time to get a different perspective in the tech and design industry. I wanted an opportunity to further develop my leadership abilities, and work in-house for a company that makes cool and impactful products. As a tech and design geek, my sights were set on companies focused on creating the next generation of connected devices and experience ecosystems — what a lot of people are calling the Internet of Things.
It just so happened that an opportunity to work with a leader in this space fell into my lap. So I jumped on the chance to work with Samsung. The only issue is that the gig is in Dallas — which my wife and I were originally apprehensive about. But after seeing the growth and diversity of northern Texas, we quickly changed our minds. And quite frankly, the amount of house you can get in Texas is pretty astonishing.
Anything that could have been done to keep you here?
I really love Philly. I love the diversity of its people and its neighborhoods. I love the food. I love the Phillies and the Eagles. I love the architecture. Philly really molded me as person and a professional. But, I also love my profession, and the diversity of industries in which I can practice my profession feels limited in Philly.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of great companies to work for in Philly. But for whatever reason, it’s not enticing very many of the big tech companies to setup offices there. Even the successful startups incubated there seem to pull up stakes and move elsewhere to grow. It’s always puzzled me. I’m sure I’ll catch some heat for saying this, but I don’t think I’m wrong.
Oh, and widening out the Schuylkill expressway. 🙂
What was your proudest accomplishment during your time in Philly?
Philly is where my wife and I brought our two fantastic daughters into the world. They will always be my proudest accomplishment.
Favorite tech scene memory from your time in Philly?
Too many specific memories to name, but almost any event involving PhillyCHI was always a blast. The organization just seemed to attract a lot of very cool and talented people. It was really gratifying to be immersed in that group. Tech & Design Quizzo and Design Slam were always my favorite events during Philly Tech Week.
What’s your favorite place in the city?
This is a tough one. The city architecture combined with really interesting topography provides so much eye candy around the city. If I had to choose, I’d say the Art Museum and surrounding areas to include Water Works and Boat House Row. I’m a runner and a biker so the views from West River Drive never ever ceased to amaze me.
Can you share a lesson with us that you’ve learned during your time here/offer some advice for other interaction designers?
Yes! Think outside the box, and when you do, don’t ever stop. I think a lot of designers and technologists get mired in constraints, and are perhaps too timid to push the boundaries. Surround yourself with people smarter than yourself, teach them and learn from them. And follow in the footsteps of Leonardo da Vinci!
Will you be back?
In some form or fashion, absolutely. I can’t say that I’ll be back to live there because there’s so much more of the world to see. I think Texas was the last place on my list of places to live, but one thing I’ve learned in life is: you never know.