Hey Vicky! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me! You're Codelitt's Chief Design Officer, but of course you're much more than that. Tell me about yourself!
Let’s see. Well I always start saying that I’m originally from Argentina but live in the UK which explains my insane accent that no one can really place. Over here in the UK, because I roll my r’s like in Spanish, people think that I am from Ireland or Germany. I think I got Russia at some point, but no one ever guesses Latin America! They don’t expect it! I am a very weird mixture of having a British family, watching American television, and growing up in Argentina - my accent is all over the place!
I’ve lived in sunny England for 7 years now. I just recently became a citizen and got a medal, which is awesome.
In my free time I like to hang out with my family, go for long walks or spend time gardening. Or baking! There's always time for baking! If I have a moment to hang out with my husband we like to play video games.
What kind of video games?
For his birthday I got him the remake of Final Fantasy 7 - we’re huge dorks. He just recently came over to me and said, “Today is Vicky Gets a Gift Day!” I was like, “wait what?” - and he got me a Nintendo Switch! So I started playing the first five minutes of Animal Crossing, so I guess I’m playing that?
And you’re also a mom! How old is your daughter now?
She’s 1! Her personality is starting to come through and I can’t wait to see what amazing things this tiny little person will get up to. I’m in awe of everything she does. You get to see a person learn things from scratch, it’s a wild ride!
Also, I’m a huge space nerd so I can’t wait to share that with her. I have a telescope that I’d love to set up somewhere in my house where she won’t destroy it. That’s not possible right now so it’s stored in the garage which makes me sad! Also I live in England, so whenever anything cool is happening outside you can’t see it because it’s cloudy!
Haha, that is the rumor about England! Interestingly enough you’re not the only space fanatic at Codelitt, right?
It’s true! In fact, we actually have a “longer term” initiative to send our CEO Vincent Hendrickx to Mars!
Is that because we don’t like Vincent?
No, he’s alright, but we might need a break from him.
I also love to paint! I’ve been painting since I was a very little girl, so whenever I can, I paint. I tried painting with my daughter a couple weeks ago with sugar based paints. They were sticky and got everywhere. My daughter, she doesn’t like having her hands dirty. She was one of the first kids in her group to eat with a spoon, because she won’t eat with her hands. She hates it. She looks at me and is like, “ew”. In fact one of the words that she’s learned which I forgot to tell everyone about is “yuck”.
Yeah, so I put a plastic tablecloth on the table and get her all ready. I dip her hand in the paint and she looks at me like, “what do you want me to do with this, mother?” So it was mostly me finger painting and her looking at me with the my-hands-are-dirty-please-clean-me face. So I’m not sure that gene passed on, but I’ll keep trying!
There’s still time! So you went to school for design. Did you always know that you wanted to be in design?
Probably not in so many words. I’ve always been pretty artsy. My grandmother was an artist. Whenever I went to visit her she would always make me draw. It sounds pretty awful, right, someone forcing you to do something, but it wasn’t. She would just teach me to draw what I could see. And that’s what I did! So on that side, she made me discover art from a very young age. I loved it.
Also part of my personality is that I like to organize things. Apparently, I don’t remember much of this, but my mother tells me that when we went grocery shopping she would always ask me to bag things because I’d be incredibly meticulous. This should be bagged with that because that’s how you’re going to be using it or putting it away in the kitchen. So I was already thinking about how things needed to be organized from an early age.
Fast forward a few years, and I remember that whenever I’d prepare papers for school. I’d pay a lot of attention to how to format my documents so that they were best understood. Size of the title font, body of text, and interline spacing - that kind of stuff. I didn’t know it back then but I was already playing with a lot of design concepts without really knowing it! They come naturally to a lot of people.
I guess the other thing that gave it away is that I am pretty darn good at Tetris if I do say so myself. I always say a good designer needs to be good at Tetris! We need to be able to make things fit in a layout!
Yeah, so I guess if you add all those things up, you could end up with graphic design. There’s a lot more variations of this that you can study at university these days, but back in the day - I say, “back in the day,” as if I’m that old. I’m not.
No judgement here. I think we’re the same age...
Haha, yeah I think we are!
Back in the day, it was either you go to architecture school or graphic design school and that was basically it. I’m happy to see that there’s a lot more movement in the graphic design arena. Where I’m from architecture was king and everything else was like,
“Oh, you doodle?”
Nowadays there’s a heavy emphasis on graphic design. Steve Jobs at Apple and everything they created is so heavily inspired by design. Their packaging even says, “Designed in California”, not “Made.” People are paying a lot of attention to design.
It’s also terrifying that kids coming out of university have so much knowledge that I had to gain by experience in the real world. It’s terrifying. I’m terrified of kids.
Me too. What university did you attend?
UBA - it’s the University of Buenos Aires.
Ok, so you’re an artsy person, to put it mildly, and you’re organizationally minded. You pursue an education in graphic design despite people thinking you’re “just a doodler”. Now it’s your career! What was your path to Codelitt?
Before I started working in the digital world, I began more traditionally: with print.
Coming from Argentina, the digital side was a little further behind than places like the US or Europe. So everyone I went to school with transitioned off to a studio where they would either work in packaging, branding, or editorial. So that’s what I did! I worked for one of the biggest studios in Argentina for a little bit.
In terms of my path to Codelitt, I know it sounds really corny, but Codelitt found me! My husband was really good friends with Cody, so the three of us started working on a product together.
I quit my studio job and started working freelance for some clients in America. In the meantime we were also building this new product. It didn’t work out in the end, but later when Cody went off and founded Codelitt he came knocking on my door.
So you were one of the first people to join, huh?
What are some of the main differences between the early days and now?
First of all, size. It was three of us trying to figure it out. There were no processes in place. Instead of daily standups, we sent each other emails asking what we’d worked on in the previous days. For lack of a better term, it was more innocent I guess. Does that make sense?
Yeah it does. You’re just honestly yourselves and you’re just trying to make it work in a new arena.
Yeah it was really interesting. There were times where Vincent would deny me lunch to get to a deadline - I will never forget that. I still remember it seven years later that he wouldn’t let me go have my lunch!
It was fun. It was hard work, it still is, but it was fun.
So tell me more about the differences between the current state and the early days. You're part of the founding team. Today we’ve got company values in place, better technology, processes - how did all this come to be?
I think that the values are basically Cody, Vincent, and myself distilled into those areas. We saw that was what drove the carriage forward. Passion for innovation, always thirsty to keep learning. It helps if you’re a big dork! If you’re into science and new technologies. But also, if you’re just passionate about something!
Passion is contagious.
Before it didn’t have such a defined shape. We’d might’ve said that a person didn’t “fit” with our culture for example. We didn’t know what it was that we were though at that time. Now we have words and processes for all the feelings that we had back in the day.
Nowadays, we know what we’re looking for in teammates. Our shared core values are what we base our hiring on. It’s happened before where a person can fit perfectly into our culture but they’re not the highest ranking, most skilled in their area. We still hire them because you can always improve on a skill. You either have our core values or you don’t. It’s the absolute first step of our hiring funnel.
One of the things that Kaio brought up is the sheer number of projects that we work on today when compared to early days. Tell me about that.
It hasn’t really changed for me! Not really anyways. I went from being the only designer at Codelitt, to one of two, then Creative Director, and finally Chief Design Officer. This meant that I never really took off hats, I just put more on.
In the beginning we had a very big project with Assurant. Then there was a period of many small projects that came and went that were more on the incubator side of things. After that we flipped back to working on our first massive project with JLL. So we’ve since tried to find a balance between those two extremes.
One of the things that’s evolved over the years is the vision. In the beginning we wanted to position ourselves as an incubator for startups, or basically any idea that someone could bring through the door, which we did and we did a lot. It was for people who didn't have funding or for people who couldn’t see their idea all the way to completion. But since there was no funding we couldn’t keep working on these ideas forever and ever. So at one point, we kind of closed the door to that and kept working on the client side.
A few years back we started to open up the “incubator” door again to find exciting new projects that we can work on external to Codelitt and internally as well. We’ve been making big strides to get things that we’re passionate about out the door. We’re trying to strike a balance. It’s hard, but we’re doing it!
Definitely! When I was interviewing at Codelitt I remember that the emphasis on internal products, process improvements, and idea sharing was super exciting for me!
There’s two components. The first is that we want to encourage learning, any type of learning. The other, well really it’s two peas in a pod, is that we try to be incredibly transparent in leadership and put forth that no idea is too small. Everyone has amazing ideas and amazing things that they can bring to the table. We value that so much. It’s something that we always wanted to do - even though we have leadership and titles within Codelitt - we never want the feeling to be like a waterfall, from the top down.
I know that our People Ops group got positive feedback that our leadership was so easy to reach. It’s so great to hear that we’re approachable. We in the C-Suite have tried to be that way for so long. We value everyone’s input and ideas.
For instance I always try to hire people that are better than me.
The design team is incredible. I am in awe at everything they do. They have such great ideas on processes, platforms, and things we should do better in the future. I take it all into account, analyze the ideas, and incorporate it into our processes and goals. At the end of the day you don’t want drones. You want people that feel empowered to make their own decisions and own their work. Happy employees will keep coming back. Unhappy employees will leave. So that’s what we try to do!
What’s it like being half a day ahead of us?
It’s the future, man! We have flying cars here!
I actually love it. Whenever I’m back in Argentina or the States, I just don’t know how you all do it. It means I have the morning to do actual work and then when you guys wake up at midday for me, I have the afternoon full of calls, client meetings, whatever we need to do as a team. I really like that the day is naturally split like that.
Whenever I’m in Argentina or the States, it’s meeting, meeting, meeting from dawn until dusk. I love being ahead - it’s great for productivity!
Here we are implementing Deep Work as a company and you’re like, “Hey man, I get 4-5 hours of focused work every day!”
Ok, so what are some of your favorite memories or projects that you’ve worked on?
Memories? There are millions. Even the stressful times I look back on fondly.
What keeps you coming to work each day?
This is the corniest answer ever, but it’s people! Candidates ask me the same thing in interviews and I hate that it sounds as cheesy as it does, but it’s true!
I love design. I love getting my hands dirty and making things. But, there’s a reason why I had the opportunity to become a leader within the company and stayed. There’s been people who have risen up within Codelitt and they’ve quit because they realized that they missed being down in the trenches getting things done. For me, I love working with people, seeing what they can do, and helping them out!
We try so hard to build a team off of the values and passions so that at the end of the day it makes it almost effortless to come into work and get things done.
Not to sound too Michael Scott-y, but it’s like “working with friends.” It’s what makes things pleasurable.
One of the things we’re proudest of building at Codelitt is this amazing team. It’s not only what they do, but also who they are as individual people: rich, passionate, and interesting to know.
What are you most excited for in Codelitt’s future?
Sending Vincent to Mars. Then having Kaio join him…
So you’re shipping off leadership? Got it.
Haha. No, I’m really most excited about our internal products. The agenda is a bit different when you’re working on your own stuff. We are passionate about our client’s products of course, but it’s a different feeling when it’s your own idea.
What piece of advice would you give your past self or really anyone that was just starting off their career?
Don’t be afraid to fail is a big one, especially for me. I am afraid to fail.
The other one which I try to live by is,
Whatever you do, listen.
Design is just a fancy term for communication - what we do is we visually communicate. You can’t really do that if you’re not listening to your users, your clients, your peers, team members.
There’s so much knowledge to be gained from actively listening, it’s the foundation of everything. Listening is what got me places. It’s one of the best pieces of advice.
We always do the Quote of the Day during our daily standups. What’s your favorite quote or a quote to live by?
I don’t know the quote specifically but it goes like,
You should try to never be the smartest person in the room. If you are, you’re in the wrong room.
I’ve always tried to live by that. Especially when I’m building teams, I always want to hire people that are smarter than I am. It not only forces everyone on the team to rise up to the challenge because there’s a little competition, but it’s just richer to have people smarter than you on the team. You learn so much. It’s worked out really great for my team. Definitely something I try and do.
“Don’t be a jerk.”
Good general rule of thumb. Be kind!
Ok, last question that I’m sure you’ll like. Favorite planet and why!
Saturn! Because the Sun liked it so he put a ring on it. Haha, more seriously though, because it has the coolest moon: Enceladus. It’s this beautiful tiny icy world that is believed to have an enormous ocean of water underneath the surface.
That’s great. Vicky thank you so much! It’s been a great conversation.