Waypoints: Planting Seeds in Reno

March 3, 2022
Aaron Martin, Head of Design
 min read

The beginning of 2020 was a wild ride for everyone, yeah? For me it was a mix of all the fun stuff: Covid shut downs, my kids’ schools closing down and transitioning to Zoom classes, and getting laid off from a gig I was excited about (and to be clear, I wish that company cargo ships full of success because their product is dope).

But life is about change, and making the best of that change. The day I was laid off, I was approached by a recruiter at Ridgeline to chat about their open role as a director of design. The team was small but mighty, and needed someone to help support them in the next chapter of Ridgeline’s expansion. With many designers right out of school, they needed someone with experience to help lead and serve them in a way that helped them grow into their obvious potential. Would I be open to chatting about that type of opportunity?

So I said yes and my intro chats and interviews were revealing. There was a strong attitude and culture of putting employees first, which aligned with a professional value of mine: servant leadership. To me, this means:

Help ensure other designers’ success by caring about it as much as your own and encouraging them to care about each other.

I’d used Workday at a few previous companies, and was aware of what a “Dave Duffield company” was like but my interviews really painted a clearer picture. The picture was one of a real focus on employees.  Given the right ownership, challenges, and opportunity to grow, great employees will create a great product.

And I’d be working alongside a lot of other people who had the same goals. Beyond all of that, it was clear that the problem that Ridgeline is solving is large and complex. The challenge was just as compelling as the opportunity to help designers grow into their next big opportunity. All of it sounded intriguing. So after many conversations with many great people over the course of a few months, I joined Ridgeline as employee 100.

Moving my family to the Lake Tahoe area from the Bay Area has also been a pretty big blessing. We’d always wanted to be in a smaller town with a lot more open space to live and move through. Growing our own food and being more self-sufficient is a big goal for us, and doing so in the Bay isn’t all that easy or affordable. Don’t get me wrong: as a California native, there are a lot of things to appreciate out there, like Stan’s Donuts and the consistently good weather. But Reno and Lake Tahoe have offered us a home with plenty of space to grow and expand.

I’ve enjoyed exploring the Reno/Tahoe area and finding all the things it has to offer. There isn’t a large amount of cool-kid shops here, but there are quite a few gems. You just have to take the time to look. And, I get to wake up every morning to the beauty of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. It’s amazing. Being out here in the Reno area has been a change, but a welcome one for sure. (I’ve even been inspired to start a personal blog on it, which I may share out eventually.) Have you ever seen 50 hot air balloons launch from a giant field at six o’clock in the morning? It’s fantastic. It never crossed my mind that it would be something I’d enjoy, but it was. And I get to fly fish in the Truckee, one of the most beautiful rivers in the country.

We’ve settled into a place full of fantastic people and amazing things, and I’m grateful for the opportunity that joining Ridgeline has provided me.

The work has been remarkably fulfilling. I’ve been a small part of helping the design team create experiences that are solving real problems. I’ve also helped the whole company grow by creating a career path framework that gives clarity and focus for employees around how to get ready for their next professional challenge.

I love helping designers grow and the team at Ridgeline allows me to do that work. My favorite part of being a design leader is seeing work from designers and thinking to myself “Man, I wish I’d thought of that.” And it happens all the time here. The team is amazing.

Now I’m off to build some more garden beds and tend to my orchard. Orchards, like modern products, are an exercise in the long game, and I’m all about the long game. Plant seeds, tend to the trees religiously, and watch growth happen slowly and then all at once.

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