Carm McDonald knows how to chase her dreams. The math-teacher-turned-product-designer built an online design portfolio through dedicated freelance work, proved her skills and found a career path she absolutely loves. The best part? She’s landed a role at a company she really loves, too. Now the Lead Product Designer, eCommerce at CDW, McDonald says she’s constantly given opportunities to hone her craft and move up the career ladder — not that she’d ever be held back.
We talked to McDonald about her winding career path, what makes working at CDW special, and how she finds the inspiration to continually chase her vision — both in her career and in design. She also shared the impact volunteering has had on her life, how a unique challenge this year made her stronger and, of course, her personal Fairygodboss.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Carm McDonald
Lead Product Designer, eCommerce at CDW
Tell us a little about your career. How did you get where you are now?
There was no straight or narrow path. If anyone had told me 20 years ago that I’d be a Product Designer, I wouldn’t have believed them. Upon graduating from college, I taught high school math in Chicago Charter Schools. By year three, I was looking for a career change. An old college friend suggested I pursue design again (I studied Architecture in undergrad). So, on my summer off, I learned how to use graphic design software, in addition to taking classes to learn some of the web programs. I absolutely loved it! I started to take on freelance clients, I built an online portfolio and finally, after 6 years of teaching high school math, I was hired on as a web graphic designer for a photo color lab in Indiana. This was a pivotal moment; it set me down the path of designing experiences for digital products.
What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
There are several things that I’ve achieved in my career that I am proud of, but I’m most proud of my service to others. I was told “you make a living by what you get, you make a life by what you give.”
What is a challenge that you’ve faced and overcome?
The biggest challenge that I faced recently was taking on three younger relatives (all 11 to 14 years old) this past school year as their parents worked through a major hardship. I was very reluctant, and while I knew the task wouldn’t be easy, I never imagined it would be so hard. I have no kids of my own, but I can say with certainty that having kids around gives you a different perspective. Now, school is out, the boys had an awesome year, and they are ready to enjoy summer. As I reflect on the past year, I have learned a lot about myself and I am definitely wiser for it.
What is the #1 career tip you’d like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
Be relentless in the pursuit of your goals. Know and truly believe that you can accomplish anything you set out to do and be patient. I remember being discouraged — I waited years to land a web or graphic design job and some of my friends and family talked against it. But even in those low moments, the thought that I’d never be a designer never entered my mind.
Why do you love where you work?
People ask me this all the time! I can’t express enough how workplace environment and culture play a huge part in where you spend eight hours of your day. CDW as a company works really hard at equalizing opportunities for men and women; there are several women in executive roles, including our CEO. Working here, you have access to several resource groups for networking across the organization, as well as tools and programs for career advancement. It’s an inclusive environment and I have always felt supported and encouraged to excel.
Did I mention I work on a team with really smart and talented people? I’m surrounded by risk-takers who challenge how and what we do; everyone is extremely motivated and looking ahead to the future. I’m definitely in good company.
Who is YOUR Fairygodboss and why?
Bozoma Saint John. She’s fierce, fearless and unapologetically a black woman. She is “career goals.”
What do you do when you’re not working?
Reading, volunteering, and spending time with loved ones top the list when I’m off the clock.
Lightning Round: What is your favorite movie?
Oh, I have so many. “Pretty Woman” is hands down my favorite, though.
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