Long gone are the days of the “computer geek” who worked in the tech industry decades ago. Our latest Urban Beardsman Tobias van Schneider represents a new breed of what today’s tech-savvy professionals not only look like, but sets the bar in keeping a multi-disciplinary approach on all of his projects. With impeccable style, a kickass beard, and an arsenal of skill-sets used to innovate everything from his award winning Authentic Weather phone app, to his user-friendly portfolio tool known as Semplice—van Schneider is continuously receiving mass cred for his multi-talented design skills.
Often quoted for saying, “I live life like its one big side project” van Schneider’s mantra has definitely paid off and is currently the Art Director at Spotify. Most impressively, everything he’s learned has all been self-taught. However, van Schneider doesn’t view his title or achievements as brag-worthy whatsoever. In chatting over the phone, he exudes an effortlessly cool disposition—the type of guy you want to grab a beer and just hang out with. He speaks (with a subtle German accent) about how he fearlessly embarked down a career path with no expectations on where it would lead, and states his secret to success is simply by approaching his pursuits “stupidly,” (meaning not to take yourself too serious and overthink things).
Born in Germany and raised in Austria, van Schneider dropped out of school at age fifteen. During this time, his curiosity for learning the anatomy of a computer landed him a computer shop apprenticeship in Austria. Through the course of his apprenticeship and many self-taught side projects for software engineering—he never predicted he was just getting his feet wet for bigger and better things to come. Applying at a few schools here and there that were tech-related, he was consistently refused, and shares, “they required math but I really sucked at math (and at school in general). When I landed my apprenticeship at a company as a software engineer repairing computers, I already knew about setting up and repairing them because of what I had self-taught myself by breaking them apart and rebuilding them for fun.”
Although van Schneider didn’t attend a university, his continued curiosity pushed him farther while he was a software engineer apprentice, and states, “I really wanted to build websites. I knew how to set up a server, database, etc. the only thing I had to teach myself was how to design it and make it look good and legible.” It was then, that van Schneider had his “ah-ha” moment and realized how much he enjoyed being a designer. His three-year programming apprenticeship was expiring and they didn’t want to keep him due to his skills “not up to par.” However, they noticed some design work he had done on the side and loved it—enough that he was asked to lead their design team.
Van Schneider thrives on consistently challenging himself to grow, and later decided to open his own studio business, recalling, “I eventually got bored working on my own as well and decided to move to NY. The digital era came out with the iPhone and phone apps being popularized, and everyone started focusing on designing apps instead of websites. Now at Spotify I work as a product designer, with a strong focus on user experience.”
In reflecting on his career and where he’s at today, van Schneider shares it’s all about the risks he was willing to take. “I mostly took them because I didn’t care too much about the outcome—I didn’t have a plan, so I was like, I can’t really fail. I remember one time my bank account kept going down, so I made a list of pro and cons; I realized if I need to be a bartender or wait tables to afford my rent, I’m like, ‘ok that’s actually pretty cool! I’ll be the best bartender or waiter ever!’ When I think about the worst-case scenario it’s never really that bad. New experiences you can learn from are what really drives me and makes the risks worth it.”
Aside from being unafraid to take risks, that doesn’t mean van Schneider isn’t extremely self-critical with what he does, and reveals, “I don’t really feel like I have any huge accomplishments where I’m like ‘what I did was really awesome,’ but, the one thing I’m always fighting to maintain is to be as be as free as possible. My personal goal is to always stay in motion, and constantly learn and try new things. My biggest fear is ending up sitting on the couch doing nothing. I don’t want to say words like ‘if, wish, should, or could.’ I’m always trying to ensure I keep those out of my vocabulary.”
Being that van Schneider likes to stay busy, it should be no surprise he initially started growing his beard to spare a few extra minutes in the day. “I always had a short a beard and started growing it out because I didn’t want to shave anymore. I didn’t like shaving, but eventually it got so long it took longer to maintain it, and defeated the purpose, but at some point I started loving it. Even my girlfriend wasn’t too fond of it in the beginning, but now she loves it as well,” he reveals.
Although van Schneider often has client meetings for work, he explains that out on the street is where his beard is usually a topic of conversation. “I’ve never had a problem with clients, but there is not one day where two or three people approach me on the streets here in NY about it. I’ve had to learn how to get used to that. People talking or screaming at me from across the street, saying something like ‘how long did it take?’ And I’m confused because I’m thinking about work projects and deadlines—not my beard,” he laughs.
From his beginnings graduating from the school of self, van Schneider is an inspiration to not to let fear of failure get in your way. Always thinking about his next project or venture, we’re excited to see what he has next in store with the world. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram, where you can keep up with all his latest projects such as the beautifully illustrated photography series titled, ‘Reflections’ he worked on in collaboration with his girlfriend.