Seymour native begins new career in Canada

People have come into Hayden Mills’ life at just the right times.

In the last semester of his senior year at Seymour High School in 2012, he didn’t know what he wanted to study in college. That all changed after taking Melissa Lake’s web design class.

It led to him earning a bachelor’s degree in informatics and a master’s degree in human-computer interaction design from Indiana University.

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“The stuff we learned, looking back, it wasn’t the most high-tech or wasn’t the most fancy like IU would have, but she was so excited to teach it and so affirming and encouraging that that literally set me on the path, so all credit goes to her class at Seymour High School,” Mills said.

He played basketball and golf in high school but said he also was a “closeted nerd,” liking gaming, computers and books. Lake’s class let him apply his interests.

“Seeing the power of what you could do with computer code and seeing the power of what you could do when you put it online and other people could see it was just really powerful to me. It was really cool,” Mills said.

Four years later, he was in the final semester of his senior year in the School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering at IU. He hadn’t planned on pursuing a master’s degree until he took an interaction design class taught by Martin Siegel, the director of graduate studies for informatics.

The graduate school application deadline already had passed, but Siegel encouraged Mills to continue his education. He wound up offering him a scholarship and teaching assistant opportunity, and Mills earned his graduate degree in May.

Through it all, another person has played an important role in his life.

“I can’t even take credit for a lot of this because it’s just God blessing me,” he said. “God has been good to me. He keeps opening doors, and people like Mrs. Lake and Marty Siegel just come in my path. It’s God’s timing. I don’t know what he’s up to in my future with my life, but it’s encouraging to see where he’s taking me.”

On June 4, he began his job as a UX designer for Shopify in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. A User Experience designer plans out and designs software before it is built, while Shopify is an e-commerce tool that small businesses and entrepreneurs use to sell their products.

For the first two months, he will shadow a program manager and a researcher and work on pieces of software. The dashboard tools are for big brands that use Shopify for their business.

“I’m excited to make money. Six years, I’ve been roughing it,” Mills said, smiling. “More importantly, I’m just excited to do what I’ve been trying to do for six years.”

That has included running his own business, Mills Digital, and doing summer internships.

“I’m excited to work for a company for longer term and really gain skills that I wouldn’t be able to gain in school,” he said.

He also is interested in exploring Canada by hiking, fishing and meeting new people.

“The world is beautiful and so big and so diverse, and if you stay in Seymour your whole life, you won’t see that,” Mills said. “I’ve been very blessed with opportunities to go travel, whether it’s the Middle East, Ghana, Philippines. … I’m really excited to meet Canadians and learn their culture, whatever that may be, and gain that accent.”

Mills credits his international experiences to his involvement in a Christian fellowship group, Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, at IU.

He said he grew up attending First Church of the Nazarene in Seymour — now The Point — but came out of high school trying to figure out what he wanted to do in life and what kind of man he wanted to be.

Rather than choosing the party lifestyle at IU, he learned about Chi Alpha and became involved. They met on campus in small groups to talk about Jesus, support each other and challenge each other in their faith, Mills said.

“Growing up in small-town America, a lot of people are Christian, so you can kind of just live that without actually believing it yourself,” he said. “They challenged me in my faith and challenged me with what I believed, and I really was able to make my faith my own. Definitely just a community that supported and loved me, that was prevalent from the start.”

One way they supported him was through Mills Digital, which he started during his second year at IU.

His first client was Enter His Courts, a locally based youth basketball league. Mills redesigned its website for free just to get some experience and exposure, while one of his friends did video.

He later hired a few more friends for projects, and he began earning money to help pay for college. Between the business and scholarships he received, he didn’t end up with any college debt.

“It wasn’t a huge moneymaker, but more importantly than the money, I gained so many soft skills, talking to people and managing a workload and school,” Mills said.

That work continued until his first year of graduate school. He said he designed more than 30 websites.

“It was fun. It was a lot of work. I worked a ton,” he said. “It’s great to accept something that you don’t think you can do and then figure it out once you’re up to the challenge.”

Also during his time at IU, he worked in catering on campus his freshman year and spent the summer working with his father at Grote Industries Inc. in Madison.

The next summer, he started Mills Digital along with serving as a resident assistant on campus. He did the latter for three years.

His other internships were doing software development for Crowe Horwath in Chicago, Illinois; working at tech startups Adproval and Mavenly in Bloomington; and teaching computer coding to inner-city kids in Indianapolis with the nonprofit Nextech.

Then in the summer of 2017, he did a six-week internship in the Middle East with the nonprofit organization Live Dead. He learned Arabic and helped teach English to people at a school.

“A lot of my friends were taking pretty high-paying tech jobs, and I felt like I knew God was calling me to explore missions as an opportunity,” Mills said. “We all have an opportunity to glorify God in our work and show the love of Christ through that. In summary, that’s kind of what that experience showed me.”

While working for Mavenly, Mills built and designed Shopify apps. That led to a job opportunity with the Canadian company.

He said his job involves talking to people who use the software to understand psychologically what they need from the product.

“Basically, you’re trying to get everything prepared for the developer to build a web app,” he said of being a UX designer. “You’re trying to take out all of the questions before it’s built, so why do people want to use it, what do they need from it. It’s a lot of problem-solving, so it’s a lot of soft skills and interacting with people, but it’s also how can I communicate what I’ve learned to the right people to make sure that it gets built.”

Mills said Shopify and other tech companies hire UX designers to save time and money upfront.

“Just like an architect would save builders money to make sure it’s laid out well,” he said. “Everybody is a designer in their own way in their profession. We’re all designing something, and it’s more important than you would ever realize.”

Mills said he hopes his story inspires students who are trying to figure out what they want to do in life.

“Everyone wants to do big things and make their parents proud and glorify God,” he said. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I liked to read, and I liked computers. I knew that, but I had no idea that there was this whole field that people are making a bunch of money doing what I was interested in.”

Once he discovered his passion, he gained a lot of skills and confidence, he said.

“I hope with this story that there’s a Hayden Mills reading it that’s getting ready to graduate or younger and realizes that it’s cool to play sports and it’s cool to be known in that way from the community, but it’s also just as awesome and honorable and cool to be into tech or be a nurse or somebody and really do that well,” he said.

“You don’t have to worry about what people think when they are judging you for your interests,” he said. “Just be you and be unapologetically you. I think you can be a very, very influential and dangerous person when you realize who you are in Christ but also realize just who he has made you to be and you’re comfortable with that.”

With college, Chi Alpha, mission trips and internships in the rear-view mirror, Mills is set for his new career and beyond.

“Hindsight is always 20/20. You see how things add up, and when you’re in the moment, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. That’s kind of the beauty about following Jesus,” he said.

“If you’re obedient to the next thing he calls you to do and you feel like he’s leading you to do, you look back on six years and it goes fast, but you look back and you see, ‘Oh, that’s a really beautiful journey he’s taking me on,’” Mills said. “I can’t tell you where I’m going next or what’s going to happen, but I do know I’m following Jesus on my heart, and he’s got me, so we’ll see.”

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Name: Hayden Mills

Age: 24

Hometown: Seymour

Residence: Recently moved to Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Education: Seymour High School (2012); Indiana University (bachelor’s degree in informatics, 2016; master’s degree in human-computer interaction design, 2018)

Occupation: UX designer for Shopify

Family: Parents, Doug and Colette Mills; sisters, Caitlin Mills, Hannah Mills and Lainey Mills