How a Clandestine Copy of Photoshop Enhanced My Career

(courtesy of

When I was 18, a friend gave me the holy grail of software: a bootlegged copy of Photoshop. For a broke college kid looking for something fun to do that was also creative, this was the perfect gift.  My whole life, I felt my creativity bubbling below the surface. Unfortunately for my parent’s fridge, all I had to offer was renderings of stick figures.

As I grew older, I gravitated towards writing as an outlet for my creativity. I chose to major in public relations at my older sister’s urging (she is also an EMU graduate with a degree in PR. Go figure.). Public relations allowed me an outlet to use and improve my writing skills with the idea of actually getting paid (eventually!). But my creativity wasn’t getting enough use and I still felt like I hadn’t reached my full potential — until Photoshop.

As soon as the program was loaded on my computer, it was like the universe created a new galaxy just for me: the galaxy where I could actually create images! My roommate was very excited. We both had LiveJournal accounts, and all of the sudden I had a program that was able to create LAYERS. The sad-looking icons I had been building pixel-by-pixel in MS Paint were no more. I was able to take her wildest JPEG dreams and make them a reality. Soon, she had folders upon folders of magical looking images, icons, and backgrounds. When she’d get tired of them, I’d whip up more. I was the GIF Willy Wonka of the Phelps dorms at Eastern, creating multiple images and icons for anyone who asked.

It wasn’t long before I taught myself HTML. I was tired of the same generic layout everyone had using LiveJournal. I had dabbled in HTML when I was in high school because I was determined to have a Geocities website. (My dabble lasted about two weeks.) I told myself I had a history with HTML and I’d be able to figure it out with no problems.

Big mistake.

I trashed my entire account. I didn’t know what tags were, had no idea what I was deleting, and ended up with something that had no words, huge images and a curser that looked like a horse. A few hours of tweaking, Googling and reading later, I had figured it out and had a site that looked RIGHT and, most importantly, different from everyone else! It was one of my proudest moments.

Through the rest of my college career, I remained fixated on Photoshop and the interesting things I could create. It never occurred to me that it was something I could study. When I was 21, beginning my first “big-girl” job, I realized what a valuable skill I had. I was able to create graphics, layouts, brochures and invitations for the nonprofit I worked for, allowing them to save money.  During my third year at that job, the entire 800 page (yes, 800 page) website was redone. It was my duty to accomplish this, while creating new graphics and images.

Now, I find myself working for a new nonprofit in Oakland County. A huge part of my job is creating collateral materials like fliers, posters and booklets. If I didn’t have the graphic design skills, I wouldn’t have this job. If I were still in college, I wouldn’t change my major; I’d still be a self-taught designer. I wasn’t trying to follow along with an exercise from a book, with other talented designers in a classroom, I was making funny images, backgrounds and greeting cards long before LOLcatz or Etsy were around.

I have since purchased my own legitimate copy of the Adobe Suite.

Susan Aumiller
Community Relations Coordinator

Susan Aumiller

Susan Aumiller graduated from Eastern Michigan University in December 2006, with a bachelor’s degree in public relations. She is currently the Community Relations Coordinator for HAVEN.  She is responsible for managing public relations efforts, social media, graphic design, public speaking engagements, and events for the nationally-recognized nonprofit. Prior to working at HAVEN, Susan worked for Lutheran Social Services of Michigan. 

Susan also maintains a blog called Suze Geeks Out, and is a freelancer for many individuals and organizations throughout the Midwest.

Susan lives in Ann Arbor with her husband (also an EMU graduate with a degree in public relations) and two co-dependent cats, Ruckus and Loafy. She loves writing, especially when it’s a third-person bio. She is currently writing her first novel. Follow Susan on twitter at @redheaded.


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