I’ve been programming since I was in my teenage years (now 36) as I had the fortunate upbringing from an amazing mother who was just as hungry for computers as I am today (she beats me hands down).
As a programmer, I’ve always felt at home in the code base, it’s often like design to me, you give it a set of instructions and the feedback loop (compilers etc) are immediate. You make mistakes, but you’re rewarded with knowledge and the more people you work with the more you get a better understanding of how the various design patterns in code intersect.
Programming wasn’t enough for me, though, I wanted more, I wanted to find a better way to introduce design into the equation. The design is something I did as a hobby, never once given much thought into whether or not my skills as a designer were up there with the best of them.
I used to get hired as a programmer in companies and then spring the “I can design too!” surprise later. It was easier to position that way.
I think it’s because of that lack of confidence early in my career that pushed me to learn how to design but armed with the knowledge of programming, my ambition on projects took off. I could see both sides of the equation and understood how to execute the two in a focused way could mean a better outcome focused on quality, not delivery.
Designing was harder than programming, as every placement of a User Interface element had to have meaning, it meant you needed to understand why people like certain colours rather than others. You needed to understand why menu’s worked the way they did and so on.
I needed to know more, I needed to know where the design “compiler” lived and it wasn’t playing fairly by the same rules as a programmer’s compiler (immediate feedback). The rules engine for design was hidden within the user’s themselves.
Psychology it is, I must now understand the mind in order to understand the design to then ship better code.
My son was born and sadly he has a rare genetic condition that has its up’s and down’s, the most fragile thing for him is that he has the mind of a genius trapped in a little boy’s body (very smart kid, inspiring). This gave me more purpose, this gave me a deeper insight into how we humans develop over our lifespan and the various stages that come with it.
I evangelised my learnings, I spoke around Australia and parts of the world about the developer & designer problems moreover I started to parrot my own research into the field of arm-chair psychology. I looked at my son and tested my theories with him and began to gain success in unlocking the mind of how working memory works moreover how the world looks to an innocent mind. He taught me how to design with users in mind better than any user study i encountered.
Armed with this wealth of knowledge, I berated the folks at Microsoft headquarters “we need to do a better job here, the designer & developers, the “me’s” aren’t getting this stuff“.
I was stunned at their reply, which was move to Microsoft Seattle and fix it yourself.
I did, I packed up my family and moved to the rainy city of technology and put myself to work as a product manager.
Yes, managing the product this is where I can learn and make change. Why focus just on the code and design when you can build the building blocks used to make the two come together.
I failed. Oh how I failed.
It was probably the first time I felt defeated in 20 years of doing this career, it was the first time I realised that there’s far too many moving parts to make an experience designer & developer successful. They simply work in two different time planes and they will never truly agree on “done“.
I succeeded in my role there, I did amazing things during my time at the company and I’m proud of what I did (we gave the world HD video for the first time, we gave designers & developers a hint of co-existence and lastly I fixed products that were broken before I arrived) there but, deep down, I failed.
I was frustrated, I can code, design and now product manager but still there’s not enough to make this work. The psychology of design is still missing and even when you eventually figure out the user’s actual needs the teams let you down in the delivery mess.
We don’t have time and to be honest we have so much tech debt, we couldn’t make the designs happen if we wanted to.
I firmly believe the art of software development today can be broken into a simple clause.
A User Interface is how we answer questions that we think the users are about to ask. Our job is to figure out what those questions are likely to be and provide answers all the while checking constantly, did we get it right.
When asked, what do you want to do next? the answer has never changed for me, and that solves the problem above. If that means leading a team of developers & designs, sign me up. If it means sitting in a cubicle headphones on cutting code,sign me up. If it means grinding pixels and promoting better design ideas, sign me up.
The hunger for this has never once wavered in my career, my resume shows signs of careful life choices, choices I’ve made consciously looking for answers to a set of problems that others don’t see as yet or aren’t fully aware of what they are looking at.
I’ve been taught by some of the world’s best minds on programming, design and product marketing & management. You couldn’t buy what I’ve had the fortunate ability to learn and even if I catalogued all of the things I’ve conquered and the people I’ve worked with – you’d simply not believe me it’s that amazing.
Design with code and pixels. I still have a hard time positioning what I do as a title or category as often people prefer to compartmentalise your skills into very specific niches. That’s fine, I know why and familiarity and clarity are a hard thing to have when finding roles for problems companies face.
As for the definition of User Experience and me, well, my son still teaches me amazing insights into how cognitive development works in humans. He’s inspired me to be selfish and go after a degree in Psychology not because I want to be a mind reader but because he’s taught me the mind is a powerful compiler, one that we still have far too much to learn about to declare “done” on.
Now combine this quest with the design, programming and marketing/management and that’s me. How folks use my skills next is really up to them, and I’m an open book to any idea or insight they may want me to solve.
My next role or journey is simple, I ideally want to apply all these skills into a shared purpose. I’m not interested in the titles or where I sit in the corporate ladder, furthermore money has less interest for me than ever before and I’m quite hungry to sit at the cubicle level and help map out questions the users likely to ask, with answers to match.
Design, code, usability & accessibility are just tools to me to get the job done. Think of these as simply spanners, hammer and wrenches to fixing a problem based on context.
I’m not your typical “UX” person, but I’m ok with that.
Today I’m unemployed by choice not by circumstance. I am taking a month to regroup, focus on rebuilding my own skills and make sure I look at the next opportunity with a more careful set of consideration. The title I choose or is chosen for me next means nothing to me per say, what will drive me to the interview or hopefully employment with a company isn’t where I sit in the delivery team process (coder, designer, product manager etc) it’s the purpose that the company brings.
If the next company I work for has a purpose to solve a set of problems but is still struggling to define the solution – oh man am I hungry to work with you.
I love the chaos that a hard problem can inject and I’ll write code, design and product manage – you just have to pay for one of these upfront the other two are free.
Companies like TopTal.com for me is about introducing me to the above. I could go via the typical recruiter route, which means having to explain via proxy the concept of a full stack developer and the various moving parts that come with that. Instead I’d rather just go to the folks who understand my type of coder & designer in one, folks who will help me navigate my way to people who are in need of the specialised skillset required.