My UX School (of Life)

Suggesting a UX School

I recently received an email from a teammate. She knows me to be a design-minded product engineer and asked what school I suggest for UX/UI training. After giving it a thought I don’t have any. Whatever UX education I received is based on being around excellent practitioners.

Let me give you a sense of ways I picked up on UX design over the past four years. Decide for yourself which will be a valuable part of your journey.

Meeting With Designers

There’s no doubt that I’m a career programmer. Somewhere around 30+ years at this point. Started off as a hobby, became a passion, and now it’s my professional calling.

About four years back I started hearing more about design as a job function, and user experience (UX) as a goal of that activity. Sounds interesting. I better start meeting designers.

My goal was finding individuals willing to give me some of their time, and open enough to share some of their mind. Discovering folks that fit that mold wasn’t too hard. Very fortunate for me! I scheduled minutes with them.

We chatted in the hallways. We caught up over coffee. We talked over lunch. One of the best ways to get into the mind of a designer was joining a hackathon team. No doubt you’ll learn plenty from a person sitting shoulder-to-shoulder competing in a 24-hour programming contest.

Hanging Out with Designers

Professional meetups are a fantastic way to gather with designers. Meetups a low-risk method of learning from, and with, designers about UI/UX. Most of these are monthly, local, and totally free. Many treat you with free food and drink!

Now believe me, it can be a grind to dash across town to a meetup after a long day at work. I hear you loud and clear. It’s easy to sign up and then bail out, but don’t! Put in the extra effort and at least show up. Once you’re through the door and in the mix you never know what’s going to happen. Could be superb! Usually is.

Meetups gave me a completely stress-free, and casual setting to chat with folks who are user interface designers, content strategists, information architects, usability engineers, ethnographic researchers, and many more unique job titles. All of these brilliant folks are interested in celebrating and understanding the nature of user experience.

Nearly every meetup features a time to introduce yourself to other people and figure out what their deal is. Then there’s a featured speaker who tells what they’re deal is. By the end of every night I’d learn a boat load. For free! What a bargin.

My advice to you is go to a meetup and be a nice person – you’ll get great vibes right back at you. Volunteer to speak at a meetup when you’re feeling strong and confident in a subject. There’s no better feeling than giving back to a community who has offered you something without expectation.

Here are couple of meetups that I know about:

Attending Conferences

Conferences are more expensive because of travel and ticket costs, but they can have a huge impact. Without a doubt I’ve significantly leveled up my skills by attending a handful of multi-day events.

I’ve met plenty of people. I’ve heard a load of high-caliber speakers. I’ve gotten inspired and informed. I’ve had the honor of presenting at a number of them too. The fact that I’m a programmer, and I’ve had the distinction of speaking at design events, totally blows me away. Being accepted into a community gives me a ton of pride. Being with them makes me want to serve at my highest level possible.

Here are a couple of conferences that I can say are top-shelf:

Proud to say that I’ve been chosen to speak at South by Southwester Interactive in March of 2017. My talk is called “Programming with Purpose: Why Design-Minded Engineers Are So Valuable.” I have a fantastic message to deliver, and can’t wait to serve my audience well.

Following on Twitter

A lot of people think Twitter is all full of dumb. I can’t argue that. Plenty of it is a waste of bandwidth.

Other parts of Twitter are exceptional beyond measure.

Creative genius oozes in between the craziness of random public blather. People who make the things that you and I admire are on Twitter. You can reach out to them with your questions and support. Folks will freely share what influences them and where they’re heading with the work.

Twitter can be amazing and well worth your time. Check it out if you never have. Plenty can be found on Twitter regarding individual posts and overall trends:

Start there and see what you find. Use this high-level search to dial in on who and what you want to follow.

Subscribing to Newsletters

I’m subscribing to a dozen weekly newsletters. These little gems are brief reports of trending topics, historical insights, and future-forward musings. Each is curated by an individual, or small team, who do their very best to bring you interesting stuff they find on the web.

Subscribe to several newsletters and I guarantee you’ll pick up plenty from every issue:

Reading Blog Articles

Several big name companies have a vested interest in serving their customers. It seems they freely give away pro-tips in the hopes that you’ll give them a call when you need a product or service. I think that’s a fair deal.

Some UX/design blogs are run by collectives of creative individuals who document their experience. It seems they genuinely desire moving the needle on industry best practices. I think that’s fantastic.

Picking Up Books

I enjoy adding to my ever growing personal library. Believe me here’s a subject that can help me on that goal! There are tons of quality books about designing user experience and better understanding users and customers. Here are a few of my absolute favorites. Each one of them is a loaded with practical case-studies and great pro-tips.

Click em to get yours on Amazon today!

Practicing at Work

Best of all I’m working with a great team on a terrific product. I’m proud to say that TripCase is an award winning travel app. Working on it allows me to explore the creative limits of what I can offer my development team.

Specifically exploring technical achievements, but also what I’ve learned about design-thinking.

Investing my time on UX made me more in tune with what our customers want as we improve and extend our websites, apps, and services. I’ve never considered it important to be product-aligned, but now I realize that when I focus on taking care of business, the company can concentrate on taking care of me.

It’s a virtuous circle that just makes sense.

Reflecting on Four Years

My formal journey through learning user experience is four years long. No doubt it unofficially started well before the time I heard of UX as a professional discipline. Not doubt my education will continue for many years to come.

As you can see I’ve never gone to an official school, but yet I’m lucky, I found many teachers around me in life!

At some point I became comfortable enough to let people refer to me as a “UX person.” I’ve always self-identified as a coder. Mixing it up and being well-rounded is a good deal. Undoubtably all my learnings have been valuable. Not just for my own needs, but in helping my customers better use my technology.

Ultimately I build software for other people to use!

Please reach out to me on Twitter with your opinions about programmers and design!

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