Today was my first day as a graduate student working on my Masters in Human Factors (the superset field of User Experience) at San Jose State. After working on CodePlex.com, especially alongside the UX experts at Blink Interactive, I got to experience first-hand what a great UX story can do for a product. And when I say UX, I don’t just mean UI design. I’m talking about user research, user profiles, usability studies, heuristic evaluations, cognitive walkthroughs, interaction design, graphic design, customer support, and everything else I’m forgetting in the list. And people wonder why it is so hard to design good UI.
I just can’t stress enough that once you have a great UX support, you simply cannot live without it. It’s only a matter of time before Hallmark has UX Engineer Appreciation day cards.
My First Day of School
In honor of my first day of grad school, I present my first ever day of school.
I can remember being really annoyed by the uniform (the skirt and the tucked-in shirt). I also remember walking into the classroom for the first time, wondering why there was such a huge gap between the kids’ height and the ceiling. Then I realized the huge gap was for the teachers because they of course would be adult-height. Then the boy seated to my right says, “Do you want a coke?” and I said yes, and he makes this motion with his hands like the invisible coke in his hands had exploded on me. And I start to cry because I fell for his joke and decided boys are dumb. Ah, the memories of a 6 year old. (Actually, my oldest memory is being less than a year old getting a bath in a sink and discovering my leg for the first time. The water hit my leg and I remember making the connection that this leg thing is a part of me because I saw and felt the water at the same time. It was terrifying to realize I suddenly had a leg. So I screamed my head off at the world.)
My Last Day of College Undergrad
The image of my undergrad advisor’s car is self-explanatory (except you can’t see all the balloons we stuffed inside of it). Gotta love getting your hands on a set of spare keys.
The last time I was a student on a college campus…
- Telnet was used to check email
- A 3.5 floppy disk was used to submit programming assignments
- There was a rumor going around Netscape Navigator wasn’t going to last much longer
- Visual J++ was my editor of choice
- Flowers were the only thing I really knew you could successfully order online
- The only cell phones were the ones you could plug into your car, so there was no “cell phone policy” in the classrooms
- (4 years prior) My first ever CS lab assignment was to learn how to use FTP
My First Day of Grad School
What surprised me most of all was how alive and energetic everyone was on campus.
Things I didn’t expect:
- The eBook RENTAL value of a textbook was the same as the hard copy hardback rental. Let me repeat this. The eBook textbook (that works on Macs and PCs but not iPads) that you RENT costs the same as renting the hard copy hardback ($100.00). Someone please explain this to me.
- The people who talked to friends in class didn’t annoy me. Thank you CodePlex team room for the training on how to block out background noise.
- How strange the word “Homework” sounded to my ears.
- How painful it was to watch the professor debate out loud the best way to change a font color in PowerPoint. If all my classes are going to be like this, I might not make it.
- To find a juggling club within minutes of walking onto campus. I have to bring my diabolo tomorrow.
- Out of the 75 students in my 300lv class today (an engineering pre-req), no one was taking notes on a laptop. In fact, I didn’t see anyone even taking notes!
- How long the Textbook Renters Agreement is on a receipt. What happened to saving the rainforest?
It will be really interesting to make the adjustment from “results-driven performance” to “beauty is in the eye of the professor” performance. Already I’m finding myself cringing reading in my textbooks about the “engineering method” about how engineers debug and fix issues. But it will be an adventure, and I’ll continue to share here.
My First Day of the Rest of my Career
If anyone out there has made the PM->UX jump, or has added a UX degree to their existing PM roles, I’d love to pick your brain for advice.
In the here and now, I’m using this first semester to get a running start into the program by focusing on classwork. But after this semester, I’m hoping to find an opportunity in South Bay (Silicon Valley) that allows me to continue using Agile/XP in a PM role for a very UX-focused product/culture. Fortunately, San Jose State offers an evening program for my Masters.
Longer term, I could see myself becoming some sort of User Experience Researcher. I love analyzing how people use software. I guess this is why I loved being a software tester on Visual Studio so much. One of my favorite things to do is to review a prototype website or product and provide feedback on what’s not quite working. I don’t recall the formal names for these things (heuristic evaluations?), but I know I love to do them. I’ve even begged friends to let me review their websites and provide them with 10 page reviews just for fun.
Wish me luck and patience(!) with my professors using PowerPoint. At least I don’t have to watch them use Visual Studio! :)