General Assembly’s Day in the life of a UX Designer

This holiday season, I decided to get into as many intro-to-tech events as I could before the year was up. The second event that I found was hosted by Chicago Startup Community, a meetup group which is focused on helping its members get more involved in the local entrepreneurial scene. The event was a Day in the life of a UX Designer (UXD). The event was hosted at the relatively new General Assembly downtown office. Upon arrival, I could tell that this event was different and it was mostly because of the crowd who attended. A lot of attendees were already in a design-y field or company (mostly on the product or sales side) and they were interested in moving over to UX. For those who don’t know, UX stands for User Experience which involves a person’s behaviors, attitudes, and emotions about using a particular product, system or service. User Experience includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human–computer interaction and product ownership (thanks Wikipedia!). While UX has been around under other names such as Information Architecture and User Interface (UI is usually used in when it comes to user-product interactions in the physical world) it is one of the quickest growing fields that touts some of the highest salaries out there.

The panel was composed of people who are currently working in the field– most of which did not have a traditional background in design. For instance, there was only one person with a background in visual design, but others had their backgrounds in electrical engineering, video production, and geology! Of course, now there are opportunities to seek out UX on an academic track, but for the most part they followed their interests within their former positions which is what led them to where they are now. A few takeaways I got from the panel are:

  • UX is a mindset: UXDs are “empathetic problem solvers”.
  • The user is never wrong: There may be a flaw in the design, or perhaps you do not have a grasp on who your true primary user is.
  • There are two main UX work environments: As a UXD you might work at a company whose product is UX design services, therefore you will work with other designers. On the other side of the house, you may work at a company whose product requires UXD maintenance. In that case you might be a department of one and you will work cross departmentally with other people to support the product. Ideally, you would at least be a department of two so that you can bounce ideas off of another UXD
  • You do not need to know how to code: However, the more knowledgeable you are about how code works in the first place, the easier it will be for you to communicate ideas to the developers.
  • Not every project begins with talking to users: There is a process to good UX design, however if you’re working with clients that are coming to you for a service, they might have already done the research and the only thing you’ll have is the data. In other instances, you won’t even have data, you’ll have someone who is supposed to know the users inside and out. The world isn’t perfect, but being able to work these scenarios will make you a much better UXD in the end.
  • Transitioning to UX is like other tech transitions: Read your face off. Make side projects. Repeat. If you’ve got the money and think it’s valuable attend a boot camp.

A final point that was made was that UX Design is a big deal. More and more, companies are paying attention to how it affects the bottom line. Even the C-Suite is a part of meetings regarding UX and business decisions are starting to be made with the data. This is a big deal as it ups the value of the UX department and its staff.

From what I gather to be a full-stack developer it would behove you to have a grasp on what make UX design better than others so while this isn’t my main focus it wouldn’t hurt to keep an ear to the ground for happenings in this field.

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RailsBridge Chicago – The first encounter with Ruby!

This is a few weeks late, but I felt that it was such a great event that it needed to be written about! As I mentioned in a previous post I have decided to change careers and am spending time outside of work teaching myself how to code. The big switch is going from a very generalist, office admin gig to becoming a web or software developer. Since I am at the beginning of this path, a lot of the advice I’ve heard is to fully immerse myself in the new information. Typically you hear this kind of advice when learning a new language so I figured that the best way to research what I would be getting myself into was by attending local events. Lucky for me, my first event was an intense two-part (11 hours total) workshop which allowed me to dive head first into a new language while surrounded by other ladies in the same boat.

The event I attended was a Ruby on Rails Workshop hosted by RailsBridge Chicago.  RailsBridge is a totally neat organization. Their mission is:

RailsBridge is working to make tech more diverse and welcoming by teaching programming, connecting human beings, and listening to people’s needs. We organize and teach free workshops on Rails, Ruby, and HTML & CSS in cities all over the world, targeted at groups of people that are underrepresented in tech.

Following the mission, that meant that this was an ALL LADIES EVENT! The event space was graciously donated by Brad’s Deals, located in a the swanky near-loop area. The poured cement floors, bistro tables for standing while working, and open floor plan eked of “today’s modern office” only to be emphasized by a refrigerator filled with organic juices, energy drinks and beer. That this is a place where people work hard and play hard.

As I mentioned, the workshop was two parts–and for a totally good reason. Friday night was dubbed the “Installfest” complete with instructions and snacks (if you’re interested in playing along at home, you can find resources here). For almost three hours attendees plowed their way through instructions as Teaching Assistants (volunteers from the local Dev Bootcamp) helped students inch their way to the major checkpoint for the night. There was one moment where the majority of folks with PCs were having issues, and it was because of an errant “s” in “https” that essentially cause a 3-program pileup. When another TA swung by my laptop to eliminate this single naughty “s”, I mentally buckled myself in for what would be an eye opening weekend.

On Saturday morning, I wanted to show that waking up early to attend a totally new to me class didn’t scare me so I cabbed in to BD’s office and was SUPER early. I settled in and started chatting with people near me. I was so surprised to find out that a lot of the women at the event were already in the tech field. On my right I had two software developers who work at call centers and on my left, a hardware resource manager who works a start-up.

After an introduction by RailsBridge Chicago, we are directed to our assignment for the day. For the next few hours it’s ⅓ self directed, ⅓ co-directed, and ⅓ TA assisted learning to plow through the lesson. I will say that there are some Pluses and Deltas to what went on:
( Pluses and Deltas is just an evaluating tool I learned from my days of volunteering. I’m sure you know what Pluses are, but Deltas are things that you would like to change)

Pluses

  • 3-hour Installfest the night before was such a good idea! What better way to make sure that everyone is ready and prepped for a whole day of coding than to make sure that you’re ready the night before.
  • TAs were super knowledgeable and the other attendees were also very helpful during moments when I felt lost in the lesson.
    The lessons were fairly straight forward and offered tasks with screenshots.
  • Being able to write into the console and text editor yourself and post changes made to a (locally hosted) website really helped you get over the hump of “OMG am I going to kill my computer?!” Personally, the console looks way too much like the command line so the first time I saw it I panicked a little and said an apology in advance to my laptop–but all is well! The console is a place to tinker and run servers, not ruin your computer.
  • I really appreciated the list of resources that were sent out to everyone who signed up afterwards. There were links to websites and other suggestions for attendees to continue on with their independent study

Deltas

  • I would have liked more information on the concepts that make what we were doing work instead of just following instructions.
  • Tiny change would be to make sure that links to all of the presentation slides are posted somewhere (on a website or in the physical space itself) ahead of the presentation so that attendees could follow along instead of trying to find a place to sit where you can see the TV that the presentations were projected onto.

On a non-content side of things, the donated food was amazing! There was a huge line of pizza on Friday night and Saturday was filled with tasty and healthy munchies. I was super impressed and while this has nothing to do with what we learned, it totally helped to make a very comfortable learning environment.

As for what I learned, I’ve really only scratched the surface of RoR.  There is a lot of jargon to pick up and a ton of referencing the same thing in several different places within your app. Building a tight procedure is going to take some time to establish (“first update this, then that, and the other”) but ultimately, I think that coming up with an idea that could be executed in RoR is going to be one of my biggest challenges. Hopefully by the time the next event comes along, I’ll be able to get through my assignments quicker and have ideas for dynamic sites.

New Updates Added to Our Code Wiki

Here are some resources from other folks in similar circles!

Our Code

Hello all,

I updated Our Code Wiki with some goodies for you learning pleasure.  It’s been a while since I updated, so I added plenty to keep you all busy.  Enjoy and have a great holiday season!

Open2Study’s course UX for Web

CS258 Software Testing Methodology course

CS253 Web Dev: How to Build a Blog course

CS262 Programming Languages: Building a Web Browser course

CS255 HTML5 Game Development course

CS271 Intro to Artificial Intelligence course

CS215 Into to Algorithms course

Reference Guide on Linux Command Line

Reference Guide on Unix

Google’s Guide for Technical Development

Checklist for Responsive Web Design Projects

Stanford’s Practical Unix course

Links to Code School and Google Developers University

If you would like to join as a member of the wiki or contribute, subscribe to Our Code Blog, or check out instructions here.

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This lady has two dates with Ruby!

Typically, I never get my hopes up when I am waitlisted for something (colleges, classes, videogame releases) but THIS time it totally paid off to sign up anyway!  Tomorrow night and all of Saturday I will be joining Bridge Troll for Rails Bridge Chicago, a two-part Ruby on Rails event.  Friday night will be spent doing an install fest and making sure that my laptop is prepped for Saturday–which will be an in-depth introduction to Ruby on Rails. This will be an 8-hour workshop that will hopefully make me smarter than the average bear when it comes to making web apps. Wish me luck!

The Odin Project

I might try this after I finish Codecademy.

My Life at Harvard

After hearing much buzz about The Odin Project, I decided to check it out. Part of my personal learning while I’m here at Harvard is to build skills that will make me more hirable. I’m still exploring possible career paths but generally, most of the things I’m interested require a better understanding and familiarity with the technical side of things.

The Odin Project is a free self-paced course on web development. This is from their site and explains their project:

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 8.31.11 PM

I think that’s a pretty cool concept. I don’t know exactly how many people are using this site, but I think it has the potential to be a massive space.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 8.39.38 PM

While not all the lesson pages have user discussions, I think it’s great that on the ones that do, there’s interactions and exchanges between users. I also think it’s great that the site has a section on forming in-person study groups…

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Reflecting and Coding in Chicago

With 2013 winding down, I find myself thinking about whether I’m heading in the right direction in life or not (get used to it.  This happens ALL the time).  I’m 3/4 of the way into my degree (a degree which has beaten me into submission and I retaliated by whipping it into a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies) and have decided to aim for a concentration in Human Resources Development during my last 36-ish credits.  I know that HRD will help me in working with groups of people but it *feels* like such a soft skill.  Every day I am surrounded by coworkers who had hard/technical skills and I feel like it may behoove me to pick an additional one up. Yeah yeah, I can use MS Office, Google, CRMs and can pick up on most softwares, but what if i could actually *make* a software?  Or a website?  I think that moving forward in today’s world, those would be skills that are in high demand.  I have considered changing majors, but that would be a MAJOR step backwards and push the finish line out another year or so.  All of that led me to the internet (–face it, you know that Google always leaves the light on for you to return at some ungodly hour)

ImageSuper props to Grace Hopper for being one of the first female coders!

So, through my recent google searches, I have found a nifty program that may just help some people jumpstart their IT or CS career.  The program is called I.C. Stars, and they’re a non-profit who enroll people into a 4 month program (12 hours per day, 6 days per week) with a $600/mo stipend to learn coding and computer science.  For people who are driven, can afford the paycut/use the money, it seems like a really worthwhile opportunity.

Another group I am looking into is the Chicago Chapter of Girl, Develop It.  Sometimes they have events called Coffee & Code, where you’re able to show up and meet other people who code or work on code with the help of others.  I think before I show up and make a complete ass of myself, I may want to spend a few more hours on Codeacademy (if you’re on there look me up!  My handle is Lexy0923).

Ideally I whatever I do would connect me with a group of other strong women who I could swap ideas with and gain some guidance.  Have you heard of anything else locally in Chicago, or virtually accessible, and financially affordable?