By Dale Sande December 24, 2013

What is UX Engineering?

UI Ninja and Unicorn are names that have been bestowed upon us by a fledgling industry still trying to crawl out of the primordial ooze that is Web App Development.

What are these roles and who are the people who fill them? How does one become a Ninja or Unicorn anyway? For the record, just stop saying Ninja and Unicorn. Seriously.

Designers, front-end engineers, and application developers have all struggled with these questions, as have I throughout my career. It’s only through perseverance, passion, and a bit of luck that I have had the opportunity to solve many of these questions. This insight has allowed me to partner with Code Fellows and bring about the next evolution of design/UI development education: the UX Engineering Bootcamp.

User Experience (UX)

noun

the overall experience of a person using a product, such as a website or computer application, esp. in terms of how easy or pleasing it is to use : if a website degrades the user experience too much, people will stay away.

Engineer

noun

a person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or public works.

  • a person qualified in a branch of engineering, esp. as a professional : an aeronautical engineer.
  • the operator or supervisor of an engine, esp. a railroad locomotive or the engine on an aircraft or ship.
  • a skillful contriver or originator of something : the prime engineer of the approach.

verb [ with obj. ]

design and build (a machine or structure) : the men who engineered the tunnel.

  • skillfully or artfully arrange for (an event or situation) to occur : she engineered another meeting with him.
  • modify (an organism) by manipulating its genetic material : [ as adj., with submodifier ] engineered : genetically engineered plants.

I think you can see where I’m going with this.

The elusive unicorn

What is a unicorn and why are there so many employers out there looking for one? Because they are magical, solve amazing problems, and produce objects of desire.

Unicorn

The term unicorn describes people in the workforce who cross domains of interest. These individuals are essential when it comes to startups. They are non-specialized, cross-functional generalists within a particular vertical.

In the world of design, generalists produce results in several areas of the craft. From aesthetic design to user testing and beyond, the modern designer fills multiple roles.

Adding to this burden, today’s interactive web application designers have to be more involved in the coding process. More employers are increasing the requirements of the elusive unicorn. Not only will they possess the skills of a quality designer, but also have the ability to work closely and seamlessly with application engineers. In some cases, they are asked to be a full stack generalist developer as well. The definition of what it means to design is changing. Popular concepts like design in the browser and responsive web design are clearly pushing designers out of static tools and into the medium they are designing for.

Just like the mythical creature, unicorns in the work force do not exist. What does exist is the ability to learn a skill set that does not diminish what you have already learned. Instead, it propels you into a new and exciting career path. The role of the UX Engineer is to be a designer and developer wrapped up in one amazing package.

Protip: Employers are looking for people who can produce assets that are easily consumable into the application development workflow. Handing off static designs, or even digital assets that only take you half way there, are becoming less and less desirable. Without a doubt, a person filling a design role who can integrate with a development team will be more successful and extremely desirable in the workplace.

Where is a designer to go?

What should you do once you take on the challenge of becoming a multi-dimensional UX Engineer, and how do you gain these skills that employers want? In the landscape of learning opportunities, there are several options.

Many designers have been very successful in self-education through web tutorials, books, and video courses. But these resources lack cohesion and each very specifically address only one aspect. Understanding how they all interact is the hard part. How does tab A fit into slot B? Adding to this lack of cohesion, self-learning takes a lot of time and personal commitment, especially if you’re trying to learn outside of a full-time job.

Gleaning information from co-workers or partnering with someone to learn the skills of the trade can also be a great way to learn. However, even these amazing opportunities come with a cost. Not every work request has the time and resources available to make it a training exercise, and not every problem can be solved by pairing an experienced developer with an eager learner. While this is a great way to learn, it is not scaleable or consistently dependable.

Community college tech education courses aim high, but often fall short. They tent to have a solid education base but focus on only the fundamentals and lack emphasis on the tools and solutions that application developers experience every day.

Certificate programs that focus on educating junior developers have standard classes in HTML, CSS and Javascript (mainly jQuery). These programs exclude education in the tools that professional developers are currently using. Fundamental classes only cover the basics, and those who choose to learn the more advanced material focus on a specific stack, like Ruby on Rails or C#/.NET. To a UXer, this is not helpful. Learning the fundamentals is one thing, but taking the full path to becoming a Ruby on Rails or C#/.NET developer is not typically the desired career path.

What makes Code Fellows different?

The Code Fellows UX Engineering Bootcamp aims to fill this essential career-building gap. In a focused, two-month session, the bootcamp covers the basics and quickly progresses into the more advanced concepts that UXers and developers face every day. Students also learn the industry tools that employers look for.

The UX Engineering Bootcamp skips entry-level training and focuses on combining your design background with cohesion and self-confidence to increase your opportunities and success in the marketplace. We’ll focus on a desired outcome that other programs do not and help you start on new career path that builds on the design skills you already have, without asking you to trade in your identity.

The end goal is an adventure of your own choosing. Everyone has the ability to quickly move from traditional design tools to designing and prototyping Responsive Web Designs in the browser. Establishing UI patterns and style guide-driven development will be core pillars for this bootcamp.

You will learn how to work with the tools that professional web app developers are using today, such as version control with Git and Github. We will discuss how to use Terminal and the command line prompt. There are no IDEs here, and no WordPress or Dreamweaver to manage your environments. The key to learning is to understand the code you write in powerful, professional text editors.

Additionally, we’ll discuss concepts like Kanban and how a designer can seamlessly integrate into a Lean Agile development team. We will continuously practice what it means to bring design value to the development story. We’ll dive deep into the technologies that drives modern Web App Development, including templating languages, script managers, package installers, preprocessors, and proper organizational methodologies.

Summary

We all live in a very exciting time; a time where your career path is of your choosing and new opportunities are being created on a daily basis.

We also live in a time where the role of the Interactive Web Application Designer is being reshaped. We are all beginning to walk out of this primordial ooze to create real technologies that shape business. With this new vision comes increased demands, resources and our skills. Those who rise to the occasion are certain to be successful.