Most recently, I was working on a small product team developing software for mobile and desktop. I was taking on a comprehensive design role to build our system from scratch, establish brand standards, and create all of our assets.
While I had been in UX prior to joining the startup, I had not yet had the chance to have total ownership over interaction and design direction or worked on a brand new product from the ground up. Many of the projects I had done previously were a re-work of a system, consulting, and a lot of support for pitches (when I was working for a global tech consulting firm).
One of advantages of working for a small startup was that it brought me face-to-face with the developers–in the same room to be exact. When I joined the startup, I began drawing up some quick and dirty mockups for one of our mobile apps. Almost as soon as I exported assets, our iOS developer had pulled them in and sat down to show me the progress. This may sound trivial to some, but I was pumped! Most all of the work I had created on UX teams had been off-shored thus limiting my communication with developers. Not only that, his work was careful and attentive and he understood the value of good design. (I know, I'm a lucky gal!)
From here on out, I met with him as much as possible to tweak designs. When I shifted focus to our desktop product, I worked with three really, really talented full-stack developers. No joke, these guys blew me away! Each of them had a slightly different style of working alongside me, but they were all hyper-intelligent, fast, and excellent problem-solvers.
Because it was one IxD designer to three developers, my goal was always to make their lives as easy as possible by being organized and literal with assets and patterns. The more we collaborated, the more we peered into each other's worlds. I felt I could be of most help by learning a little bit of code, so I did. I was curious to push myself further into the programming world as I knew it would only strengthen the team.
In the process, I learned that perhaps the biggest difference and hinderance to a lot of people being versatile in both design and development is they are two completely different approaches to thinking. My biggest challenge wasn't learning to write code, it was learning to shift my mindset to think like a developer.
On one hand, design is very open-ended. There are infinite ways to design something (which is one reason why I always start any design on paper). Programming follows a logical structure, right vs. wrong, true vs. false, if this, then that.
I set course when I began coding and designing the pattern library for our software. I dove head-first into the deep end when I took this project on. There were a lot of moments of frustration because I had no idea what I was doing at first. I knew a teeny amount of HTML and CSS when I started the project and took on learning React.js. As I was slowly drudging through simple lines of code, I couldn't help but feel were a lot of pieces missing between point A (more of the read things on W3C approach) and point B (trying to comprehend lectures of advanced React functions).
I was trying to connect a literal web of information while still upholding my job duties. (Remember that part about being a designer?) Also, by nature I am a person who likes to know everything. Don't just tell me pieces of the story, I want the whole thing. That's how I was feeling about my progress towards becoming a legit developer. I could set up a basic HTML boilerplate and write some crazy JSX, but I didn't know much in between. I also didn't know the reasoning behind why things were they way they were in developer land.
Then, two things happened. One, our startup didn't start. This forced me to re-think a lot in my life as big change always does. Second, I already knew about immersive programming schools (some of my friends graduated from them) and I had always had an interest in them. I stopped wondering, "What if I could be a kick-ass developer and designer?" and finally signed myself up.
So, this post is dedicated to the kick-ass developers I had the pleasure of working with. Thanks for inspiring me guys. One day I hope to catch up to you!