If I knew then what I know now…

I met with a new student in the IAKM program last night to talk about how she can make the most of the next two years and give herself the best foundation for her newly chosen field. It gave me a fun opportunity to come up with a list of “If I knew then what I know now” thoughts to share with her–but it also reminded me that one of the things I love about this field is that it requires continuous learning and that it’s never too late to learn something new.

The List

  • Take a basic programming class and commit to learning rudimentary basics of an accessible language, such as Python. Not so much to become competent at coding as to be introduced to the kind of logic and thought processes used by Developers. This is a strategy for working more effectively with developers on a number of levels–being more empathetic, having some shared vocabulary, being less intimidated. 
  • Learn (or bone up) on statistics. This is particularly valuable in the context of user research and usability testing and was something that was woefully lacking from my own formal education. Jeff Sauro & James Lewis’ book Quantifying the User Experience and Tom Tullis’ Measuring the User Experience should be considered canonical.
  • Develop a familiarity with as many tools as possible, but select a small handful to develop deep expertise in. When I started in the field Visio was the go-to tool; it has gradually been superceded by a variety of other tools. Today I think the most bang for the buck would come from learning Illustrator (or INDD, but this is much less ubiquitous) and the rapid prototyping tool Axure. To this end–bite the bullet and pay for an annual subscription to Lynda.com while you’re in school–bundle it with tuition; you’ll be able to learn more software programs faster, easier and cheaper than anything your university will be able to offer.
  • Systematically familiarize yourself with the various professional associations; consider using the reduced student rates to join several over the course of your education. Finding one or two professional associations that fit with your personality and goals will provide excellent networking and professional development opportunities. Learn about both the older more established organizations (that frequently have more breadth) such as UXPA, ACM (SIG CHI), ASIST (SIG IA), as well as the newer more narrowly focused organizations like the IAI, iXDa.
  • Use those professional organizations as a jumping off point for identifying a conference to attend while you’re still in school. Look for ways to reduce costs by volunteering, but get yourself to a conference. Ideally plan to attend one event annually–it’s an important way to keep your finger on the pulse of the field, get re-engergized about your career and develop a network.
  • Get in the habit of scanning (if not reading) tech and UX news/blogs/articles beyond what you’re being assigned in class. Bloggers invariably link to other smart people they’ll recommend reading.


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