How Learning UX Design Made Me A Better Software Developer

As a frontend developer, Alex wanted to understand his users better. Here’s how learning UX helped him advance in his career.

by Emily Stevens on 30 October 2018

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While working as a frontend developer at the City of Austin, Texas, Alex saw a huge gap between the products he was building and the people he was building them for. A more user-centric approach was urgently needed, so he took to the internet to learn about UX.

A few books and blog posts later, Alex wanted more. He realised that, in order to successfully bring UX into the development process, he would need a more thorough, hands-on approach. That’s when he came across the CareerFoundry UX Design Course.

“I came across CareerFoundry and thought, this is perfect, especially because of the mentor component. I got teamed up with a mentor who was also based in Austin and, although we never got to meet face to face, it was cool to know that UX is something that people are actively practicing!”

Alex was certain that having an expert mentor would prove invaluable, and he wasn’t wrong. In fact, he credits his mentor with getting him through the course and pushing him to reach his full potential.

“One of the most useful aspects of the course was the one-on-one mentor; having somebody to really look at your work and give you feedback. There were a few instances where my mentor advised me to do a certain exercise all over again, and that was just awesome because it showed me that the mentors actually want you to learn as much as possible. It wasn’t just ‘here are some books, read this and be on your way’—it was really about me learning and doing the best work that I can do. It was really the mentorship aspect that got me through CareerFoundry.”

At this stage, Alex wasn’t looking for a career change. His primary motivation for learning UX design was to become a better developer; a developer who understands the end user and considers their needs. As he explains, it was becoming increasingly difficult to build and develop a product without really knowing who the product is for.

“I felt like, as a frontend developer, understanding the UX process is essential. It’s kind of hard to be a frontend developer without having any UX background. I wanted to be a well-rounded developer who really understands the UX process.”

Not only did Alex want to improve his own work; he was determined to make this user-first approach a company-wide mentality. As he progressed through the course, Alex brought everything he was learning back to his colleagues.

“When I enrolled on the course, it gave me that hands-on experience that I’d been hoping for. There are lots of different aspects of UX which I had no idea about—I was stuck in this frontend development dungeon, but the course really brought me out and allowed me to interface with actual users.

I was also able to bring that process to work and explain it to my coworkers while I was actively learning. As developers, the nature of our work was to release something and get back to it maybe five years later. As I learned about UX and how iterative it is, this was something I could bring to my team. I was able to say ‘Hey, you need to work on this continually and keep asking users what they’re experiencing so that we can fix it, rather than just waiting around for complaints.’ Being able to practice what I was learning right away really helped me to solidify that knowledge and put it to the test.”

After the course, Alex was keen to gain some experience in UX while continuing to program in his free time. He landed his first UX design role—an experience he describes as scary, but one he felt ready for nonetheless.

“I felt ready for a UX role, simply because the course itself is laid out in a very step-by-step process. It was almost like a blueprint for any UX project. When interviewing, I basically just talked about that process and I got really great feedback. CareerFoundry definitely prepared me for a UX role.”

Alex goes on to describe the challenges he faced while working as a UX designer, one of them being that all-too-familiar imposter syndrome. This is a common concern for bootcamp graduates; will employers take you seriously? Alex explains how he overcame this:

“I felt prepared, but there’s always that feeling of ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’ or ‘they’re going to think I’m a fraud.’ I would stop and try to figure out the best practice for this or that, but going through the CareerFoundry curriculum, I was able to realise that there is no best practice. The only best practice in UX is to engage with your users. No project is ever the same, and that was made very apparent through the different exercises we did on the course. That’s how I overcame my fear that I wasn’t going to be able to perform or to be a UX designer.”

Having heard about the challenges, I’m keen to hear what Alex enjoyed most about working in UX. At this point in the interview, most graduates tend to talk about the variety of their work, or the problem-solving nature of UX. Alex, however, is much more focused on how a UX mindset can transform a business.

“What I most enjoyed about working in UX was working with internal stakeholders and really opening their eyes to the UX process and how it helps them as a business, how it helps their customers. Once they see where they’re headed because of the UX process, that’s really rewarding.”

As the interview draws to a close, Alex tells me that today is actually his first day at a new job—marking his return to the world of software engineering. Does this mean he is leaving UX behind? Absolutely not.

“I really do hope to always be in that fine line between UX and UI development. I think one really informs the other; I keep seeing teams that are getting bigger, expanding into more defined teams, like UX and UI teams. There is definitely a need for somebody to bridge that gap between engineers and designers, and that’s where I want to be—in a role that really helps both sides to do what they need and to understand each other very well.”

So what advice would Alex give to anyone considering a career in UX?

“If you want a career that’s fulfilling and fun, covering everything from technology all the way to human interaction, do it! It’s a great place to be in, especially right now. User experience can offer you a wide range of opportunities.”

Before we say goodbye, I ask Alex to sum up his experience in a nutshell. He leaves me with these three words:

“Enlightening. Fulfilling. Fun.”

Learning UX design can pave the way to a brand new career, or it can help you approach your current role in a more user-centric way. If, like Alex, you want to master the most in-demand UX skills, get in touch with us today.

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by Emily Stevens on 30 October 2018

About the author

Emily Stevens

Emily is a professional tech writer and content strategist. She spent over a decade in tech startups, immersed in the world of UX and design thinking. In addition to writing for The CareerFoundry Blog, Emily has been a regular contributor to several industry-leading design publications and wrote a chapter for The UX Careers Handbook. She also has an MSc in Psychology from the University of Westminster.