I am a web developer with decent abilities but a growing frustration with the work. I have identified an area that I would like to pursue - Human-Computer Interaction.
I've been struggling with how to proceed with what seems like the inevitable next step in my working life and I'm hoping MeFi can be my surrogate mentor. I'd like to ask anon for employer-related reasons, which means more information than you may require inside.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I took a few HCI classes in my undergrad and I really liked it. It's something I'm interested in, passionate about, and actually feel confident in my ability to succeed. I don't often have an opportunity to flex those muscles, but when I do, I enjoy it and also receive positive feedback from others.
In addition, although I don't have professional web design experience, I'm not terrible. I'm pretty minimalist, so at the worst things I create just look unpolished. That's not to say I'm confident about it - there are people that are way better, of course, and I get easily discouraged. It takes me a while as I hem and haw over things before I'm even marginally satisfied. However, I've gotten better. I enjoy the design process but, again, I'm not that great at it and I am anxious about sharing my work.
A solid background, or at least decent understanding, in these fields seems like it would make me a good candidate for HCI stuff, at least in the web realm. I understand what goes into a site, the limitations of the technology, how things usually work, I have technical chops, etc.
I did some research to see what kinds of jobs are out there and what companies are looking for. It seems there are two types - the bigger orgs (and some smaller) that have separated HCI stuff into it's own job (separate from the designers who make it look nice or the developers who make it work) - so wire framing, rapid prototyping, etc. And then everyone else who seem to be looking for a kick-ass designer with at least the knowledge of what usability means.
I'm obviously more drawn to the first type of job, but these usually require a master's, which I suspected. So this is how I see the options:
Get a masters
The good: Would learn more about this field and feel more confident applying for the type of position that I want.
The bad: I have a large chunk of undergrad student loan debt and would feel frivolous potentially taking out more loans. However, I could perhaps offset the cost with scholarships, part-time work, and undergoing a major life change through the next year and live as cheaply as possible before attending. Although this would mean drastically altering my life and I might not even get accepted! Also, would likely mean leaving my current location, and I like where I live.
However, the twist is that there is an HCI program in a location that I would like to live in, at least for the duration of the program. That would be a double blessing of getting a master's and pursuing a life goal. But it would also be the double whammy of changing my entire life and coming up with funds.
Sell myself and work my way up
I'm not good at this, so that is already a strike against this option. But, in theory, I could try to either sell to my current work place (which, in my opinion, needs a usability person, though they might not be able to have one person dedicated to this) to let me take on some of these responsibilities and work on a portfolio or take some design classes to get better at design and try to sell myself as a designer. At least that way, I have more input in the usability, can build up a portfolio and hopefully work my way up to a dedicated user-experience position. Though I'm afraid that some of the more dream job type jobs would not be available to me without the master's. This is hard for me to get behind considering I don't really have anything to show to back up my "I would be good at this" spiel other than lots of enthusiasm and a website or two. Unless I took a class, but it would still not be actual work experience.
So, my question
For this field is it worth it/necessary to pack up my life, perhaps incur some more debt and get a master's to make the world a more usable place? Or is their hope in developing my middle-of-the-road design skills and hopping my way up the ladder, though potentially closing myself off from the top?