Monthly Archives: November 2013

Interview with Anna Colton: Designing Your Future Career in UX

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Author’s note: Today we are speaking with Anna Colton, a senior partner at PROVEN, Inc. Anna will be hosting a UX Career Q&A session with DC/MD/VA folks on November 20. She will be discussing the UX industry as a whole and how to get the UX job that you’ve always wanted.

Norm: Can you tell us a bit about PROVEN and what you do?

Anna Colton

Anna Colton

Anna: We are a staffing firm that is headquartered in California. At our Herndon, Virginia office we support employers in the Washington DC region around three primary hiring areas: information technology, which is my focus area, finance and accounting, and human resource roles. Within our IT practice, we  find and place senior to management level user experience professionals. I’ve been doing this for about 13 years… I’m a particularly enthusiastic advocate of the industry because there is a cross section between these positions and the things I used to do.

How competitive is the UX market in DC?

The job market favors the candidate that is senior level in their career and distinguished in the user experience field. Most [of these types of] candidates that have been actively looking have multiple offers to consider. They have a lot of options, and counter-offers are actually very common – employers don’t want to lose them. It’s competitive but if you’ve got what it takes, you’re going to be able to write your own ticket. It is a very good market that tends to favor the job seekers as far as UX goes and generally anything related to IT.

When UX professionals can map their experience to how the company makes money, they put themselves in a great position. It is important to be able to show how their work has developed quantifiable results for their customers by sharing really good case studies.  When a UX professional can show and narrate some specific example of their finished project in an interview setting, that’s something that’s becoming more in demand and valuable as well.

How is the UX hiring market in DC  compared to other parts of the U.S.?

One thing that I think distinguishes this market is that there are a good number of positions in the government contracting space. Government contracting is not heavily represented in other markets [nationally] as it is in the local area.

The only other area of the U.S. that I think competes really strongly is probably the Silicon Valley area because it is such a rich tech area out there. At our Silicon Valley office, companies are looking for UX professionals that have worked for business-to-consumer organizations, whereas in the local area it tends to be more for people that have worked in UX for enterprise software or software that businesses are creating for other business users.

Do you notice any trends in the UX job market?

My perception is companies like to see a more holistic professional. When I first started, there were information architects, web designers, technical communicators or content developers. There was more stratification. Now, there is more opportunity for a more consummate and holistic UX professional who understands the integration of all those functions.

What are the most important skills to have in pursuing a UX career?

Maybe less about technology skills and more interpersonal and people skills. The ability to adapt, collaborate, and educate other team members on the importance of user experience.

I placed a person in July for a company had not really had anyone in a UX role. One of the reasons she got the job was that the CTO saw her ability to translate the value of UX to developers and engineers.

In the DC area, what types of companies are hiring UX professionals right now?

Most of the opportunities are in product development firms. The number-one opportunity are companies that are developing software for enterprise or consumer use. Next are companies that are developing custom software or solutions for either government or commercial clients. Lastly, IT departments that are developing web systems or mobile applications for internal employee use. The necessity of designing quality and effective user experiences for mobile users is fueling a lot of growth. People that have any experience in mobile development are highly sought after.

Want to ask Anna additional questions? Be sure to join us for the Designing your Future Career in UX Q&A event on November 20!

World-Renowned UX Specialist and Author, Ginny Redish, Opens UXPA Redux Conference

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Ginny RedishWhat’s a User Experience veteran of more than 50 years best advice to make it in the field of UX?

“Take work-life balance seriously,”said Dr. Janice “Ginny” Redish. “Take time off. Be sure to take vacations!”

Redish, with a Ph.D. in linguistics from Harvard University and famous for her UX research, training workshops, plain language tutorials and writing for the web, was the star interviewee at the October 25th UXPA Redux conference. She has authored and co-authored seminal books in UX, including “A Practical Guide to Usability Testing,” “User and Task Analysis for Interface Design” and “Letting Go of the Words.” Redish spoke about the impact of technology on UX research, the effectiveness of today’s UX graduate programs and how best to maintain work-life balance.

Ginny noted that technology has always been important to UX research. “It’s always been about technology, even if technology meant a pencil.” She added that today there are many products available to help UX professionals conduct their research. When asked about her favorite tools, Ginny said that she didn’t want to endorse particular products. She always has her staff decide on the technology and she prefers focusing on working with people.

Regarding big trends, Ginny emphasized that the shift to mobile devices and social media is changing UX research. Now she is doing more writing and evaluating for the small screen. In addition, she has had to modify her training to accommodate tablets and smart phones. “Today, many people are using their phones as their primary computer.”

Regarding career paths for UX, Ginny shared that she is most familiar with the challenges and rewards of being a consultant. She worked at the America Institute of Research (AIR) for many years doing UX work as a consultant before anyone knew to call it UX. Anyone who wants to work as a consultant will have to learn to be very flexible. “You have to be very flexible as a consultant because you never know what your next project will be.” In addition, consultants sometimes have to be a little more aggressive as they introduce their ideas because they’re often brought into a project at the end of it.

Do universities adequately prepare students to enter the UX field? Ginny said that the students in the  audience would be better able to answer this. But she also referred to the UX programs at the University of Washington, University of Maryland and the University of Michigan as good programs.

What is a good book for UX professionals to advance their knowledge? Ginny highly recommended “User Interface Design Evaluation” by Caroline Jarrett, Debbie Stone, Mark Woodroffe and Shailey Minocha, and published by Morgan Kaufman.

How can UX pros stay motivated? “There’s always something new to learn. Who knows where we’re going to be five years from now?”