What Users Want: Mastering the Secrets of UX Could Be Your Ticket to an Exciting IT Career
Your average IT professional has to wear many hats, and the main reason for this is that many of the job descriptions for those hats aren't very well defined. In a single day, an IT pro might jump from being a dev team lead to a software developer, and from that to a quality assurance supervisor, a network administrator, a systems analyst, and a handful of other things that they may not realize are fully actualized positions by themselves.
User Experience (UX) is one of these overlooked-but-crucial skillsets. A thorough understanding and ability in UX design will increase an IT pro's earning potential as well as change the way they view product development for the better.
In any commercial venture, UX is basically the bottom line. It's about anticipating how a customer should feel after interacting with your product, and it includes elements of graphic design, workflow, market research, and psychology. It's the reason Windows 8 failed and the iPod succeeded.
More than anything else, your user experience design determines whether your company is going to make money or not. Putting aside the financial aspects, though, it's also a fascinating field to get into, and can piggyback on almost any skill set. This might be one reason UX designers tend to report higher-than-average job satisfaction.
As with many tech jobs, the industry has trouble determining exactly what UX design IS. It's fairly scattered as a discipline. In fact, when over 1,000 UX designers were polled on various aspects of their job, only 11 percent even identified themselves as UX designers — when all was said and done, they had over 210 job titles for roughly the same set of responsibilities.
And yet, a sterling UX person can go just about anywhere. While almost all of the designers in the poll had tech experience of one kind or another, a minority actually worked in IT, while others called in from fields like finance, healthcare and marketing. Almost no matter what your interests are, you can find a UX tie-in.
It's also an engaging field, though it may not be for the faint of heart. Similar to data visualization (as mentioned in our recent article on that skillset), UX is nearly as much an artistic endeavor as a logical one. This doesn't mean you can skip the difficult stuff — a UX designer still needs to scrape together consumer groups, watch market trends and do research, and become well-versed in psychology and product design. This doesn't, however, discount that the best products are usually the results of mounds of data and analysis supporting something clever and, yes, even artistic.
At the end of the day, though, it often comes down to cold hard cash (typically, people don't enter IT to become starving artists). Well, even on that front there's good news. People who seem to know say that an entry-level UX designer can make over $60K/year, while somebody with five or more years of experience might weigh in closer to six digits.
Really, though, the trick is to convince employers (current or prospective) that you really are an expert. The good news is that because this is such a flexible discipline you can leverage certifications for almost anything. An upper-level technical certification is probably not necessary, but a solid web design cert such as the Adobe Certified Expert, or a web development cert, would greatly increase your chances: Much of usability design involves web design.
In the same survey mentioned above, starting in a flexible, broader field was recommended to those just starting into UX, so you can also get started with the certifications that get your foot in the door like the CompTIA A+. It may take some time and energy to break into UX design, but according to those in the know, it's well worth the effort.