Taking Stock of My Progress

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One of my ideas behind my website was to chronicle some of my experiences of becoming a developer. My Colorado Tech Weekly posts were just supposed to get people to come to my site to see all the cool things I was doing. Instead, my CTW posts have become my main content. It’s time to fix that.

My plan on how to become a developer is… well it’s a plan. It’s a long term plan and I’ve realized it’s easy to want to change up the plan because often planning is more fun than implementing. Long term plans are especially difficult because it’s easy to scrap the whole idea whenever I feel discouraged even though the plan may be working. Then again it may not be working… I won’t really know unless I reach my goal… or not.

Here is my plan to become a software developer:

  1. Go to school part time to get a Computer Science degree.
  2. While going to school, use my off time to create awesome, cool projects to show that I’m not just doing school work, I’m actually learning. Yes, there is a difference.
  3. Learn about the Colorado tech industry so I know where I want to work once I feel I’m qualified.
  4. Network with people already involved in the Colorado tech industry so that I can learn about what I need to learn and to create relationships that will allow me to find a job easier once I’m qualified.

It’s been about a year and a half since I started my plan. My goal is to have a software development job by the end of 2015. It’s almost the beginning of 2015, so how is my plan going?

  1. The Computer Science degree: This is going great, but extremely slow. I’m participating in Regis University’s completely online Computer Science program. I have a 3.7 GPA so far which should only increase as I dive into my higher level courses. The only downside is that I just checked my degree progress and if I continue to take 2 classes every semester it will be another 3 years from now until I actually get my degree. I do not want to wait 3 years to become a developer.
  2. Awesome, Cool Projects: I started off strong by diving into the subject of UX design. I had this amazing idea of teaching myself UX principals, then learning how to apply these principals by learning front end web-development languages like HTML5, CSS, PHP and whatever else to modify my website that’s currently built in WordPress to show what a great learner/developer I am. I soon realized this was WAY too big of an idea and I needed to scale it back. My perceived failure of this goal has kept me from really sharing my experiences because I have felt that my projects were not awesome and cool enough to share. I’ve realized my goal was unrealistic, but it still hurt my feelings. I did teach myself some Ruby on Rails but haven’t been able to translate it into an awesome, cool project. I think I may need to rethink the awesome, coolness of my projects. I’m still new at this.
  3. Learning About the Colorado Tech Industry Community: This is one part of my plan that I feel has gone better than planned. And it’s not just an industry, Colorado has a tech community. It’s been very encouraging learning about the companies, people and organizations that make up our community. My Colorado Tech Weekly posts over the past 75 weeks have me dialed in to the community and I’m comfortable talking to anyone about the current tech news in Colorado.
  4. Networking with all the people: I have been great at networking with people on Twitter. My Colorado Tech Twitter list has 1,849 members and I have no hesitation interacting with anyone on that list… on Twitter. One thing I’ve learned lately is that online networking is no replacement for in-person networking. The few times I’ve met with Colorado tech people have been great and I need to do it more. I just need to be careful to not let networking get in the way of learning. Also I’ve learned I’m pretty darn introverted so the idea of getting out and meeting all the people has me pretty nervous.

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So the question is: Will I be able to reach my goal of having a software development job by the end of next year? I’ll say it’s a confident maybe. I just have to do a few things differently:

  • I will finish my degree, but I won’t finish it by the end of next year. I need to find some awesome, cool projects to contribute to. Unless I can successfully scale down my project expectations, I’ll only disappoint myself. I will do better if I can find ways to contribute to others’ projects.
  • Find a mentor (or mentors) and actually trust them. I am an independent, skeptical person. It’s hard for me to trust.
  • In order for me to find projects, mentors and partners, I need to leave the comfort of my routine and talk to people… in person. I will need to advertise my enthusiasm and ignorance in person to innovate my education for enjoyable employment.
  • I also may have to do something about my alliteration affliction.

Wish me luck!

This post should be the first of a somewhat weekly series of me blogging about things the way bloggers blog about bloggity-blog things. I like the idea of putting out a candid view of who I am and who I want to be, but it’s kinda scary to do that so encourage me please.

Learning UX Design: Discovery

The goal of designing my own website is to create a website for anyone interested in my professional achievements and goals that is simple to update, worth reading and easy to look at on any device in any browser. All updates to this project can be found on the main project page.

During my first week of studying UX design, I focused on the discovery phase. The discovery phase is all about finding out what your goals are, who your audience is and what your strengths and weaknesses are. It’s all that business stuff that everyone is told to do, but few actually do it correctly.

Setting Goals

I wrote in a previous blog post my feelings about the importance of having a solid purpose when working on a project. This attitude is reflected in UX design. One of the first things that should be done in the Discovery phase is stakeholder interviews. Stakeholders are anyone with a vested interest in the success of the project (boagworld.com). In a business this would include department heads, executive staff and employees. The stakeholder interviews help designers come up with a solid goal for the project.

A solid goal is at SMART goal. A SMART goal is:

  • Specific (and strategic): Linked to overall mission. Answers the questions of who and what.
  • Measurable: How do you know you’ve achieved your goal?
  • Attainable: Realistic and achievable within the time frame.
  • Relevant: Aligned with current tasks and projects and focused in one area.
  • Time-framed: Have a clearly defined time-frame or deadline.

Download a SMART Goal template

Knowing Your Audience

Your stakeholders are people who care about the success of the project. Your audience are the users of your project. They are as important, if not more so, than your stakeholders. In UX design, personas are the most common tool to find out about your users. Personas are fictional characters based on real data. They describe what a user needs as well as their limitations. (ux-lady.com)

Finding Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths and weaknesses are often found using a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis helps an organization find their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. When looking for these from a UX design point of view it is important to look at it from the user’s point of view. Remember UX stands for user experience. They are the reason for the process. UX designers use experience maps (also called journey maps) along with personas to find these things from a user’s perspective and present the information in a much easier to understand format than the 4 squares of a SWOT analysis. (ux-lady.com)

So there we have the basics of the Discovery phase of UX design. I would say the discovery phase is the hardest and most important phase of design because everything else is built off if this phase. By knowing your goals, your audience and your current state of affairs you can start a successful project.

Next week, the Strategy Phase.