I don't say this lightly: Lindsey Austinson may be one of the sweetest people I have yet to come by on my coding journey.
Not only did Lindsey offer enlightening information about her profession – user experience (UX) – (something I am not so familiar with), she also shared great advice for beginners wanting to break into the coding world. Advice that makes you want to keep pushing along with the going gets tough.
Lindsey lives in Portland, Oregon and began teaching herself HTML and CSS as a kid. While she did study web design in college, most of her coding skills have been self-taught. Beyond working as a UX designer, check out one of her latest ventures here at Miss Venn.
What is this mysterious UX?
To me, UX always seemed like a mysterious field. I knew it was relatively new and constantly evolving. But what is it exactly?
Fortunately, Lindsey is very knowledgeable on the history of UX. As she explains,
“User experience is really the combination of a bunch of different fields and schools of thought all intermingling as one field. UX as it is today started in the ‘90s with cognitive psychologist Don Norman. Norman is known for his incredible popular book ‘The Design of Everyday Things.' He coined the term ‘user experience' to help explain the vast array of systems that affect a user’s experience with a designed thing.”
While UX is relatively new to the design arena, the various schools of though comprising UX are not so new. Again, as Lindsey elaborates,
“Before ‘user experience' was a thing people still studied experience, but it went by a few different names. Human computer interaction, usability, human factors, and ergonomics have all been areas of study long before anyone thought of UX as it is today. UX is special and different though in that it strives to have a holistic view of whatever is being designed which includes everything from how a product works, looks, feels, how the user feels when they are using the product, where the product lives, and more.”
So it's not just designing an interface for a mobile app or making buttons on an ecommerce site. It goes beyond.
“This means that a UX practitioner has to have an understanding of things like usability and ergonomics, all while also incorporating psychology, design thinking, and technological know-how.”
Obviously, there are lots of components coming together. That's why many UX designers work in teams that comprise of varying backgrounds. For instance, before becoming a UX designer, Lindsey was a developer – which is a very common past profession for UX designers.
Want to learn more about UX and the types of people that work in the industry? Download the full interview at the end of the article.
Lindsey: A Self-taught Coder
Similar to a previous woman featured on Learn to Code With Me, Kathryn Barrett, Lindsey began learning basic HTML and CSS at a very young age.
As Lindsey progressed, the desire to create something specific would trigger additional learning.
“I picked up some PHP because I wanted to hack at WordPress themes. I picked up some ruby because I got a job at as a frontend dev at a ruby shop and wanted to know what the heck was going on in the apps I was working with.”
She further explains,
“I’ve never had luck with just sitting down to learn something new in programming, because without that specific end goal I lose interest too quickly. That’s a part of why I don’t write code for a living any more ;)”
Agreed. When you have a specific goal or project you'd like to build, it's much easier to find the motivation to learn something new. (For instance, when I rebuilt this website, I forced myself to pick up some PHP in WordPress solely because I wanted the site look and function amazingly!)
Advice to Newbies: Love Learning and Experiment
Lindsey has some awesome advice for beginners,
“Soak up everything you can. The best programmers that I know love learning and have knowledge that spans across different areas of a website. Even if you don’t want to work with server-side languages, it’s so helpful to have a basic understanding of how they work. If you love frontend design, poke at design theory a bit. Websites are rarely built by one person in the real world and whatever you know about domains outside your own will only make working with you more awesome.”
I love this advice so much. There are some that recommend specializing in one skill-set or a single area of expertise. On the other hand, I believe that being a jack of all trades is better. (And so does Tim Ferriss.) Especially when it comes to tech, having knowledge on the way different components tie together is helpful.
Moreover, Lindsey recommends asking questions and not being “afraid of what you don’t know.”
She also suggests experimenting with different types of learning material to see what works for you. Lindsey says she prefers learning from books. For me, I enjoy videos and little quizzes/assignments. To make the most of learning, recognizing your personal learning style is critical. (Find out more about getting started here.)
More Advice: Embrace Failure, Find a Tribe
Lindsey reassures that making mistakes is a good thing when it comes to learning how to code.
“Embrace failure. I learned a lot as a new programmer by breaking things (not always on purpose!) and putting them back together. Code will always have bugs and bugs will often be frustrating. It’s okay :)”
Especially for those first starting out, (and coming from a background totally unrelated to programming) it can be extremely frustrating. (Read my story of starting out here.)
Nonetheless, Lindsey's last bit of insight is probably my favorite. Hence, why I saved it for last :) .
“Finally, try to find a tribe. This one goes out to all tech minorities, like us, who love technology but maybe don’t love the culture. If you live in a big city there is probably more than one women in tech or POC in tech groups that you can check out. Twitter, Tumblr, and IRC are all good online places to find people who write code and look like you. I’m also happy to help people find groups! Please reach out if you need help finding the support you need to learn and grow <3”
And this is the reason why I claimed Lindsey as one of the sweetest people I've come across so far on my coding journey. She truly exemplifies a woman wanting to help other women. And I love it.