“A user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s not that good.”
“You don’t think your way to creative work. You work your way to creative thinking.”
A young, 20-something-year-old from Michigan finally graduates and receives his Bachelor of Science in computer engineering. He spends the next couple of years working with hardware as an automotive engineer while feeling completely unfulfilled and dreaming of creating software applications. So he moves to Houston, Texas, where family resides, and intends to use it as a stop-gap for finding a worthwhile position in the well-known technology hub of Austin.
One hundred applications and many interviews later, his frustration is at an all-time high. He still doesn’t have a job and just can’t seem to get his foot in the door at any tech company. He reluctantly starts hunting for jobs in Houston and, to his surprise, comes across a posting for an entry-level software developer. The position doesn’t even require a degree.
“Hmm,” he thinks, “that’s…different — but cool. It might level the playing field for an engineer competing against computer science graduates. Maybe it’s a lucky break.”
He checks out the company’s website and sees they create software for civil engineering and heavy construction companies. He notices a lineup of software products for PC, mobile, and web platforms. He spots an award badge indicating it is one of the “Best Companies to Work For in Texas.
Both impressed and intimidated, he takes the basic assessment test required to submit a résumé, attaches the file, and thinks, “Well, it’s a long shot, but let’s see what happens,” before hitting the “Submit” button.
He starts his new position as a software developer two weeks later.
(Spoiler alert) I was that 20-something-year-old. Cue the shock.
Now almost four years later, I realize looking back that moving to Houston and submitting that résumé was a life-defining moment and one of my smartest decisions for personal and professional growth. It’s up there with going to college and getting Netflix for the first time.
In those four years, I’ve:
- written code for enterprise-level software,
- helped launch a product as the lead designer,
- analyzed businesses for new software solutions,
- participated in our large annual software conferences,
- facilitated customer usability testing,
- attended a professional design conference in Dallas, and
- sketched or prototyped close to 50 different software features.
Oh yeah, I also happen to be in the best shape of my life and eating healthier than ever thanks to our wellness culture. Actually, it just hit me after listing all this how much has happened in such a short time. Those experiences have absolutely enriched my life, and I would recommend working here to anyone.
You see, HCSS values character, passion, and potential for growth just as much as it does experience or qualifications. If you possess those qualities, they’ll take the time to train and educate you, as well as provide resources to ensure success. It’s the reason why no degree is necessary for some of our technical positions. It’s why we promote our culture. It’s also why I became a user experience (UX) designer.
The Development Experience
I mentioned earlier that HCSS originally hired me as a software developer. I went through a training course before spending close to a year working on our HeavyJob product. I was a good programmer but not great; yet I loved creating software and felt I possessed a broader skillset that could bring value to the company. When I expressed these feelings to my manager, he responded with, “Cool, what would you like to do?”
Think about that. No, seriously. At how many other companies would you have an open conversation with your boss and then have him encourage you to change positions and pursue whatever you wanted?
“Well, design seems really interesting, and I think I could be good at it,” I told him. And thus, without any formal design education or previous experience, he allowed me to join the team part-time as an experimental test run. While splitting time between being a developer and designer, I found my true passion, immersed myself in creative thinking, and was a full-time designer just a few months later.
Most people assume that I’m artistic or have a graphical background because of my profession. When asked, I always chuckle and respond with, “Not really, I’ve never been very artistic — just creative.”
The truth is, design is far more than making things look pretty. Good design is natural, intuitive, and hardly noticeable. Being a UX designer has as much to do with psychology, statistics, and business analysis as it does with colors, fonts, and spacing.
A designer must be able to see inefficiencies in processes, think like a user, gather data, stay up-to-date on modern technologies and standards, possess a technical understanding of feasibility per platform, collaborate closely with peers, take risks, and — most importantly — receive criticism. In return, he or she gains incredible satisfaction when the design makes it through the development process to release and is well received by customers.
The Scrum Life
Our development process follows a scrum-agile framework. For the uninitiated, we have two-week iterations, i.e., sprints, with small releases at the end. In that time, teams estimate work and plan what to accomplish, then design and develop those items, and finally test before releasing — all in two weeks. This ensures products are consistently updated, flexible to change, and can be developed in small chunks with improvements over time. But because of the quick creation process and speedy turnarounds, it is paramount that designers break their projects into pieces, work closely with developers, and can juggle multiple different tasks at one time in order to finish all the work in a sprint.
The designers act kind of like consultants to product teams that have the most design work. Therefore, a designer can be actively designing small items for one team, have a project ready for the next phase in another, and be mocking up or researching a new feature for a third.
See How These Converse Fit…
My typical day looks something like this:
- Attend daily scrum to recap what was worked on before and what is coming up.
- Meet with developers individually to answer business requirement or design detail questions.
- Make sure no one is blocked or confused.
- Tour the building to check with teams working on other projects I’ve designed.
- Attend Design Team daily scrum, and then peer review each other’s work.
- Craft smaller in-sprint items that came up in the daily scrum, e.g., phrasing, specific colors, etc.
Rest of the Day
- Sketch mock-ups. (I love graphing paper and colored pencils for initial ideas.)
- Create high-fidelity interactive prototypes.
- Detail upcoming features and review mockups or changes with product managers.
- Write feature notes for my mockups and prototypes.
It may sound like a lot going every day, but that’s what makes it so enjoyable! No week is ever the same, the work is constantly changing, and I build relationships with more groups of people than probably any other department in the company.
A Community of Awesome
These relationships are a huge incentive, too. There are many reasons to be thankful for a job at HCSS: a casual dress environment, profit-sharing, company-paid health insurance, paid time off rollover, annual education funds, etc. But what makes it truly stand apart as an incredible workplace are the employees.
Have you ever held a job where your co-workers were difficult to work with, inappropriate, negligent, malcontented, or unqualified for their position?
The company is brimming with fun, intelligent, multicultural men and women who are positive thinkers, passionate techies, and complex problem-solvers with helpful attitudes and friendly dispositions. Thanks to them, coming to work never feels like a chore or something to dread.
Oh, and our activities here are also pretty sweet. Here are some of the highlights from 2016 alone:
- We played flag football during lunch.
- We held a company-wide dodgeball tournament.
- Developers regularly played cards or video games together after work.
- Our annual crawfish boil was excellent, as always.
- Office pranks were pretty common.
- The Design Team took second place in a seriously creative gingerbread house contest.
- A large group of developers took a half-day see the new Rogue One movie together.
And if you have hobbies of your own, chances are others here have an interest in them, too. We have clubs for anime, books, movies, yo-yos, basketball, soccer, poker, learning Mandarin, tea, and more that I don’t remember or haven’t heard about. It really is like seeing all your friends at work every day.
Let’s Wrap it Up (I Hear Music)
So what’s my point? What does it all mean? Who am I? What is life?
(Maybe I get too carried away.)
My point is that HCSS gives opportunities. It gave me the opportunity to grow my career (in a direction of my choosing), learn the software industry, and collaborate with talented individuals. It’s why I, and so many of others here, have such an appreciation for this company.
Financial freedom is the reason I have to work; the HCSS community is the reason I want to.