Category Archives: Career

How to Become a UI Developer

After sharing my post describing what a UI Developer is, I got some requests to write another post specifically about how to get a UI Developer job. It’s certainly not an obvious path. My first job out of college was working for my alma mater in the Art Department media lab, during which time all I knew was that I wanted to transition into web development.

UI development is a mixture of design and programming, which is a pretty good option for a creative coder. When I first got interested in programming I didn’t know positions like “UI Developer” even existed. After that I had a few short term positions where I was focused on just getting my foot in the door. I had some free time and decided to look into various types of UX design courses. I already had a degree in Visual Arts from college, so I thought maybe if I ended up hating being a programmer, UX design would be a good alternative At the time I didn’t know what working in the tech industry would really look like, so I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket.

I ended up settling on an Interaction Design certificate offered by UC San Diego through Coursera. It was a series of six courses that taught you how to run A/B tests with different designs, how to conduct research and interviews to figure out the sort of problems users are facing, and how to use tools to speed up the design and testing process. 

Here is a screenshot for the homepage of the Interaction Design Specialization I enrolled in.

The final course was a capstone project where students had to actually put into practice everything they had learned and create a high fidelity mock-up for a mobile app. What the app was and the problem it solved was completely up to the student. It took me a year to complete the series of courses since by that point I had landed my first software engineering job. It’s hard to say how much of a difference the certificate made in terms of landing my first UI Developer role later on. If I had to guess I would say it was equal parts my Visual Design degree and the certification.

Here are some of the high fidelity mockups I made in my capstone class.

The Interaction Design certification helped me gain more confidence and allowed me to add a significant design project to my portfolio. However, it’s hard to say how much my Visual Arts degree played into the employers decision to hire my for my first UI Developer role . The reason why I say that is because frankly, most software developers do not come from creative backgrounds. I knew at this point that I had a solid foundation in software engineering because I had worked for 8 months at a startup using Angular. That made my art degree like the icing on the cake, and the certification kind of like the cherry on top.

When my husband got admitted into law school in DC, I applied on a whim to a Data Visualization Developer position and got the job without even needing to fly there. While on the surface the title of Data Visualization Developer doesn’t sound like it necessarily involves user interface design, you could tell by reading the job description that it did. Basically the company wanted someone who could draw mock ups for widgets inside of a data visualization application and do research on how they might work best, while also actually developing the widgets and doing other front end work. 

I went to college in Oberlin, Ohio. This is a description of my major.

That particular position did not give me any sort of UX assessment as part of the interview process, though they did ask about my certification and Visual Arts degree. Unlike standard software engineering positions where you can usually expect a coding test of some sort, UI Developer positions have a wide range of tests. Sometimes they will give you a mock up of a website and ask you to code it. Other times they might ask you how you would go about creating an application for a specific purpose, or what you might do to improve the design of an existing application. They might even have you sketch out interfaces on a white board.

One position I applied for gave me a simple form with a poor user interface and asked me to code a new version that would be better. In this case I misunderstood the instructions and ended up not getting the job. I thought that I wasn’t supposed to touch the code that was already there and that it would be breaking the rules, but in order to change the form input (which was what made the UI terrible) that was a necessity. That is the other tricky part about UI developer positions. It’s easier to misunderstand the instructions if you are given a test that you’ve never had before, or that breaks the paradigm of what you would expect.

!EMPTY!

One of my earlier hand drawn wireframes for my app about finding yourself.

It also makes it more difficult to give concrete advice on how to pass a UI Developer interview. If you have any doubts at all, it is best to ask. You might get asked about any education you have in the past, or any portfolio pieces that involve user experience design. You might also get asked to demonstrate your coding skills whether through an online test or something more akin to a standard software engineering interview.

Honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if some jobs hand out a take home test where the interviewee must redesign and code a landing page or something of the like. One UI position I interviewed for actually had me sketch out wire-frames on the white board, live code some CSS, fill out a pen and paper test with programming questions, and solve additional programming problems on the white board with another developer. There was no way I could have predicted what all the assessments would be ahead of time.

The only way to really start getting comfortable with the process is to apply to some jobs and see if you can get any interviews. Depending on how much user experience design skills the job actually requires, you might not even be asked to prove those skills at all. The hiring manager might be satisfied with any past design education and ask a few simple questions, and that could be it.

Oftentimes I have found that UI Developer positions still care more about the software development technical skills than design skills. It is another thing to keep in mind if you are more interested in getting UX experience or don’t want to spend more than a few hours a day coding. Make sure you read the job description carefully, and also ask lots of questions in the interview about what your day to day work will look like. I would hate for anyone to end up in a job they hate because the title said UI Developer but in reality they only get one design assignment per month and the rest of their time is spent on awful legacy code.

Another assignment from my capstone, where I had to draw a storyboard demonstrating the problem my app would solve.

Another frustration that is common among UI Developers is that they get hired in companies that don’t have a lot of design resources. That might mean you are the only design advocate in your organization, and it is easy to have your voice drowned out. Being assertive is oftentimes required or else you might get frustrated very quickly having to execute poor user interfaces and feeling bitter at your coworkers.

With those warnings aside, I still recommend considering UI Developer positions if you are the type of person who enjoys both coding and design and like to interface with people on both sides. Make a portfolio website, show off some UX and coding projects, and try to land some interviews! I wish you the best of luck.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Working in Tech: Toxic Cultures

I have a confession to make: I was on Twitter over the winter holidays when I should have been spending time with my family. What was the trending topic that caught my eye, you might ask? Last minute Christmas gift ideas? Pictures of pets in Santa hats? No, but I wish I could say it was one of those things. Instead, it was about the toxic workaholism that some folks working in tech idolize.

It started with this:

Pretty harmless, right? Of course tech twitter wasn’t going to let this stand without controversy.

I’m not 100% sure if these were the first tweets to start off the debate about work life balance, but they were major players. The fact that this debate sprung up during the winter holidays. The only significant chunk of time off most Americans get, already says a lot about the toxic work culture we have in this country.

What makes it worse is that people working in tech elevate this capitalist propaganda, glorifying workaholic ism. I’ve encountered many people in the tech industry who share this attitude. They are the last ones to leave the office, and they judge you if you don’t work the standard 9-5 hours. I worked at one company where my coworker was asked by his boss to talk to me about arriving to work earlier. He believed that working later hours was a privilege only seasoned developers ought to have.

At another company I worked at we had an AMA with the CEO and someone asked about working from home. The CEO’s response was “sure you can work from home, but you won’t be working for this company anymore.” Its so common for developers to tout all the unorthodox benefits that working in tech can offer. Often the first benefit that is discussed is work from home, but there are many companies where that is not allowed.

Of course, the above examples are far from the worst ones. In game development working 80+ hour weeks is not uncommon, especially during crunch. It is considered such a privilege to get to work on creative coding projects that developers are expected to be thankful regardless of the crunch. It’s also not uncommon in early stage startups. Consulting is another area where workaholics runs rampant. I had a stint at a consulting company that didn’t last long because I saw my coworkers burning out. They were actually suffering physical symptoms for months on end.

There are plenty of companies who abuse their engineers like I described above. They can get away with this abuse a lot more easily when they brainwash engineers. Brainwash them to perpetuate the belief that working weekends and nights is the way to a successful career.

Some engineers believe that they have to work extra long hours because they are making more money than people in other industries. However engineers are not like lawyers. They do not charge their clients by the hour, so working those long hours does not actual equal more pay. Certainly it’s not fair that teachers and social workers make way less money than software engineers. But working longer hours out of guilt does not do anything to make the situation less fair. It also won’t make the company you are working at appreciate you more. If anything, they will just start taking your extra hard work for granted. But don’t take my word for it… here are some more tweets that say it a lot better:

I’m going to end my post with this tweet from the creator of Ruby on Rails. Here he responds to someone who agreed with Ryan Selkis about working long hours. Except he took it even farther by saying workaholic ism = changing the world. If anything exemplifies the toxicity that is seen when working in tech, it is the hot take of Auren Hoffman.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

What is a UI Developer?

The world of technology is a complicated one. With titles like “rock star”, “ninja,” it can be hard to take job descriptions seriously. It doesn’t help that many hiring managers ask for ludicrous credentials. Is a UI Developer a real thing? Maybe they have job descriptions like this:

The number of requirements in this job description can be reminiscent of UI Developer jobs
Could you also fly us to the moon?

Job descriptions for UI Developers can look like the one above. Like full stack developers, UI developers are expected to be familiar with more than one area of expertise. While full stack developers know frontend and backend, UI developers are familiar with the front end and how to design user interfaces. In some cases they also know how to conduct user research. I like to call them “creative coders.”

Don’t take the excessive list of requirements seriously. It’s like the hiring manager’s letter to Santa Clause. Don’t do yourself the disservice of not applying because the requirements seem excessive. The person who wrote the job description has nothing to do with the people you will be working with.

I know a lot about being a UI Developer because it has been my title throughout most of my career. When I got my first job with that title I had about a year’s worth of experience with AngularJS. In addition, I had a game portfolio illustrating my programming skills, a certification in Interaction Design, and a bachelors degree in Visual Arts. It might seem like a lot, but I had two years to build my game portfolio and four to complete my degree.. during which I only look about 12 credits worth of actually programming.

There were jobs in which I was doing the work of a UI Developer without the actual title. Tiny startups usually used the title of “Software Engineer.” It didn’t matter to me, because the important part was that I was getting to do the work that I loved. In the long run I worked at a lot of smaller companies. At big companies such positions rarely exist, because hiring managers can afford to hire specialists for everything.

At this point I could rant about how specialists are perceived to have more value than generalists in the American job market. Luckily, Emilie Wapnick discusses that in her TED Talk about multipotentialites with much more eloquence than I could.

This is the outlook many hiring managers have on “generalists” even if its really just a handful of skills like design and front end development. They think that the quality of the work will suffer.

Even though it is less common for large companies to hire UI developers, that doesn’t mean that such positions never crop up. For example, I was hired as a contractor for Deloitte to work on a project that involved customizing an application for an existing client. The application was focused on data visualization and had a number of complex and confusing widgets. They wanted someone with a design and front end skillet to make those widgets simpler.

Downsides to being a UI Developer

Over the years I have noticed some downsides to being a UI developer. The organizations which want to hire a developer with design skills don’t have any dedicated design resources. They also often think of design as an afterthought.

It can be an unspoken assumption that the UI developer will make some small improvements to the design and focus on code. If, in addition to having no design resources, the organization has few front end developers. Some companies even hire a UI Developer that they expect you to be a one person show, coding and designing everything with zero support.

Being a one person show is usually not a whole lot of fun

I don’t recommend taking on roles like that unless you really want a challenge and you like the people at the company. When you are working that hard on a project, it’s easy for resentment to build up. It will build up fast when you know the whole thing would fall apart without your contribution. Make sure you have some experience under your belt and you know what you are getting into.

In lieu of design resources, some organizations allow all of the developers to be involved in deciding what the user interface will look like. If you enter an organization like that, you may find yourself arguing with a lot of other people about every little thing. On one hand it can be invigorating at times to have to defend your reasons for making a button blue. On the other hand some developers do not have any design training,. That means reasoning with their opinion about what they find to be aesthetically pleasing can be frustrating, especially for small adjustments.

If you are considering a career as a UI developer, know that the job descriptions can be intimidating. But they are often a wish list that doesn’t reflect reality. If you enjoy working on a mix of design and coding tasks, it could be a great fit for you. Most companies that offer UI developers roles will be medium to small sized, and often don’t have designers on the team. This can lead to some downsides. Like arguing with other developers about design decisions and having to convince upper management that the design is more than some small tweaks.

If you can get past these downsides, though, I would recommend applying for some UI developer positions. Don’t forget, they can hide beneath other titles. Make sure you read the descriptions before dismissing them.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Foot in the Door Book Excerpt

Below is an excerpt from my book about my journey learning to code and teaching myself after graduating from college with an art degree and little idea of what I was qualified to do next. I had taking some coding classes but I didn’t think I’d get any opportunities to be creative if I chose that career. For a while I thought I would be a designer, but I quickly learned that working with clients was not my cup of tea. That was when I discovered creative coding, and taught myself to code by making games.

There were a lot of people that helped me along the way but also times where I really felt like I could use a guiding hand to help me with some scary decisions. I hope that this book can act as that guiding hand for people who are just starting out their careers and are interested in tech.

Memories

My start in tech happened well before I actually had the title of “Engineer” or “Developer”. It started in a small town known primarily for being home to one of the most liberal (and most hipster) colleges in the country. I had mixed feelings about attending school there and was pressured in part by my parents to apply to schools in Ohio (they were moving there at the time).

Moving to Ohio meant leaving behind my friends and boyfriend (at the time) in Minnesota where I had gone to high school. We settled on Oberlin because it gave the opportunity to study lots of different things. At the time I was passionate about at least a dozen different things and had no idea what I was going to do for a career. Naturally I wanted to put off that decision for as long as possible, hoping I would figure it out during college.

I was always interested in technology, but before starting college (and also during a fair amount of college itself) my leanings were toward art and writing. That’s not to say I didn’t spend a ton of time in front of screens — my unofficial babysitters were my Gameboy, Nintendo, and PC running Windows 2000 —but as a kid my best friend was an extremely talented artist.  Drawing together was one of our favorite past times. I loved to go to museums and could stare at my friend’s art for hours. I also loved to read and wrote numerous short stories in middle school, and wrote for my high school paper. 

Basically, I was a creative generalist and loved all things that involved the imagination. However, my parents kept pushing me toward a practical path, because they were still struggling with their own careers and worried about employment options for creatives  in the USA. Of course they were right to worry, since very few artists succeeded in getting their work into a gallery, let alone selling that work for enough money to make a living. However, I learned in my late teens that there was another option- which sounded much more practical than being a writer or an artist. It was an area of overlap between art and the internet, and it was called web design. 

Technically I began learning to code a lot earlier than college, though I didn’t know it yet. I dabbled in web design during middle school and high school, when I participated in roleplaying forums and later decided to create my own which had a very generic look that I wanted to modify. Essentially it was just a monochrome colored forum with no background images or icons, and I wanted the forum to look like it was part of the website where I described the world the roleplay took place in. I wanted the design to fit the mood of the world. 

Essentially I was using CSS to make these changes. Unfortunately it was back when there was no such thing as developer tools (which would allow you to see the CSS alongside the site and actually make modifications to see the visual changes in real time) and no documentation. So the level of frustration accompanied with something as benign as altering the background color was shockingly time consuming. Despite all that,  I enjoyed the challenge and it was fun and rewarding to see my websites come to life. 

By the time I was starting college  I was thinking web design was a pretty likely career option. Then I found out that Oberlin does not actually have a design degree. What it did have was a creative writing degree,  one of the best undergraduate creative writing programs in the country. If I had known that my future would be pretty much solely focused on web development, I probably would not have given Oberlin another glance. 

Though I knew art was probably not much of a viable career, I thought maybe if I got into the creative writing program I could become a successful writer. All thoughts of design and technology basically went out the window at this point. There was still a part of me that hoped to become a bestselling author, and that snowflake wasn’t going to melt so easily.  I suppose the snowflake never fully melted, since I am writing this book.

It took a number of events in college for me to revisit web design. The first was that I was never accepted into the creative writing program, the second was the economic recession which happened while I was at Oberlin, and the third was breaking up with my long distance boyfriend, who had a tendency to put down my technical skills because he was insecure about his own. 

Even as I continued to take art and design classes, I began to wonder if it was the right path for me. I enjoyed aspects of it, such as the strategic thinking that was necessary to identify audience and tone. But the 2D limitations of the medium frustrated me, and my classmates and professors who were more interested in conceptual work didn’t always mesh with my desire to master craft. 

I wondered if I could do more with design if I started learning how to code. I also wondered if a career in design was going to be sufficient to make a living wage. Hearing from friends and acquaintances that they couldn’t find a job didn’t help. The future was starting to look a lot scarier than it had before. It seemed that technology was a major threat to many other fields. Though I had never doubted this before, when I looked at designer portfolios online I could hardly find any that were made by beginners. I was extremely intimidated by the senior design portfolios that I came across, and wasn’t sure that I would have what it took to compete. I even considered transferring to another school.  

It wasn’t until I got a job working for the Oberlin Office of Communications that some of my fear about post college life was assuaged.  If you are in college or soon to be starting college, I highly recommend that you also find some sort of part time employment. I did all sorts of things and learned a lot about myself in the process, possibly more than I learned from all the classes I took combined. 

I did some freelance work as a graphic designer, and this taught me how to work with people in different age groups and what it was like being in a client-contractor relationship. It also showed me that freelance work involved being very good at navigating different personalities and clearing up any confusion, while also putting your foot down repeatedly. In addition there was the age old mantra: the customer (or client) is always right. That meant that even if I knew a design decision might turn out to look poorly, I often had to make compromises for the sake of pleasing the client. It also meant that sometimes I might have to change something I was really proud of because the client didn’t like it. 

Here is a list of some of the other jobs I took while  in college: obituary writer, photographer, interviewer, dance instructor, and archives assistant. I hope this helps to illustrate that people come into tech from all sorts of backgrounds, and there is not one clear cut path. I’ve met women who used to be social workers, physical therapists, filmmakers, and everything in between.

Takeaways

Not everyone who enters programming goes to college. I went to college, but much of what I learned there did not directly apply to my future career. Non traditional students come from all sorts of backgrounds, and by talking about my degree I am not trying to imply that it is necessary to get a job as a developer. In fact, it is not necessary at all. 

What is necessary, however, is a passion for learning. That is the main thing I got out of college, and the main thing that I think is important to understand for those thinking about entering the field. In front end development especially, there is a new framework to learn every couple of years. So feeling comfortable with learning to code and not hesitating to ask questions when you have them are crucial skills.

There are many ways to practice learning how to learn. As a non traditional developer, you will probably end up teaching yourself a lot of the skills to get your first job. It’s important to know what techniques help you learn best. I learned in college that it’s easier for me to master new information when I can translate it visually. In the absence of that, I learn better if I am writing my own notes as the teacher is talking, especially if I translate it into my own words.

Another important thing I learned in college was time management. Especially during my programming classes, which I talk about in the next chapter, I had to get pretty good at estimating how long the homework would take me, and stay disciplined on the weekends to get it done.

I don’t know if I would have had the discipline to get through my classes without the support of my professors. That is the nice thing about college: you get in-person mentorship and structure to get through your work. But there are plenty of students in college who spend their time at parties, neglecting their assignments, and simply failing to pass their classes. So obviously college is not the answer for everyone. It’s also very expensive, especially in the case of liberal arts colleges like Oberlin. 

What I’m trying to say is that it’s important to get those basic skills and knowledge about yourself and how you want to approach learning to code before you sink in to any serious programming training–especially if you are considering something like a boot camp where you have to stay dedicated to your work for three months straight, with longer hours than your standard 9-5. Picking the right courses and learning approach is crucial, as my next story will hopefully illustrate. 

My own husband experienced the problem of taking the wrong course for his learning style and sadly, never gave programming another chance since. He graduated with a degree in history and was feeling lost after college, not knowing what career to pursue. He took some classes in psychology in Cleveland and volunteered with Spanish-speaking immigrants at an organization downtown. I suggested that he try learning to code, because I knew he was determined and hard working enough (he now works as an attorney and graduated from Georgetown Law University). 

I regret that I encouraged my husband to take the course without taking a more careful look at the content. The biggest problem was that the course switched gears dramatically halfway through, from teaching C to teaching Javascript, two completely different languages. For someone like my husband, who dislikes sudden shifts in general, this was devastating. He began to believe that learning to code was beyond him.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.


How I Shared My Project with the Indie Game Community

Last weekend I checked another item off my bucket list: sharing a game at a local development event. The event was District Arcade in Silver Spring, Maryland, and the game was one I talked about in a previous post: Grand Canyon Adventure. It has convinced me that if you are a game developer, you can share your work with the indie game community by submitting your game to local events.

The submission process was easy enough: just fill out a google form with links to some screenshots, a brief explanation of the game, and of course a way to actually download and play the game. So why hadn’t I done it sooner? I had made at least a dozen games, if not more, but I had never taken even the first step to show my game in front of actual human beings.

I think the reason I avoided showing my game was the same reason many of us avoid doing things that involve putting our work out there. We fear rejection, we fear being made a fool of in public, and we fear that we will be faced with terrible truth. That we will never reach our dream. I taught myself to code by making games, but I never had a full time job as a game developer so I didn’t really believe in myself. I identified as a creative coder more than an indie game developer.

There is a choice each of us makes regarding our dreams. We either keep our them in a glass cage and never touch or tamper with it, and admire it like a beautiful statue from afar. Or we take the dream in our hands and carry it with us every day, no matter what dangers it might face out there.

I don’t want to wax too much poetic in here, but I can say I am glad that I took that dream in my hands. Even though I feared the worst, sharing my game at a public event actually turned out a lot better than I could have hoped. But first, let’s talk about the experience itself.

When my game was accepted I was both excited and nervous. I was excited that my game was accepted, but nervous because of all the what if’s in my head. What if nobody played my game? Making things worse, I couldn’t present my VR bowling game because there wasn’t enough space. Which meant I would have to present my other game: an educational one. I didn’t imagine many people wanted to use their brains on the weekend. Especially when there were plenty of mindless games available to play. Finally I was a female indie solo game developer, and I didn’t have any banners or stickers. With no swag to hand out could I still impress our visitors?

The first kid who sat down to play my game ran away blushing when he got his first question (my game includes a quiz about erosion) wrong. That didn’t bode well. Then more people started filtering in, and slowly things started getting better. I arrived at the event around 11 AM and barely had time to blink before it was 2 PM. People of all ages checked out my game, from teenagers to kids to adults and even some elderly folks.

I was taken aback by how respectful everyone was. Also how impressed they were when I mentioned that I made the game myself. When I shared my game online it was a completely difference experience. Under the mask of anonymity people had no fear of criticizing my games and providing very unhelpful negative feedback.

Of course there was still some negative feedback. But with the number of people coming through I could easily filter out the useful from the useless. If I heard the same negative feedback several times I knew it was probably something I should fix. Unlike the negative feedback I received online, the negative feedback in person was not nearly as demotivating. It was just a drop in the bucket compared to the positive. Feedback was also delivered in a much more constructive manner.

Since sharing my game at my local indie game community event I feel much more motivated and confident about my work. I’ve realized game development is a type of creative coding, so I’m not writing myself off anymore. I made connections with other developers. Now I feel like there is an actual community out there that cares about what I am doing. Those of us developers making games on our own really need this. We don’t have a lot of people to share our stuff with. Submitting our games to the local indie game community is the best thing we can possibly do.

I hope you take my advice and submit your game to a local event! If you’re wondering where to start finding local game showcases and events, start by checking out your local chapter of IGDA or searching meetups.com. If you want to read more about the game I featured at the event, there is an older post I wrote on the subject here.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Being a programmer vs a game developer. How much money is passion worth?

A week or so ago there was a thread on Twitter that caught my eye. It was a tweet asking people what they would pick: a job making 50K per year that they love or a job making 100K that they hate? Working for money versus passion is often the central question many people face in their career.

It was interesting to see the range of responses. I was expecting it to be a pretty mixed bag, but from scrolling through for a while a lot of people said they would choose making 50K per year at the job they love.

Maybe because I am jaded, or maybe because I live in a big city where programmer salaries start at 80K and the average 1 bedroom apartment costs 2K, but I was surprised at how enthusiastically and unflinchingly people said they would choose the 50K option.

As I mentioned in my last post, I started a new job recently. When I am in this state of transition, I always find myself considering my choices up until now in my career. Especially whether I am still happy with the path I am going down.

Usually what I end up wondering about the most is if I made the right choice avoiding game developer positions. Granted, even if I had applied to them, there was no guarantee I would get them. But I often didn’t even look very hard. It felt like I was almost deliberately denying my dream. Picking the cold and calculating approach to my career that made me feel like something akin to a career grinch. To be fair, I have been making games in my free time (which I talk about here and here), but it is not the same.

One reason I felt like I had to sacrifice my creative dreams was because I was born to immigrant parents who fought tooth and nail for everything they got in the United States. My mom especially ingrained in me a belief that money was really hard to get, and that pursuing my passion might leave me penniless and starving on a street corner.

Following your passion was risky business, and taking risks was dangerous (it didn’t help that I was an only child). To those of you who don’t have immigrant parents (or siblings) this might seem a bit extreme. Thing is, they were born in Soviet Russia where clementines were considered a spectacular Christmas gift. So a little bit of imagination is required.

I did see some that shared my cautious attitude about pursuing my passion in the twitter thread.

So did all these tweets change my mind about whether I made the right decision? Is there an answer to which one wins over in the working for money versus passion debate. Was I right to choose web development instead of game development? I wish I could offer a yes or no answer. Unfortunately, as some people also pointed out in their responses, the question is rarely so black and white. My greatest fear about taking a game development job was that I could end up taking a pay cut and also hating my job.

I wrote about what it is like for women in the game development industry in another post. From sexism to harassment, and even rape, there is a frightening amount of horrors women in the game industry experience. Naturally, I feared facing these same kind of experiences myself. To make things worse, if I didn’t like my game development job and then tried to go back to web development? I might never make the money I was making before.

To be clear, I always was seeking out creative coding opportunities, but those types of jobs were tricky to find and game development felt like the most creative option by a long shot. In my head, a game development job would be the dream. But in reality who knows what it would be really like? It’s hard to say whether a job will be one you love or hate until some time has passed. It’s also hard not to chase your dream when you’ve been raised your whole life to do that exact thing. My parents tried to implant a practical attitude. But I still got the same treatment at school as any other millennial. Teachers encouraged me to dream big and never give up. So naturally, it’s still hard to let go of the idea of being a game developer.

I am certain this is not a dilemma I face alone. Many people go into programming as a career from lower paying fields. I met a woman once at a meetup who wanted to get into coding because she was burnt out as a social service worker. I also have a friend who was a professional artist and became a programmer so they didn’t have to worry about paying their bills. There are many others like her who work in rewarding but taxing jobs that eventually become intolerable. Did they love the job when they started out and begin to hate it later? Maybe they didn’t realize how unpleasant the job might become until later. Or they told themselves they loved helping people, and that helping people should be their passion.

At the end of this post, it seems I don’t really have an answer to the question in my title. It’s almost impossible to put a dollar sign on passion. Not just because thats a good quote to put on an inspirational poster. It’s hard because our imagination is not the same as reality. A job involves more than just doing something you are passionate about. It involves coworkers you may or may not get along with. Benefits that may or may not be good, among other things. Bosses who may or may not see where you’re coming from. And you won’t know all of those things until you take that risk. For now I’ve taken the safer road and worked as a creative coder in my free time, but perhaps in the future I will change my mind.

Would you take the 50K job you love or the 100K job you hate? What does working for money versus passion mean to you as a tech worker? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts! I also highly recommend checking out the original thread on Twitter, or join in the discussion yourself.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

How I’m Overcoming Anxiety After Starting a New Job

I am writing this after starting new job just last week that gave me the worst anxiety I’ve had since I first started working as a software engineer. To be clear, it had nothing to do with the job itself or how anyone treated me. In fact, I was pretty surprised to feel imposter syndrome at all because I’ve had a lot of different jobs in the past four years and have been pretty good at transitioning. Let me provide some context before I dig into what helped me overcome this syndrome.

In that first week the logical part of me knew that how I’m feeling is silly because I’ve proven myself many times and worked in multiple challenging environments. Still, the emotional part of me has not caught up yet. My first real coding job was at a startup that was growing rapidly but since then I’ve worked in more corporate environments where work was done at a slower pace and the stack was less than modern. That made my new environment seem more intimidating, which triggered feelings of insecurity. Of course, the other big cause of my imposter syndrome was my own lack of confidence, stemming from some negative experiences I had in the past.

In my first tech job I learned AngularJS, and there were plenty of other jobs available using that framework that I could apply for. Naturally, I did just that – and ended up with several years in a row of pure Angular experience. In retrospect, this was perhaps a more questionable decision, which I discuss in another blog post. Over the past few years I settled down into a role as a front end developer, leaning toward positions where I could find a creative coding niche. I had some interest in learning back-end or other areas of technology, but I was afraid of veering away from my strength (since I started out as a designer with a bachelor’s degree in visual arts, front end was easier than back end). What I didn’t know at the time was that front end developers and designers are sometimes looked down on by full stack and back end developers.

My non-traditional background combined with being a woman in tech were two of the reasons for my negative experiences in the past that led to my imposter syndrome. Often I felt like these things were counted against me the second I walked through the door. That is another reason why, for years I was applying for jobs with AngularJS. It felt like the safest and most secure path, because I knew that framework already and it was hard enough to prove myself without extra burdens. This is something I believe a lot of women and non-traditional programmers experience, and what holds many of us back.

Basically, we learn a technology stack when we enter the tech industry and stick to it because with every new job it already feels like we have an uphill battle to prove ourselves. Sometimes that means taking an extra coding test, because the hiring manager “just wants to be sure” you can handle it. Other times it might mean accepting a mid-level role when you applied for a senior one. Why add more stress and risk failure when it feels like the deck is already stacked against you? It is a big risk too, especially if you are the breadwinner in your family (as I was for three years while my husband was in law school). It also makes the new job imposter syndrome more intense.

A lot goes into the decision of accepting a new job, including the work environment, the coworkers, the location, and other factors. I think for underrepresented folks in tech we often feel the worst imposter syndrome when we are in a job that intimidates us, which sucks because that is also the kind of job where we grow the most. Even if we receive positive signals from our coworkers we might still feel insecure and insufficient. Maybe I decided to take the risk now because a subconscious part of me was aware that my husband was going to start working soon and therefore I could afford taking on a more intimidating job, because even if I failed I still had a financial safety net that didn’t exist before. All I can say for sure is that I’m here now, and that I’m glad I didn’t shy away from the challenge.

I want other women and underrepresented folks as well as nontraditional techies to also be willing to take on an intimidating job without fear, so I’m hoping I can offer some useful advice. One thing that has really helped me with imposter syndrome is reminding myself of everything that I have accomplished. It might seem cheesy, but making a master list of every cool thing you’ve ever done is a great confidence booster. I also think this is a great thing to do because while you can try to downplay your accomplishments, you can’t say you didn’t do the things that you did. These projects are completed, they’re in your portfolio, and they are part of your history.

The idea that our thoughts trigger our behavior and emotions is an important part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and can be applied to imposter syndrome.

Another useful thing you can try is a technique commonly used in cognitive behavioral therapy. Start by making a two-column chart. Then list all of your negative thoughts about yourself on the left-hand side. Specifically, the ones related to work. An example might be “my coworkers gave me a ton of negative feedback on my last code review so they probably think I’m an idiot.”

After you’ve listed your most negative thoughts, try to challenge them on the right-hand side. If you’re thinking “well they are all reasonable thoughts so I can’t challenge them,” then I suggest for you to take a look at a list of common thought distortions.  In the one listed above, a thought distortion known as “mind reading” is being used. That is because in the example, the person is assuming that all of their coworkers think they are idiots. The problem with this line of thinking is that this person cannot possibly know what their coworkers are thinking, because that would be mind reading. So, that is something the person could write on the right-hand column.

Some more examples of mind reading. These are common for those experiencing new job imposter syndrome

One last thing that I recommend is searching “imposter syndrome” on Twitter. If you’re not on Twitter, I recommend getting an account, even if it’s just to follow other developers. It’s a quick and easy source for tech news, quick tips, and advice from experts. If you search “imposter syndrome” you will see that there are tons of people tweeting about imposter syndrome all the time and their experiences with it. Many of the people who experience imposter syndrome are accomplished and impressive professionals. They have no reason to feel the way they do. Hopefully that will help you see that imposter syndrome is not a reflection of who you are or how good you are at your job.

I know these are just three pieces of advice and there is much more I could say about this topic, but for now I am going to wrap up this post.. I do want to leave you with a book recommendation if you found the charting exercise helpful. It has many useful exercises and assessments, though it is more focused on anxiety and depression than specifically imposter syndrome. It’s called Feeling Good by David D Burns and its one of the best self-help books I’ve ever read. I hope you will feel less new job imposter syndrome after trying out some of these techniques.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

What Happens to Women in the Game Industry

In light of the reports of sexual assault from game developers Nathalie Lawhead, Zoë Quinn, and Adelaide Gardner at the hands of male industry legends this week, I felt like I needed to make this post. I’m not going to be the first or the last person writing about this topic. But their stories and their bravery in sharing them despite risk to their careers should be spread as widely as possible. I have been very interested in being one of the women in the game industry for years, as you can probably tell by some of my other posts (here, here, and here). Yet the fear of what goes on there kept me from making a serious effort to break in.

Nathalie Lawhead was the first to release her story. She published a long account on her personal blog that included screenshots from emails as evidence. The extremely abusive treatment (unpaid labor, gaslighting, extreme crunch, humiliation) she experienced at the hands of Vancouver based game company combined with the sexual assault and harassment from Skyrim composer Jeremy Soule (who used his connections to make her experience at the company as horrible as possible) had me reeling. I can hardly begin to imagine the pain and suffering Nathalie went through. The way she described it made my entire body ache with compassion.

Nathalie Lawhead is the creator of Tetrageddon games

It is not news for those who pay attention that the game industry is toxic. There is a movement for game developers to unionize because of game corporation’s frequent layoffs, tendency to underpay, and mistreatment of workers. Game journalists publish accounts detailing how many companies resort to long periods of crunch to complete a project. During crunch, companies expect developers to pull all-nighters, skip meals, and generally work till they drop. There are no tangible statistics that I know of tracking how many game developers literally drop from burn out. But, if they exist, I am certain they are extremely disturbing trends.

The thing is, women and men share the burden of overwork in the game industry. It is a horrible standard, but there is an even uglier side that women experience. Riot Games has been under fire for years for its sexist culture. There have been abhorrent reports of sexual harassment, almost farcical in their extremity. “One woman saw an e-mail thread about what it would be like to ‘penetrate her,’ in which a colleague added that she’d be a good target to sleep with and not call again. Another said a colleague once informed her, apparently as a compliment, that she was on a list getting passed around by senior leaders detailing who they’d sleep with. “

Riot is the company behind the mega successful massively multiplayer game League of Legends

Game companies like Riot have been getting away with this disturbing bro culture for years because of their extremely popular game League of Legends. Riot and many other AAA companies also has raving fans known to pile on to anyone who criticizes the company or their game. Plenty of game developers have lived in fear of these fans. This is because they often aggressively demand changes to the game whenever it doesn’t fit with their expectations. This leads to women in the game industry to live in fear of speaking up about sexism. Angry fans have gone so far as to release developers personal information, or engage in prolonged online harassment of their targets.

Then you have the game industry legends. Criticizing a game company can bring down the wrath of hundreds of fans. Criticizing a legend can be even more dangerous. These are the darlings of the industry, deeply respected with more connections than most game developers can dream of. They have the power to make or break the career of an up and coming developer. It’s no wonder that Lawhead lived in fear for years of speaking up about what happened. She knew how immense the backlash could be. Even though she has won many awards for her fantastic work, as a woman and an indie dev she knew her name did not carry the same weight as that of Jeremy Soule.

Jeremy Soule also did the music for Oblivion and Morrowind.

The closest I ever got to working for a game company was when I went to a a IGDA talk. The CEO discussed his game and said he was searching for more developers. I spoke with him and told him about my Unity experience. He invited me to come to another event a week later. It was at that other event that I witnessed him blatantly touch another woman’s chest under the guise that he saw a hair there. I remember the shock and sinking feeling in my chest when this happened. It occurred to me that this was likely going to be the behavior I would witness (and maybe have done to me) on a regular basis if I worked for him. I had witnessed sexism in tech many times. Yet this was on another level from what I had seen previously, and crossed the line into sexual harassment.

You might be wondering what I’m trying to get at in this piece. I guess it’s nothing that hasn’t been said before, but until I see change I feel like it will just have to keep being said. Over and over and over again. No aspect of how women are treated in the game industry is OK. What happened to me is a pale ghost in comparison to what happened to women like Nathalie, Zoë, and Adelaide. Yet I have seen and read enough to believe that what they say is true. My heart goes out to all of them, and to all of the other women in the game industry who have experienced sexual abuse in the game industry. More of them are coming out of the woodwork with their stories even as I write this. None of them deserve to suffer like this.

If you agree with what I’ve written here, consider following me on twitter @nadyaprimak. I post updates about my blog, coding projects, and creative work. I also write a fair amount about the tech and game industries. If you’re interested in delving deeper into what its like specifically for women in gaming, I recommend checking out this book.

Dealing with Work Transitions in Tech

My life has been full of work transitions lately, which has caused me to spend quite some time thinking about them. About a month ago the company I was working at was acquired. A few weeks prior to that I had a recruiter reach out to me about an exciting opportunity and I decided to bite, just to see what would happen. After the acquisition I received a job offer and decided to accept, partially because of the acquisition at my current company and partially for other reasons. If you read my last post, If Da Vinci Lived in the 21st Century, you will also know that I just returned from Italy so there is also the transition back to American life.

I don’t want to spend too much time talking about my life story, but I do think that dealing with transitions in life helps to deal with transitions at work. Let me explain a little bit. I was born to immigrant parents and moved around a fair amount growing up, from Ohio to Washington and Minnesota. Honestly, it was miserable. Every time I moved I was devastated all over again. I knew I would have to make new friends and adjust to a new school as well as kiss my old friends goodbye. I always preferred to have an intimate friend group over a large numer of acquaintances, which didn’t make moving any easier.

Everything about this picture is a lie. Nobody smiles when they are moving. You are stressed, sweaty, and it sucks.

Not until adulthood did I feel like there were any benefits from an ever-changing tumultous childhood. The biggest benefit is that I’m not nearly as afraid of change as I used to be. Considering the era we live in, where the gig economy rules, my lack of fear about applying, interviewing, and jumping ship to new companies, dealing with work transitions is kind of like my boring superpower. It also prevented me from being lulled into a false sense of security. In tech, as in a number of other industries, acquisitions, mergers, and other forms of change cane come suddenly and unexpectedly.

To be honest, the acqusition of the company that I will shortly be leaving is not the first acquistion I have experienced. There was another acquisition a few years ago that was even more jarring. At that time, the startup I worked at was acquired by a direct competitior. That meant the vast majority of employees were let go the same day of the announcement, turning the office into a ghost town. That experience taught me a lot about working in corporate America.

It’s not only big players like Amazon and Facebook that acquire companies, in fact it happens to all sorts of tech companies.

Some of those lessons were harsh, but I don’t regret learning them. One lesson was that you always have to look out for yourself. No matter how guilty you might feel about leaving a company (I, for one, always feel guilty) if it’s not working out for you, you should plan your getaway. Another lesson was that you should always be learning and growing, even if your job feels comfortable. That doesn’t mean that you should be working till 2 am on coding challenges. Just that there should always be something that you are learning. If you’re learning new things at your job, thats perfect. If not, you may want to dedicate an hour or two a week to experiment with some new tools. Or if that sounds too boring, join a group and learn with friends!

There is one more lesson I want to share. Unfortunately, I did not immediately take it to heart. Basically, the lesson was to always run TO something, not AWAY from. Early in my career I moved to a new city and found myself bored out of my mind. I became rather desperate to get out of there. I accepted the job despite seeing quite a few warning signs. Those signs included the company insisting on doing 6 interviews with me, one of the project managers asking me if I was okay with workplace stress and long hours, and a number of other things. Instead of running for the hills screaming, I accepted the offer and ended up leaving after just 6 months.

It’s cheesy but its good advice

I don’t blame myself too much for this mistake, and nobody should. We all make mistakes in life as we do in our careers. It was a valuable lesson, and now if I’m not truly excited about a job I do not make the jump. If you are dealing with a difficult transition right now, remember that it is temporary. You will get through it. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. I was very afraid in my first job. If I didn’t ask questions though, I don’t think I would have learned very much. If change is something that scares you, try taking baby steps first. Do something new on the weekend, go somewhere you’ve never been before. You might even find it thrilling!

I hope that my thoughts and personal experience help to shed some light on going through transitions at work. Nobody likes change, but without it life would be an absolute bore.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Why I Don’t Make Art For a Living: How Capitalism Kills Creativity

I’ve been writing a lot about game development and coding so far on the blog, especially from a creative coder perspective. However today I am going to empathize the “creative” more than the “coder”. I initially created this blog with the help of a book called Renaissance Business by Emilie Wapnick. I discovered her after listening to her amazing TED talk . Basically this blog is my platform to celebrate and share my many passions with readers, instead of forcing myself to fit into a specific niche mold. This post explores the question about whether capitalism kills creativity, and how I have personally found that it’s difficult to focus on creative expression when trying to sell my work and make it marketable.

To bring this back around to the topic of art consumption, I have always thought of art as the center of all things, because artists can make work about almost any topic under the sun, and in almost any form, and still have it be recognized as art. I won’t get into an art history lecture here but if you’ve ever been to a modern art museum you will know what I am talking about. I think that makes art, in many ways, the original Renaissance Business. Why business? Because artists need to eat, too.

A little more background about me before going further. I have been working professionally as a developer for four years. However, I actually majored in Visual Arts in college and still have a lot of passion for the arts. When I was in school I imagined myself being a graphic designer and selling photography and illustration on the side. In my sophomore year I got my first DSLR, a Canon 60D and I was utterly thrilled. I was also lucky to have a family that loved to travel far and wide.

I used to take my Canon 60D with me every time I travelled

As you can guess by now, I took a lot of photos. I also knew a fair bit of photo editing with Photoshop, because it was the same tool I used for graphic design. I loved to tweak my photos and create vibrant, luscious imagery of nature. Unfortunately for me, there was already tons of these images on the internet. I didn’t think about that while beaming at some of my best photos. What I was thinking about was how great my photos might look on someone’s wall. Or how with my nice fancy camera I could print them out at large sizes.

You can probably guess where this is going. Like millions of other people on the internet, I decided to open an online store. There were quite a few platforms to choose from: DeviantArt, Shopify, Etsy, Cafepress, Fine Art America, and all of these other options. I did several hours worth of research and settled on Fine Art America, because I liked how I didn’t have to deal with any of the shipping or printing, and basically just had to upload my digital files and set my prices while letting the platform do the rest. Below are some of my photos, for context:

At first I was hopeful. I saw visitors looking at my images, sometimes commenting. I decided to share on Twitter and Facebook. Got some more visitors. A few family members bought some prints in the first couple of weeks. Unfortunately, that was all that ever came of that shop. Even today I still get visitors checking out my photography, because I haven’t bothered to take down the shop.

That was when it hit me. Being a skillful artist, photographer or otherwise, was not enough to see any success selling your work online (not implying that I believe I am exceptionally talented, just that I put in many hours to hone my craft). In fact, being a skillful artist didn’t even mean that you would get noticed. It might have worked years ago when artists relied on selling to local communities that didn’t have access to a tool allowing them to view beautiful art with one simple click or keyword. Back then, seeing a skillfully painted landscape or illustration might have been at least a little bit rare.

You have to advocate for yourself to make it as an artist in the twenty first century

Perhaps that is not entirely fair of me to say. I have sold a few small creative items over the years. Once I had some illustrations featured in a magazine, and I’ve drawn some portraits in a park for donations that people seemed happy to hand over. Some might even accuse me of being delusional. What was I expecting, that posting some art on the internet would actually mean something? I admit, I was naive. But I think there is something sad about the state of art consumption. It seems the business acumen of an artist ends up being more of a contribution to success than the years they spent perfecting their craft. Maybe this is nothing new though, after all, we know Van Gogh died penniless and hated by many.

Yet I wonder even if artists who were successful in the era of Impressionists would be able to succeed in today’s online world. There are so many things an artist needs to know in order to be able to sell their art to make a living. First, they must be active on social media. They must be active members in several online groups or communities. They must post updates of their work frequently to their followers lest they lose interest. Finally, they must be in tune with popular culture and understand things like SEO, content management, and web hosting. Then they must continuously keep their finger on the pulse of the creative industry they are in. That was when it hit me. Could this mean that capitalism kills creativity?

Competition for selling art online is fierce

Naturally I didn’t know all of these things at the time. My thinking was that I could simply put up my photos and people would come and buy them. I wasn’t ready to devote hours of my day to promoting my new photography store and getting my name out there. I thought my photography could stand on its own, but I realized that was simply not the case. The store has been up for five years now but the only sales were in those first couple weeks.

Fast forward to 2018. I was missing graphic design after working for 3 years as a front end developer. My husband was in law school and after work I was often bored while he studied. Recently I had finished reading The Handmaids Tale. I knew that on Etsy, people liked to buy posters, purses, and mugs with quotes on them. My thinking was that maybe I could sell digital prints with quotes from feminist literature. I bought Photoshop and started to collect quotes from books and authors I liked and download beautiful cursive and italic fonts that would make the quotes look more like a work of art than simply text on a page.

My most popular print on my Etsy shop, Literary Ladies

In many ways the Etsy store I created with these feminist literature inspired quotes was exactly the kind of thing that most marketing gurus and even other successful artists encourage creatives to do. Find a niche that fits into popular culture, create a style or brand, and make items that fit into it. Finally, they must create a store only for selling those items, and make it easy for consumers to purchase.

Sure enough, following these guidelines did lead to some moderate success. Certainly a lot more than my photography store. I sold dozens of my download-able designs (I didn’t want to deal with printing and shipping myself), though most of them were all purchases of the same thing. A Wonder Woman quote (see image above) that I made after the Marvel film was released.

If I had to be honest, this was the most discouraging part of all. It meant that unless my quotes were centered around something popular, nobody would buy it. Even if it was a specific niche with a specific brand. I had been more interested in finding quotes from literature, but those quotes sell in much smaller quantities. It felt like if I wanted to make art for money, I wouldn’t ever be able to follow my heart. Instead I would need to follow hours of research based on trends and popular culture. That concept essentially sucked all of the joy out of making art.

Screenshot of a site letting you buy posters. A good example of how capitalism kills creativity: everything has to be pop culture related.

Perhaps this is more of a philosophical question, but isn’t true art the kind that comes directly from the heart, and brings the artist joy? I don’t mean to disparage people who make art for a living, because I have tremendous respect for them. Especially Japanese animators who toil away under extreme deadlines and often work themselves to death because of the time consuming nature of the art they make. In this case, capitalism kills creativity by literally killing the person. What I really hold at fault is capitalism, and how it turns art away from joy and into another corporate product for consumption. A product that can be broken down into business components instead of creative spirit.

Even if the artist actually enjoys the art they are making, the value of the art is considered so low that it is considered OK to burn them out and basically, torture them. To me, that is a sign of a culture that does not appreciate art at all. It’s a sign that maybe capitalism kills creativity after all. Although my Etsy shop and my Fine Art America website are still up, I don’t really have any expectations that they will ever turn into actual businesses. In fact, I’m not sure that I want them to, because making art is one of the few joys of adult life and I don’t want that joy to be stolen away from me.

Some people say that if you do what you love at work, you never work a day in your life. I would argue that, at least under a capitalist system, if you do what you love at work, what you love could eventually become what you hate. That is why capitalism kills creativity. That is why I have continued to work as a front end developer and make creative works like games, drawings, and generative art as a hobby and passion. I wish this wasn’t the case, but sadly after my past experiences that is what I have concluded.

The most overused quote on the internet.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the state of art consumption, and what you think could be improved. Do you think capitalism kills creativity? Are you a professional artist? Hope to become one some day? I know this op-ed may be a bit depressing, but by no means do I want to discourage readers from making art. The world needs it, even if it goes under-appreciated.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.