Learning tech — the BIG picture approach

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I learned C++ for three-ish years in college and when I got my first job out of college, we were trained in Java. This was one shift in my tech journey. At my first client site, the architecture team on the project thought that Javabeans were the way to go. Another shift. When I built my first business after staying at home with my kids, I decided Ruby was the way to go, so I learned that. And so goes my road and most roads to technology. Weaves and turns with bumps along the way. In my experience, the technology path is anything but straight.

Now as a UX designer and technology consultant, knowing the breadth of technology has been helpful to serving my clients in a multitude of ways. I’m grateful for the twists and turns, but when I am talking to people (moms mostly) who are just starting out in tech or trying to break into tech (I run a meetup group in the Raleigh-Durham area) and I try to explain those twists and turns, it can be hard to articulate to someone just starting out. They aren’t sure where to start, they might go down some rabbit holes. It can be overwhelming. I usually say, start with HTML and CSS, but to those who don’t know HTML or CSS, they can get lost in the never-ending lines of possibilities.

So I’m recommending a different approach. It’s the same approach that I do in my work as a UX Designer, and I think it will help with those new to development, as well. The approach starts with the problem you are trying to solve and the people you are trying to solve it for. Technology is more about the product than anything else. It’s important to focus on the product from a person-problem perspective. Only then can we design what is needed and develop the right solution.

Far too often in product development we can get caught up in the shiny new object or the amazing new search functionality that we could use. Those are great things and they may (but they may not) help with the current product’s solution. It depends on the needs’ of the user.


By looking at the product part first, if you are new to tech, you will know WHY you are developing what you are developing. You can understand, for example, the link between the Button extends React.Component in React Javascript and what that means for the users of your product. If you don’t have the context, the possibilities can seem endless (because they are). I highly, highly encourage you to come up with your own problem/solution. It is important that you care about what you are trying to solve for. That is my fair warning before I provide two examples, because if you can’t come up with a good problem/solution, then you may never start and starting is the most important part! So here are two examples of problem/solutions with target audiences even though I suggest you use your own!

Example One
I am a busy business professional who is trying to schedule a networking coffee at mutually convenient location. I’m looking for a solution where I can input two locations and receive a listing (or similar) of potential locations that are in between us.

Example Two
I am a parent attempting to sign my children up for multiple different sports through a sports program’s tool. The solution allows for multiple different child profiles and the selection of different sports offerings. (Consider starting with some basic
wireframes before you begin this one.)

After talking to many new techies, I really believe that product-first is the way to learn. Look at a problem you are trying solve and who you are trying to solve it for. It might seem like a massive undertaking at first, but when you get into the nuts and bolts of developing, you will know where to stop because the interaction on the screen will tell you have learned enough for this element and you will have something meaningful to show for it. Then you can go onto the next interaction. What you just learned will likely help you in your next interaction. It will also paint a bigger picture of the possibilities that are available in both design and development.

I’m convinced that learning one thing and then another in the context of a meaningful problem/solution is the road to breaking into tech. There isn’t one course that you can take to help you learn everything. A bigger picture finished product, even a small one, is most likely to help you on your path to technology stardom!

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