3 Questions for MHCID

I am a graduate of the University of California, Irvine’s Master of Human-Computer Interaction & Design (MHCID) program. As part of an alumni feature, I was recently asked three questions:

I. Who are two people that you would like to have dinner with, dead or alive? Why?

II. Do you have a favorite piece of media (i.e. app, book, film, music, website) that has been influential in your life as a professional? If so, how?

III. What has been the most important lesson you have received during the program so far?

I. Who are two people that you would like to have dinner with, dead or alive? Why?

Going back to school put a lot of stress not just on myself, but my wife Samantha. I would go to work for 8 to 10 hours a day, rush home and spend 30 minutes with her, and then start my school work. This went on for the length of the program, which was 1 year. As a working professional, I cannot stress the importance of having a solid support network in place before going back to school. She made sure our home was tidy. Sam made sure I was eating. She made sure I was relaxing. My wife’s support is the reason I was able to finish this program. However, I never had the pleasure of meeting two people who supported her. The first is her grandmother Dorothy. The second is her cousin William.

Dorothy, Will, and Sam

II. Do you have a favorite piece of media (i.e. app, book, film, music, website) that has been influential in your life as a professional? If so, how?

At the age of 15, I survived a life-threatening brain tumor. As a result, I was home schooled for most of high school. During that time, I began designing my own maps (modding) in the computer game Starcraft. This was my introduction to design.

Starcraft Campaign Editor

As an undergraduate, I continued modding, but switched from Starcraft to the newer Warcraft III. One of my maps, “Wrath of the Gods,” was a breakout hit, and had over 15,000 downloads. This inspired me to drop out of medical school, and then the police (long story), to pursue a graduate degree in interactive technology and game design.

Wrath of the Gods, a Warcaft III mod

As a graduate student, my friend Demitrius introduced me to the book The Universal Principles of Design. It was the first design-oriented book that I read, and remains my favorite to this day. Its principles are interdisciplinary in nature, and can be applied to any form of design. Fortunately, the book is a required reading in the MHCID program.

Universal Principles of Design

III. What has been the most important lesson you have received during the program so far?

This answer is long, so grab some popcorn and get comfy:

1. Form a Reading Group

Many of the initial courses are reading-heavy. Therefore, I suggest splitting the readings across multiple people, and having each person take notes. To prevent notes that are too long, make a rule that your notes do not exceed 1 page with landscape orientation, narrow margins, and 3 columns. You can see an example of this here:

Devon’s note-taking technique

If done correctly, each person in the reading group will have access to easy-to-read notes which are more efficient than reading the literature.

2. Manage your Time

One of the most difficult parts of this program is juggling full-time work, life, and school. Over the last year, I worked 55+ hours per week, got married, moved from California to Minnesota, and switched jobs. Oh, and I also spent 20+ hours per week doing school work. It’s definitely do-able, but you need to be strict about time management.

To manage your time, try this:

  1. At the beginning of each quarter, write down every due date on a calendar.
  2. At the start of each week (Sunday for me), map out your daily tasks for that week.
  3. Check and update your calendar daily. If you miss a task one day (do not worry, it WILL happen), update your weekly tasks accordingly.

Alternatively, you can use task-management software like Trello.

Trello task manager

3. Take Care of Yourself

Get enough sleep. Eat clean. Exercise. Take one day per week off. When the workload ramps up, you may not be able to accomplish all of these things, but do not neglect them all. The MHCID program is not a sprint, but rather a long-distance run. You do not want to burn out.

4. Be a Design Thinker, Not a Technician

One of the most common questions I have been asked regarding this program is, “When will I learn about [insert your favorite tool here].” You won’t.

The MHCID program is NOT about training technicians who are competent with a specific tool. You can learn tools on your own. The program aims to produce design thinkers and strategists. Once you understand how to design and strategize, you can pick up any tool and apply those skills.

5. Get a Job

What type of UX professional do you want to be? The sooner you can answer this question, the quicker you can use your MHCID coursework to build your portfolio, which may ultimately lead to your next role. But what if you don’t know where to start? Try these steps:

1. Read about UX career paths from my friend Nick Finck (Amazon, Facebook). Keep in mind that most people are a combination of these paths. For instance, I am a UX Researcher/Content Strategist/Information Architect.

2. Once you understand these paths, learn how to create a portfolio: One thing to note is you can get hired with 2–3 good portfolio pieces. You can see my portfolio at www.devonsingh.com.

3. Learn about branding yourself. Make sure your LinkedIn is filled out, and matches both your resume and portfolio.

4. When you’re ready to look for a job, this infographic is helpful at illustrating job densities. I suggest using www.indeed.com, www.linkedin.com, and www.glassdoor.com to search for UX roles.

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