In the beginning
Studying, listening to professors and making new friends was my idea of fun as I worked towards a Bachelor's Degree (with Honours) in Computer Science at South Russian Technical University. There, my Diploma project opened a new universe for me - literally. I had the opportunity to work on a Spacewalk simulator and come face to face with a spacewalk suit. Floating in space with just a short tether tying you to civilization really makes you think about how much we depend on our technology!
Moscow, here I come!
Those days were over, and in 2002, I got myself a one way ticket to Moscow. My first 'real world' experience involved working at a start-up developing corporate websites and online catalogues that out of my personal laziness included what's now called CMS. Should I mention that it was an exact replica of a DBMS in terms of UI, but luckily (or not so much so) people didn't complain about usability back then and anything other than 'Coming soon' or 'Under construction' on the homepage for many was good enough.
Fast forward a few months, and I found myself in a new job at EFKO, which happened to be the manufacturer of my favourite (to this day) mayonnaise, Sloboda-Olivkoviy. Between gobbling up free samples of olive mayo, I was a key player in building up an internal analytical web portal and a testing system that - as I saw first-hand - ended up being used by people who were not as computer-skilled as I naively assumed everyone was. They didn't complain either and treated the very interactions with the testing system as a part of the test itself which it was absolutely not(!). And that's when it struck me: it's not all about technical requirements and elegant coding - I needed to do a better job creating friendly and enjoyable experiences for users. More on this later...
Getting close to the product
My next destination was i3DVR International Inc., in Toronto, Canada where I got to learn C#.Net and work on desktop and web applications such as CCTV, POS, Access Management systems, ATM, and CRM systems. One fateful day my manager came to my desk and asked if I had time to develop the database structure for a new card access system. I thought to myself, sure, what could be simpler? - User swipes the card, the door either opens or it doesn't, than I log it in the database! In reality, that marked the start of 2 extremely exciting years of design and development that involved developing a product from scratch, collaborating with a dynamic team of hardware and software developers, marketing and sales teams, a technical writer and training coordinators.
Throughout this complex process, there were ups and downs and battles took place in boardrooms while - as one of my favourite says goes - "trying to squeeze an elephant in a fridge"1. This time around, I was really trying to direct the design of the product around humans, and not just a features list.
My about face
Over the years, I've become a dedicated reader. Through my own research, I've come to realize that more needs to be done to shift the development process from collecting requirements, coding, randomly crossing requirements out as the deadline closes, and more coding...
I've come to this realization with the help of many great books out and online resources, but I'd like to mention a few that affected me the most:
The Inmates Are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper. The book I would recommend to read to anyone who has anything to do with the software business.
Joel on Software by Joel Spolsky - the online resource where it all started for me.
Designing my next episode
In December 2009, I went to San Francisco to attend the Interaction Design Practicum presented by Cooper, which is offered as a part of their Training program. I was very much impressed by the quality of the course including training materials, the number of topics covered, workflow, facilities and most of all the trainers. I got to meet wonderful people, learn and share experiences. I didn't end up in San Francisco by accident - as my career advances, I intend to make Interaction Design a big part of what I do.
For the last couple years, I've enjoyed working as a freelance interaction designer and software developer. I've had a great opportunity to meet different people and work on fascinating projects.
"Energy flows where attention goes" - it's amazing how I've had the opportunity to work with so many open-minded people, on so many interesting experiences, and in so many interesting places - all in the name of making a digital world a better place!
Wherever I go and however I grow from here, I'm eager to continue applying the lessons I've gathered from around the world to the next episode in my life.
PS: if you made it here, thanks for reading all the way!