How I got here? This is one of the most frequently asked questions when interviewing for a UX/UI designer role. It is not a particularly new or brain teasing question. But it is an interesting one to me.

Let’s rewind the clock. I studied Electronics and Informatics Engineering in my undergraduate, a major I didn’t know much even after turned in my college applications, a major I fell in love with later and but decided to then pursue my master program in Human Computer Interaction having worked in industry as an engineering for some time after graduation.

Why Electronics and Informatics Engineering and What is it?

I didn’t know what exactly is Electronics and Informatics Engineering (EIE) either before. I don’t know much about other majors either. I was the second person that went to a college in both my parents’ immediate families. The first one is my older sister, who studied liberal arts while I was in science track in high school. Growing up, I have a fuzzy idea that I am going to pursue a major in science, maybe computer science or something engineering related. So I wrote down “computer science”, “electronics and informatics engineering” and “Mechanical Design, Manufacturing and Automation” in my college applications. In China, students need to choose a major when applying for colleges in China. Once it is decided, it is nearly impossible to change. For most students, they will have to live with for at least four years. When looking back, I was pretty luck. Even though I didn’t know the major more than its meaning on the paper, I found myself enjoy learning it.

I Designed Hardware Systems and Wrote Codes

I learned a lot of things regarding the electronic circuit system, signals, data, algorithm and computer programming (objective-c, c++, etc). “Fundamentals of Electronic Circuits and System”, “Signals and Systems”, “Signals and Systems”, “Digital Signal Processing” are just some classic subjects. Towards the end of the major, I can design a hardware system from the bottom up. I designed and built digital devices and interactive objects that can sense and control objects in the physical world. To give you an idea below is a system that I designed.

I worked in a secret team on the next-gen Apple touch screen as an R&D engineer.

Back to that time, I worked at a company supplies touch panels for Apple’s iPhone and iPad. ( iWatch doesn’t exist when I worked there, but now they also do iWatch.) I worked as an R&D engineer and collaborated closely with software engineers from Apple to ensure the electronic quality of the next-gen i-device’s touch panel, making sure the panel is robust enough to survive severe environmental test before mass production. It requires a basic understanding of electronics and a decent analysis skills and a keen eye for details.

I decided to pursue an M.S. in Human Computer Interaction

The work I did at TPK wasn’t something I want to do as a career but something to keep myself busy while preparing for applications materials for a master program. I was still on the fence of should I apply for a master program in electronic engineering or computer science. To be honest, Human Computer Interaction didn’t even come across my mind before. It was a relatively new major. One day, I came across a post online. That was from the post where I started to know HCI (Interestingly, I and the author’s paths came across in the future where I join the company she was working for as an intern). I almost jump out of my seat, “This is it!”. I feel it is a major that can connect the dots.

First of all, I enjoy designing things.
Even though I studied engineering, I grow up drawing things. I was once a member of a student association’s planning & advertising dept and designing posters for them in college. I am pretty familiar with Photoshop. Besides of pure graphic designs, I love designing systems and enjoying programming to make it work too. There are both a logistic and creative beauty in it.

To design a functional system, you need the logistic part of your brain to analyze the requirements, design the overall system and figure out the interaction of different modules of the system. Then you need to design the circuit and simulate it before laying out the board and start soldering the electronics components to the board. Your creativity plays a part here too, for example, when designing the Printed Circuit Board (‘PCB’), you don’t want the wire to come across each other because it is going to impact the electronic signal. The less wiring-in-the-air, the better electronic performance it is.

Designing the layout of the PCB is almost like playing a game, you need to connect the pairs of colored dots without crossing lines.

Secondly, I have solid analysis skills and can think from a high level as well as care for the details.
A good UX designer needs to find out the real cause behind an issue to come up with a solution. Also, they need to think through every potential consequence that the solution may cause. This requires a solid analysis skills and the ability to think from a high-level perspective and a good eye for details when it comes to execution.

My background in engineering gave me a lot of training on these skills. When we were designing a hardware system, you need to design from the system level. We plan the workflows, think about the interaction of different modules of the system. When the circuit doesn’t work out as we designed, we need to have strong analysis skills to find the cause and come up with a solution.

Thirdly, It fits my passion.
I want to do something that brings more value to the world. In the IT-related manufacturing industry, there is a concept called “Smiling Curve”. This concept was first proposed by Stan Shih, the founder of Acer, Taiwan’s main IT company, and later became widely cited to describe the distribution of value-adding potentials in various industries to justify business strategies aimed at higher value-adding activities. The company I worked for at the time was in the manufacturing industry, the lowest value-added part. I want to move to the earlier part of the chain, the part that I enjoy doing and can bring more value to customers.

Smile Curve, a concept describes the distribution of value-adding potentials in the IT-related manufacturing industry.

Fourth, iIt is a growing field that I find a interesting.
It was 2011. iPhone was getting more mature. It had flipped many industries with its innovative user experience. People became more comfortable using a touch screen phone. However, everyone was still figuring out what user interfaces are most friendly and easy to use. There wasn’t even a school in China teaching Human Computer Interaction. There were just a handful of schools offering this major in the US. But the industry is shaping. It is a major that came across many subjects, including human factor, engineering, computer science, psychology, interaction design, and visual designs. I’m interested in a lot of these fields and feeling that I can learn a lot.