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My experience as a user experience developer in Austin, TX

Few things are as satisfying to me than creating something that thousands if not millions of people use. I started my career as a back-end PHP developer. Yes, I know PHP gets a lot of hate, but frankly its a really quick way to learn to develop web applications and it has a large community behind it. I moved to Austin and quickly found what was one of my best jobs ever. I was working with as the only developer on a project that had already been started. This forced me to learn concepts and patterns very quickly. It was fail hard or sink fast. Luckily I had a patient project manager.

After a year there I quickly discovered that companies needed people like me and moved on several times. Every time essentially looking for higher pay. Along with higher pay I was learning at break neck speed. But, it felt empty. I never got that sense of accomplishment because nothing I did could be explained to my wife or friends.  I was creating these back-end systems that usually integrated with some other archaic system for inventory or pricing, or I was working on some legacy product and just keeping it running.

Higher pay doesn’t always mean a more enjoyable job. I learned this very quickly. My advice to any junior or mid-level developers is to meet the team and try to get a sense of how they like to work and how you would fit in. If you are the type who likes to collect a pay check, great. Find a team where that is the culture. If you enjoy making friends with your co-workers, great! Find a team that is cohesive and spends time outside of work together.

I know I’m rambling here but I needed to set a background for the meat of the story. 7 years of PHP taught me that I hate backend work. To me it felt thankless. In came JavaScript. I signed up for TXJS, a local JavaScript conference. I quickly learned that this was for me. Everyone seemed to be excited about new libraries, HTML5, ES6, etc. Plus, what people were demoing was actually there. Right there on the screen. It wasn’t some abstract xls import engine or sql query generator. It was an accordion or a lesson on a framework that just made sense.

I quit my “high paying” PHP Lead job and started contracting as a UX developer. I helped create some really great visual websites like http://www.somedaystartsnow.com/ and http://www.pugetsoundstartshere.org/. While I did none of the visual design for these sites. I found it was extremely rewarding to be able to show people, look at this I made it.

Because I was doing UX development now and doing it as a consultant, I had to keep my ear to the ground for new jobs and damn the market is hot! I decided to keep down the path and its been really rewarding. I love being able to create “things” that lots of people use. Beautiful things that are easy and intuitive to the end user.

Throughout all these projects I continued to go to conferences and the excitement for JavaScript never ceases to amaze me. Everyone is doing great new things and these talks are so very motivational. There is a huge community of UX developers in Austin and a thriving community around everything “front-end”. It is an exciting place to be.

Even though there is a large UX community in Austin, there is a shortage of people like myself. Luckily for me, being in such high demand has allowed me to choose where I would like to join a team! Like a said before its all about who you work with and what their values are. I start my next venture at http://www.outboundengine.com on Monday. I am leaving behind a great team at http://www.avention.com they are doing great things, but the draw of working at a start-up again was too much to resists. Here’s to new adventures and continuous learning!