personalized bicycle with unicorn head on handlebars
PHOTO: Boudewijn Huysmans

If we want teammates and companies to perceive user experience (UX) as a unique specialty, we must hire as if it's a unique specialty. Many companies already misunderstand UX. This is made worse when UX “leaders,” speakers or gurus teach others that the main or only way to get a (good) job is to be a Jack of all trades.

Traditionally, a UX “unicorn” is someone whose specialties extend beyond UX tasks to visual design, coding or both. If you have a variety of specialties within UX, such as someone who is experienced or even great at research, design and testing, you might be called, “T-shaped.” Should UX practitioners go beyond the T-shape to become unicorns?

If everybody is a unicorn, nobody is a unicorn. But more importantly, many people don't have natural talent in such completely different areas as UX design, research and testing, content and copy, visual design and coding. That is why, at many companies, these are separate jobs. We need to work harder on separating them.

Can’t You Just Take Some Classes?

If someone lacks natural talent in visual design, it might not matter much if they took art classes, went to trade school, or even achieved a university degree in visual design. You might end up with knowledge, technique and some expensive brushes, but your natural talent might limit you.

It’s often easier to make sense of this explanation when we consider American Idol auditioners who aren’t selected. Their auditions are terrible, the judges are horrified, and it’s not always because they didn’t take voice lessons. Singing lessons might simply be a money pit for someone without natural talent — there's no guarantee you'll end up American Idol-worthy.

This means that those telling non-artists to just go learn visual design belittle the impressive talent visual design requires. A great artist can recognize who is and is not talented.

Related Article: A Jack-of-All-Trades Job Might Be Setting You Up to Fail

Do I Need to Learn to Code?

“I need to build up a better tech skill set,” the young woman looking to transition into UX said. “It’s been really holding me back, thinking I need to learn to code to get a good UX job.” She wants to become a UX designer. You can be a UX designer without being a programmer. While it’s good for UX practitioners to have a good technical foundation and understand general elements of engineering that can affect design directions, such as APIs, services, security, etc., UX specialists do not need to learn to code.

And which programming language(s) would a UX practitioner need to learn? “I want to learn to code” is a very broad and open statement. Do you mean front-end development, mostly HTML, CSS and JavaScript? Do you mean other languages like Ruby, Python or C#? Ask yourself why you need these languages and how you will use them before devoting time to learning to code.

Also find out if you enjoy writing code. If you don’t, then learning to code to get a job that includes coding means you will be doing something you already know you don't enjoy. Depending upon how fulfilling or rewarding you hope a job will be, you might not want to select one requiring you to do something you dislike.

Related Article: How Important Is Talent When Hiring for UX?

A Job That Requires Coding Is an Engineering Job

Engineering jobs require specialists, people who have coding as their strength, expertise and educational background. Most UX practitioners learning to code can’t match what an expert programmer can do, just like an engineer taking a UX bootcamp course can’t match what an expert UX practitioner can produce.

“I’m making all of my artists learn to code,” the creative director gleefully said. Did they want to learn to code? He didn’t care, he felt they all needed to be writing code. He was then asked how the programmers at his company feel about the code his artists are writing. Will their code really go to production or does it have to be fixed or thrown away due to quality issues? Without an answer, he turned and walked away.

We haven’t saved any time and perhaps we’ve wasted time if creative workers are writing code that ends up not being used or takes more time to fix than if engineers had done all of the coding from the start.

Related Article: Using Behavior Intelligence to Improve Your Site's User Experience

Play to Strengths

Your dentist might not be a surgeon. Your mechanic might not be a body repair expert. Your dietician might not be a personal trainer. Some people might find they have talent and interest in both and pursue both. But most of us have one key strength and it's best to play to that strength. Your time might be best spent on UX tasks and not on tasks that match other people’s job descriptions.

The customer does not get a better product when you play to someone’s weakness or when you give them work in an area where you're not that talented and/or don't enjoy. While there’s nothing wrong with being able to code, whatever that means to each individual, we shouldn’t require UX practitioners to write code. Let the UX specialists do UX work and let the dev specialists do the coding work.