What the heck is a UX developer?

Yes captain obvious – you guessed it right. It is a UXer who can code. Or a Developer who can UXD. Now the real question is whether these guys exist? Or more so if they do exist, are they easy to find?

My company has been trying to find a UX developer for more than 8 months and yes – after interviewing dozens of applicants we still haven’t found a good one. Why?

Of course I'm a UX Developer! What were you thinking?

Well, for a start we need to understand where this title UX Developer comes from.

Around 2009 I was looking for a job change. I sent my resume to some 10-12 companies including agencies, consulting firms and corporates. And at least 8 of them were looking for candidates who can design and code – They were looking for a “UI Developer” as the HR guys put it.

After a series of interviews in the coming weeks, I realised that many companies do not want to hire 2 people unless the project was well funded. They were happy to hire a candidate with average skills in both designing and coding. Sometimes, they were even happy to pay a 10% extra on top of market rate since paying 1 person is better than having to pay for 2 separate roles.

So basically – It was merging 2 roles into 1.

UI Developer = UI Designer + Front-end Developer

But then there have always been people who could do both design and code (including myself since I started in Agency world), but there wasn’t a job title for such people in the market. But when organisations (job creators) realised this – they came up with this job titles. And this is how “UI Developer” was born.

So what’s UX Developer now?

Well – this merges 3 disciplines and that’s what worries me.

UX Developer = UX Designer + UI Designer + Front-end Developer

Now, if you’ve worked in this (UX design) industry – you’d know that all of these roles are quite involved and to be an expert in all the three is like finding pandora’s box.

Most of the people who call themselves UX Developers (I’ve met so far) are either front-end developers or UI designers who have read a few books and blogs on UX. And then there are obviously 12 week courses that make you a UX ninja. Not that I have anything against them, I just feel that companies need to understand that User Experience is quite a developed field and they need to work on creating a team of UX designers who specialise in one or two disciplines each. So having a total 3 UXers will literally arm them with everything.

I’ve tried to explain this to a few hiring managers and HR people in my professional circle. But the problem seems to be the same as before – Many companies do not want to hire 3 people. It could be because of a variety of reasons from not having enough work to not having enough budget.

Should there be a UX Developer?

In short – No.

As I mentioned earlier there is no way a person can be good at all the disciplines. So we are talking about “jack-of-all-trades and master of none” kinda stuff here.

But here is the twist – A lot of companies don’t really want an expert. Companies are saving a good amount of money by hiring one person who has average (UX + UI + HTML) skills.

Now it depends on YOU, whether you want to be a part of a forward thinking company or get paid a bit extra working as jack-of-all-trades.

How easy is to find a UX Developer?

Well, it turns out – very hard.

I’ve actually asked many of my UX friends if they want to take up a role like that. And guess what – they don’t. Many do not even know how to use Photoshop properly, let alone coding in HTML or CSS.

Having said that – there are a few people out there who fit into this realm but are extremely hard to find since no company wants to let them go.

Final thoughts

I personally believe that it’s better to have deep roots (expertise) in a couple of disciplines rather than being a UX all-rounder.  If I take my own example – I’ve a broad knowledge of all aspects of user experience. I have created wire flows, journey maps, site maps, usability analysis and have also interviewed dozens of users, and yet I do not call myself an Information Architect or User researcher.