I recently got an email from a student at the University of Michigan School of Information — my alma mater — wanting to know how to get a UI Engineer job. My gut reaction was to feel sorry for this person because nobody should be taking “work tips” from me, the self-proclaimed Chief Distraction Officer of my workplace.
I am a first year Graduate Student at the School of Information, University of Michigan and found you on SI’s alumni network. I found your name and job title in the Student-Alumni Network database at SI, and am interested to learn about your career path — how you got to where you are today. I would also appreciate any kind of advice from you on the types of skills and experiences I should acquire while in school to make me more marketable when I graduate.
Also, I am currently looking for HCI (Human Computer Interaction) related internships for this summer and was wondering if you may know about any such opportunities at your organization.
Most UI engineers I know started with strong knowledge of HTML and CSS. I started as an HTML developer. As an HTML developer you get mockups from a designer and make static HTML files that look like the mockups. Then you pass those to engineers.
As a UI engineer now I receive mockups and turn them into dynamic functioning pages with business logic. I also do a little bit of interaction design and UI design because I work at a small company.
I principally do 5 things in my job:
HTML and CSS
Turn a UI mockup into real HTML without using tables. The page should look the same in IE6, IE7, Firefox, and optionally Safari. If you can do that you are in good shape.
Learn to use one templating language and the others will be easy to learn. Common templating languages are Smarty for PHP, Ruby on Rails, JSP, or ASP. A great way to understand templating is to customize a WordPress blog or a Blogger blog. Or, you can make a homemade project on your SI web space using Smarty. Ruby on Rails is very popular.
as part of (3) learn how to use other company’s APIs and services. For example I have to do a lot of stuff with Google Maps API. Knowing how to use an API is good.
Typically you need to program some business logic for a page. Big companies use Java or .NET. Many internet companies use PHP (yahoo, facebook), or Python (Google). Many startups use Ruby on Rails. SQL knowledge is frequently useful.
Have basic knowledge of Search Engine Optimization tactics.