The Turtleneck and the Hoodie

I have always envied people with a clarity of purpose. As far as the memory reaches, I have been pulled into multiple directions. Not that this is a particularly rare affliction, but it can on occasion make one’s life more difficult than necessary. Being able to describe yourself as one thing makes introductions and elevator pitches easier.

Youthful exuberance aside, it soon becomes clear that in order to become really good at something, many interests and pursuits must lapse to the level of hobbies at best. Certainly a hobby is still better than ‘that thing I did in my previous life’. For me, playing guitar in a band, hi-fi, SCUBA, recording and producing others are all either hobbies or things I fondly remember when I look at the old photos. However, sometimes even the spring cleaning of responsible adulthood does not leave you refreshingly focused and defined. You may have a destiny to be a ‘mixie’.

For me, struggling with the forces pulling me in multiple directions continued when I was a research and teaching assistant after graduation. See, even the title ‘research AND teaching’ has the conflict built into it. And I was not alone. An older colleague of mine used to say: “This university would have been much better without students”. Of course, at that point it would cease to be a “university” but I grant that “research” part would be much easier without all the time spent on pesky undergraduates.

Joining IBM in 1994 (19 years already?), the tug of war returned as soon as I started doing interesting things in user interfaces. From joining a cool new open source project called Eclipse to creating Eclipse component called PDE to moving to Rational Jazz project, I noticed that I not only cared how things worked but also how they looked and felt. However, in the early days, a developer who also cared about pixels was like a “dog playing a piano”, to borrow words of Freddy Rumsen from Mad Men Season 1. So much so that when the beta version of IBM’s Visual Age for Java was reviewed by a magazine, it was lovingly called “ugly as a dump truck”. Of course, between the beta and the final product, the designers sprinkled it with pixel dust but I always thought that developers should care about visuals from the get go.

Well, I definitely did – when I was writing UI code, and later when I lead teams doing the same, I tried to infect others with the idea that things should not only work great, they should look polished and beautiful. Some projects I started In Eclipse (say, UI Forms) made it really hard to not care (ok, they look dated today, but so does everything else). Later on, a team I lead as part of the Rational Jazz project created beautiful dashboards we still use daily while self-hosting. Still, even though I managed to infect a growing number of people with the thought that caring about code AND visuals is a false dichotomy, the best was yet to come.

Fast-forward to 2013. After iPod, iPhone and iPad, (ok, fine, even Windows 8 and the new Outlook) everybody cares about beauty. In fact, design is now a driving force in the company I work for. Design is not called in at the last moment to ‘do its thing’, or be completely done at the beginning with a big thud (BDUF) – it is a partner at the table, where great things are created collaboratively, using Lean UX techniques. A table where the turtlenecks and the hoodies can live in peace, complement each others’ strengths and watch for the blind spots. It is OK to be a hybrid – we even have a manifest now – Manifesto Ibridi. How cool is that?

It is a great time to have both of these passions in any ratio – caring how things work and how your users go about putting them to daily use. This blog is dedicated to topics I encounter living and leading teams in this crossover area. I hope I can infect you too and maybe wake up a passion that laid dormant for a long time.

As for me, I can now proudly stand up and say: “My name is Dejan Glozic. I care about design AND I care about code. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact it is just awesome. Let me show you why.”

© Dejan Glozic, 2013

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