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Most programmers are not designers; at least that is what I hear a lot.

I consider my design skills to be on par with my programming skills, although I prefer programming if I had to choose one.

I feel like that could be a great advantage, but I don't know how to use it to my advantage when searching for a job. It seems either people are looking for a designer or they are looking for a programmer. Its hard to find someone who is looking for someone who is both.

This may be because someone who is both is either too rare, or not actually desired.

If it is indeed a desirable combination, then how do I use it to market myself?

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4 Answers 4

Short answer:

Target small companies. Very small. Companies which are unable to hire two people in their IT department. Explain that you're skilled in both development and design, and show them some proof.

Long answer:

The larger is the company, the more specialized is the staff. When the budget for a project is high, a company can afford hiring a visual designer, an UX expert, several developers, each of those developers being specialized in a specific domain, DBAs, a few consultants, managers, testers, etc.

When the budget is not so high, there is no enough money to hire a tester or a DBA. Developers have to do all the work, write SQL queries, test their code, etc. A C# developer can have to write JavaScript or spend several days typing HTML and CSS.

Small companies just cannot hire lots of people. They want to hire one or two who will have to do all the work. On the other hand, they do not require the person to be an expert in a domain. They look for a jack of all trades, master of none, i.e. people who don't have a deep experience in a specific domain, but know lots of stuff an expert will never know about things which are not in his domain of expertise.

The situation with developers vs. designers is slightly different. For a person with no technical background, a tester still works with code. A DBA writes code. A person who types HTML types code. They are all coders, i.e. the same as developers. Designers are a different kind of people. They don't type. They work with Photoshop.

Technically, it's wrong. An expert DBA has nothing to do with an expert C# developer neither. A tester doesn't work much with code, and especially doesn't write code. But for ordinary people, only designers are apart, since they understand this distinction, but don't get any other (and mostly never heard about UX experts for example).

It means that they will find it strange that a person does both design and development at the same time. They will have doubts that you're competent in either. But if you explain that you're passionate about both, show that you have enough experience, etc., it may be tempting for them to hire you, instead of hiring two separate people to do the same work.

Also, chances are, an existent small company has already a developer and a designer. If they are looking for a new developer, they still probably want to keep their designer. If they fired their designer, they still have their developer. This means that you'll have better chances to find a job in startups, where they don't have anybody for the moment.

But wait! Are you sure you want to work for those companies? In general, it's not very tempting to work in companies where there is no enough money to hire several people in IT department. It may be a temporary job, but still... Forget about Joel test. Forget about working with more experienced colleagues and learning from them daily. Forget about writing high quality code with pair programming, code reviews, etc. The company may even refuse to invest in a bug tracking system or even a source control.

Instead, what you can do is to:

  • Either work as a freelancer (if it's possible for you), and to suggest your services both as a developer and as a designer,

  • Or find a job where you're more specialized, but where competencies from the other sector are welcome. For example, searching for a visual designer is not the same as searching for a web designer who must know how visual design is implemented, how it will affect the website performance, how it must be optimized, etc.

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Err, this may (mostly) hold true for companies outside of the gaming and television/film industries.. But (imho), it's a pretty big gaping hole in your answer. –  Demian Brecht Jan 5 '12 at 0:40
+1 for the "Short answer". For the asker, you should expect to sell yourself to the company for both jobs simultaneously and differently. Designers need portfolios - they're artists, "creatives". Programmers often have to "audition" - they're "performers". –  Ross Patterson Jan 5 '12 at 0:46
The sole developer/designer for a small company with no peers to work with and learn from is where I am now and trying to get away from!! –  JD Isaacks Jan 5 '12 at 2:23
It doesn't have to be a solo role. Plenty of companies in the 5 to 10 developer range have excellent working conditions but still require a fairly broad background. –  tdammers Jan 5 '12 at 7:15

This combination is very valuable in the mobile app arena, and not only just for game/entertainment development. Probably in much higher demand than someone with just programming skills. You might even be able to find mobile app companies that specifically advertise for this skill combination, even ads from larger companies.

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It most definitely is a desirable combination (in some very large circles)..

It's called a tech artist and are frequently sought after in the gaming market.

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It depends on which areas of design/programming you're familiar with. I generally discourage clients from having a web developer do their design. However, having a front-end developer who also does UX design can be more efficient and cost-effective. This is especially true when the UX designer can also create quick UI prototypes to test out design concepts and get stakeholder approvals.

Knowing the technological limitations/possibilities can also be an enormous advantage to a front-end designer. Because more often than not, a designer will come up with something that is completely unfeasible or won't work the way they imagine it to when designing. And the flip side to this is that a designer may be overly conservative and rule out many good concepts (or it could just not occur to them in the first place) because they're not up to date with the latest technologies.

Flash development is also an area where graphic design and other art skills can be a natural compliment to programming abilities. It's sort of a specialist field and a corner case, but it's still a worthwhile area to specialize in if you want to utilize both skillsets.

The last area where having both backgrounds is very useful is in project management. This is a specialist skill in and of itself as well, but if you have project management skills and a strong grasp of design and you have a good technical background in programming, then you would be a very, very valuable asset to many employers.

After all, most project managers only have experience in design or development, if even that, and that means they're not as capable of directing and communicating with the team outside their area of expertise. Not having experiece in that area will affect their ability to properly budget time & resources, prioritize/schedule tasks, or even putting together the right team. There are also many situations in which there's a conflict between what the design team wants and what the developers want. Having insight in both arenas will give you better chances of choosing the best course of action.

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Flash was actually the gateway that led me from designing to programming. I don't think its as relevant today as it was when I was heavily into it though. That makes pretty good sense about project manager, never thought about that before. Thanks. –  JD Isaacks Jan 5 '12 at 2:22
@John: Perhaps it's not as relevant directly, but your Flash skills can still be very valuable for UI design/development since Flash Catalyst is a popular rapid prototyping tool. –  Lèse majesté Jan 5 '12 at 2:30

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