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I'm wrapping up a masters in CS and already have half the credit hours needed for a degree in Human Factors. I just recently discovered how useful understanding about cognition can help someone that creates user interfaces and am thirsty for more knowledge in the area.

For me, it seems that having both a masters in Human Factors and CS would be very marketable but would there be jobs out there that would allow me to apply both?

Meaning what I would really like to do is take the requirements for some application, apply different Human Factors theories( GOMS, CE+ ) to developing the interface, maybe do cognitive walk through with users to optimize the UI, then develop the application.

Do jobs out there exist like this? The reason I ask, is because I'm wondering if most places just want you to be either a Human Factors Expert or a Developer but not both.

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Jobs like this probably exist out there, but many companies are probably not going to pay extra for someone with such specialization as you to do it. Except for very large companies where even the most minor improvements/enhancements will have some sort of dollar-value impact. What about staying in acadamia and doing further research on the subject? I know there are many positions for that (well, there were back when I was in school). –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Nov 5 '12 at 15:30
    
Yeah, I've actually thought about just going for my doctorates and applying Human Factors to visualization instead of get a double masters. –  Bob Dole Nov 5 '12 at 16:21

9 Answers 9

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The more interesting aspect of your question is how Human Factors can influence the work of Computer Science.

And as you alluded to in your question, there most certainly is an influence. Primarily in the realm of UI / UX, but also in the design of services and APIs.

The UX influence should be pretty obvious. "Easier to use" generally equates to "better" when it comes to UI. Business Analysts, requirements gatherers, and interface designers are all roles where the blend of those skills would be useful. I don't know that many companies will advertise for the combination of HF + CS, but it will certainly come up during the interviewing process.

Services and API specification is another area where an HF background can help. Easier to use libraries generally means easier to understand and quicker to code against. There isn't as strong of a correlation / measure here, because programmers will power through using a bad API. But if they're allowed to pick, they'll more quickly reach for the more easily used API instead.

Update based upon some of the other comments:
As far as job availability, the best bet is going to be with larger software firms or consultancies. I believe a smaller shop would be happy to have those skills, but their UI turnover simply won't be enough to fully take advantage of the confluence. Larger shops and consultants are constantly working on new or revised apps and views. So they are much better positioned to leverage those skills and can absorb the incremental cost that comes from refining / refactoring the UI based upon usability.

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Yeah, I've thought about how you can apply Human Factors to developing code and feel this could be an advantage in interviews. –  Bob Dole Nov 5 '12 at 15:24
    
+1 ... and in performing the surrounding work to the actual conceptual and implementation phases: interactions during and take-away from requirements gathering, team-management, support and issue mitigation processes –  JustinC Nov 5 '12 at 19:20
    
I think smaller shops would also appreciate the confluence. Smaller shops are often lacking a UI department (though they may have an artist), so having an employee who can wear a second hat is beneficial. –  Brian Jul 12 '13 at 16:54

If you take the classes you're probably going to be better at designing interfaces and whatnot. That'll help you. But it's questionable whether or not it will actually help you get a job. Are there jobs out there where the UI guy is also the developer? Most certainly, a lot of places assume you're going to wear a lot of hats. There are also some places where they split those two jobs, and ne'er the two shall mix. I have nothing but my own limited experience, but I'd guess that most of the interfaces out there are made by the developers of the code behind it.

But realize that in most places the boss won't know what "human factors" means, and will expect you to crank out an interface and get the job done. "We can doc it later".

If it takes you more time to get the extra degree, it probably isn't worth it monetarily. You're not going to command a higher salary with it. It could be worth it if you actually learn a thing or two.

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There's a small selection of places a degree like that would be valued, but that would be only in organizations that have a heavy research focus. Most places software is being developed have no research focus whatsoever. Though the ones that do are cool fun places to work, the apple/microsoft/google/other bleeding edge tech focus places –  Jimmy Hoffa Nov 5 '12 at 16:22
 > Do jobs out there exist like this?

Most software today is developed using the current defacto-standards. This softwrae looks similar and thus makes it easier for end-users to learn/discover functionality.

Examle: Most gui-standalone-programm have a file-menue with a "exit" function.

your idea to combine Human_factors and computersince will lead to different (non-standard) gui-s.

I doubt that there are many jobs for that. Maybe you can try to find out how android-gui or windows-8-gui where created.

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I would say it would be a real plus for an embedded systems programmer who is designing new avoinics or automobile dashboard operation, etc. The places that recognize the value of Human Factors engineering are the places where the safety of the person operating the equipment is a huge issue. They need interfaces that are easy to understand and don't distract from the actual operation of the airplane or car. Medical device programming is another place it would be useful, few mistakes are made when device works in a manner that people can most easily interpret and fewer mistakes means fewer deaths and injuries. Look for jobs in the R&D world as well.

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Benefits of Formal UI/UX Training

Any incremental knowledge in this area is to your advantage. To decide whether this is right for them, other developers should take one or more classes as you have. Ultimately, you should find a niche that is something you like to do, something you are good at doing, and something people will pay you (hopefully a lot) to do.

Degrees in UI / UX probably mean a great deal if they are from a places like Stanford Design School or MIT Media Lab. I had a professor, Dr. Win Burleson who did his masters and PhD at those two institutions respectively. I am not sure if it brought him fortune, but I think it brought him some degree of fame, and I was certainly impressed. Having said that, a good student is a good student where ever they study and it sounds like you must have made at least one academic contact who you like for classes.

There are many great specialists and conferences in this field. Bill Buxton is interesting because of the diversity of his work, and has a great book Sketching User Experiences (with links to 25+ videos if you don't really like to read), and has a great gig at Microsoft research where he can probably pursue whatever he wants.

CHI Can Be Cutting Edge and a Creative Outlet

Many of the things that we will see in computing will have CHI (Computer Human Interfaces) professionals leading the way. When I took my CHI class, there were people doing wild stuff like using Emotive BHI (Brain Computer Interface) (as seen on TED) devices to steer through a maze, computer vision hooked in with a helmet with a haptic interface that could guide a blind person through a maze with vibration and sound, several groups with mobile apps, and a group or two that used robots. We each took Independent Review Board training so that we would know the techniques and precautions for doing safe and ethical research on human subjects. Doing Web and App interfaces may have plentiful opportunities, but you could also go another way by thinking outside the box.

Potentially Profitable Niche

Apple products demand a premium because they pay attention to CHI details and have pioneered NUIs (natural user interfaces) and very frequently adopted technologies and design from many places. I suspect the Donald Norman, who was a true expert in CHI and part of Apple's leadership for a while made high value contributions. If you could sell similar skills to a company as an employee, to many companies as a free lance or studio based professional, or as a maker of apps and web properties that drive revenue from end users, you can benefit a lot by this training.

If you are Motivated, Say Yes To More Schooling

In the future, it will be critical to retrain every few years. You could go back to school another year just to do your CHI training. Alternatively, you could work in industry while taking a second degree part time. If you have a big goal in mind, you could road map it against the curricula from the academic program you are considering.

At school, you could network and build relationships that could turn into a team for a consultancy or business down the road. You could ally yourself with like-minded designers and graphic artists who tend to be pretty cool people. By stretching out a degree a class a semester, you would be learning something new, and while at work, you could be making something new. Access to professors, school resources and networking, and perhaps a ready made research group that is driven to propose and win research grants could be great experience.

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Services and API specification is another area where an HF background can help. Easier to use libraries generally means easier to understand and quicker to code against. There isn't as strong of a correlation / measure here, because programmers will power through using a bad API. But if they're allowed to pick, they'll more quickly reach for the more easily used API instead.


fancycost.com

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Degrees in UI / UX probably mean a great deal if they are from a places like Stanford Design School or MIT Media Lab. I had a professor, Dr. Win Burleson who did his masters and PhD at those two institutions respectively. I am not sure if it brought him fortune, but I think it brought him some degree of fame, and I was certainly impressed. Having said that, a good student is a good student where ever they study and it sounds like you must have made at least one academic contact who you like for classes.


fancycost.com

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With a degree in both human factors and software engineering you will be in high demand.

Don't be fooled by job postings. Job ads are asking for the job titles that are common. There are just not enough people with your expertise that it would pay off to look for them with job postings. With your expertise you can apply everywhere. Apple, Autodesk, Facebook, Microsoft, you name it.

There is also a lot of research work going on in the intersection of human factors and software engineering. Actually, that is my field. For example, Microsoft has even a dedicated research group on human factors in programming, http://research.microsoft.com/groups/hip

You might also enjoy the blog of Chris Parnin, http://blog.ninlabs.com

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You only need to look at the sheer number of articles related to HF and cockpit design to understand what they are on about! Interaction design/HCI/HF are all similar and although I realise HF is about ergonomics and ease of use and HCI about adapting technology from a user's perspective.HF is used in the design of objects ranging from medical devices and automobile interfaces to cutting edge fighter jets with crammed cockpits and infinite gauges.Even space stations have the input of HF specialists if I am not mistaken.

IxD(Interaction design-in which I am gonna start my masters! So excited ^_^) OTOH is about designing the experiences the user would have when he/she uses each and every feature that a Mobile phone/Mp3 player/Consumer electronic/Website etc would provide.Most of the stuff we use nowadays ranging from your run of the mill treadmill, washing machine, A/C remote, Digital watch all the way to your Mobile/Laptop are all possesed of ever-increasing computing power thanks to chips getting miniscule in size while larger in storage-memory and RAM.This means we can cram more feature inside the said device.How to make it accessible to the user is what IxD is all about from what I understand.

So you gotta first get a clear picture of what HF is(not just a spacey outline) and understand if this is what you wanna do for the rest of your life.I see myself making an enjoyable career out of something like IxD/HCI because I am inspired by things such as these.The sheer inter disciplinary nature of work gives me the opportunity to work on interfaces/system/interactions of everything ranging from domestic appliances to video games and also stuff like the Tamagotchi, which is what I see myself doing.

What about you?Do you have a feel for HF in the first place?That is the question.

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