After a six months long search, we have finally filled our UI Guru position. While recruiting is not easy these days, it is next to impossible to find an excellent UI developer on any given date.
There is vicious cycle preventing good people from programming UI and pushing good UI programmers to other domains. I will try to describe this flawed process and maybe even start a movement to fix it…
Here is how it works:
1. Development managers unusually come from the server, networking, kernel and database walks of life.
2. Software mangers tend to be arrogant .They presume UI programming is easy, boring and can be done by anyone.
3. UI developers earn less money than kernel\networking developers.
4. The best programmers do not want to become UI experts, as there is less money and prestige in it.
5. As most UI developers are not excellent programmers, they write the code in non modular, non reusable fashion. Thus it really becomes boring and manual to fix. Even if an excellent programmer happens to start in UI, he soon wants to move on to the server side, or at least become a team leader.
6. As a result of the above, the development manager belief is encouraged, since most of their UI coders are not very impressing. They pay them less and distance them form the real interesting product decisions.
Examining the myths leading to this outcome, I believe they are flawed and irrational.
“UI is not an important part of the application”- thankfully, people have largely grown out of this perception. The success of Outlook, iPod, Nokia, Google and others has demonstrated that exceptional user experience carries a huge premium.
Even in more traditional enterprise based security software the rule applies. If the feature does not have a visible, clear, user interface it might as well be removed. When I worked in Check Point, we sometimes tried to roll out features with no UI, because UI always seemed to be the bottleneck. We rarely succeeded.
In one famous case, we added a dialog to features that existed in the product for two years. The interface was simple and we assumed the task would be quick and easy. We were very wrong. Not only the UI was complicated, it turned out the features themselves are not working and need to be designed from scratch.
The features were turned off by default when they were first released, so they never ran in the field. Off course, no bugs came from support and everyone assumed they work well. QA stopped testing them, as they were pushed to the magical “Test Cycle 3″ which never actually takes place. Our sales and marketing people did not really promote the features and customers did not even know they existed.
“UI Programming is Easy” – Yeah, right. If it is so easy, how come it is always the bottleneck? I managed software projects in multiple programming language and various organizational structures. X\Motif, MFC, C++, Java, Swing, AJAX etc. I experimented with UI programmers as a separate group, as integral part of the main application team and as outsourced team. The projects domains were in enterprise, consumer and Telco .The developers were Israeli, American and Belarusian.
The one common aspect was the UI effort was almost always the bottleneck in the development process.
Server developers tend to think UI is easy, because one can create a trivial application very quickly. Sadly, most applications are far from trivial. Generating high quality user interface, which is maintainable, modular & pretty is extremely difficult. Unlike backend programming, every mistake is highly visible and everyone has an opinion on the subject.
“UI Programming is boring, tedious and manual”
Strangely, many people think programming kernel drivers with VI in “C”, armed with printf debugging, is more tedious than writing a modern application in C# & Python, using Visual Studio.Net. Personally, I find the internals of kbuf, mbuf, ioctl & NDIS tiresome and frustrating. If one wants to hand craft assembly code, he might as well become a hardware engineer.
It’s true the debugging Cascading Style Sheets can be frustrating, but so is analyzing core files on Linux machine and the memory is one big mess. Sometimes it seems that the typical male programmer finds it more prestigious to hunt down the prey with bare hands :)
The truth is that UI programming and design can be extremely challenging. When done right there are sophisticated modeling, design and coding involved. There is always some manual, event customized code that needs to be written, and this tends to be less generic than server code by nature. However, the usage of more modern programming frameworks compensates for that and makes it much more fun.
Stay tuned for the second part of the post – Binary search and the UI Guru.