Recently I attended a talk by Prabhu Kannan at the 3rd edition of Sapient Nitro Idea Engineers Exchange Conference, on how a technologist (read developer) should widen his/her perspective to see things beyond code. He was making a point that technology is taking over the world in all aspects and as people who contribute to this revolution, technologists should be more than just coders and should be aware of things beyond their expertise. He was trying to say that there should also be a bit of strategist and designer in them as its going to be a team work to conceptualize technical solutions and not just "write mindless code" without even bothered about the outcome of it. The examples he took to say that technology is taking over the world were Amazon being the largest supermarket, Apple being the biggest music retailer, Netflix being the biggest video rental store and so on. This was interesting for me as this was the same question I asked Todd Cherkasky, at the 2nd edition of the same event, after he showed some of the awesome work Sapient Nitro has done. I wanted to know how designers work in Sapient as it was impossible to design solutions he showed without a good team work of designers and engineers.
Prabhu was talking from the perspective of an engineer but I can completely relate to this. Even I believe user experience designers working in technology solutions should be more than "just creative people". For the same reason that they are solving user needs and problems using technology, they should have a good understanding about technology; how things work, basic concepts of programming, front end engineering for sure, insight into the specific industry they work in, the different media (desktop, mobile, tv, internet) through which their solution will be consumed, up to date on the latest happenings in this space and future. They should be equally passionate about the latest Android/iOS/Windows SDK release and its possibilities as much as an engineer. And this doesn't mean you should start learning back end coding. The more you widen your perspective the better you get in designing better solutions. The more products you use the more ideas you get. The more screens you look at the more inspired you become. Recently I interviewed an NID product who told me that they are taught to not think or know anything about technology and only concentrate on creativity. I don't understand how that's possible.
I'm a designer but...
I'm also an ardent fan of internet. I just try out possibly every new product on internet, i will create use cases i can relate to and part of my daily life and then try to use the products not just as a way of 5 minutes research but also as a real user. Once I start using them regularly I get addicted to it, start exploring more and grow with their evolution. I even look at competitor products and see how they have done things differently. I'm a regular user of almost all Google products including Google+, Cleartrip, Yahoo, Flickr, Amazon, Flipkart, Facebook and Twitter, to name a few.
I'm an Android fan and its intent based architecture and tries to get my hands on the latest version but also uses iOS. I use my phone for almost all the cool things you can think of.
I use a Mac at work and Windows machine at home. I know their clear difference. Next i want to really try out the Chrome OS.
I use Chrome, Safari, Firefox and IE. I'm a Chrome fan though.
I buy online a lot. Its helps me to of course buy things effortlessly but also experience the buying and checkout process myself. This includes buying stuff from Amazon or Flipkart to buying flight/train tickets. I recently asked a designer, who was assigned to design an effortless checkout process on phone, about the best checkout experience she has experienced. The answer was she had never bought anything online yet. This for me is unacceptable.
I do online banking. Right from the year 2000. I pay my bills online. I recently paid using Square. Next is Google Wallet.
I read a lot, mainly online. Some people go hiking on weekends but I read about technology, design, humor, photography, food, travel on Google Reader. I also buy e-books and read them on my Kindle app on phone and soon on a tablet (I don't have a Kindle device yet). And yes I blog. I use Blogger for Whitespace and Wordpress for Non Breaking Space.
Cloud is my storage space. My books are in Kindle, reading subscription is on google reader, music on Google Music, Videos on You Tube, my TV can connect to the internet so i watch You tube videos there, files are on Google Drive, pictures are on Google Photos, all my settings of my phone is saved and synced with Google servers. And this is why I'm so kicked about Nexus Q.
I know the basic concepts of programming. I have learnt programming long back but being in close touch with awesome programmers right from my first job has helped me a lot. I don't code though.
Last but not the least, I attend tech/design conferences and un-conferences. Not the one your company sends you to attend. Events where you can meet passionate people who have taken their time out on a weekend to widen their perspective.