Wow, it has been a while...apologies for the long entry.
Well, I'm still unemployed. However, I recently had one of those major life revelations that I feel has really put me on the right track, at least in the career department.
The story: My dad is a usability engineer (for an evil company which shall remain nameless). While my parents were visiting San Francisco a few weeks ago, they stayed with a friend of theirs from college, now an editor at a magazine. Their friend asked my dad to come into her office and give a brief talk about usability to her web development team.
I tagged along. I've always been interested in usability and UI design; I figured at worst it'd give me a little common ground to talk about with my dad (given where he works, it's really difficult for me to talk with him about computers and technology without me becoming a) snide and b) incredibly frustrated).
And a wonderful thing happened: all of a sudden, I connected with the discussion in a way that I hadn't expected. The truth of the matter is, I'm not just interested in usability and UI design -- it's what I do. I've spent the last five years doing software engineering at Highwire and at Eazel, and I've always felt a bit disconnected and frustrated by my work, even though I felt like I was pretty good at it. I tried project management at Highwire for a while, and I enjoyed that; but now that I look back on it, the parts I enjoyed most where the parts where I was doing interaction design, and the parts I enjoyed least were where I wasn't.
So now I know what I want to do: interaction design. Of course, since this revelation I have discovered that the job market for interaction designers is incredibly bad at the moment; companies don't see the value in hiring designers when they need to spend money on programmers. But one of the reasons I know I'm right about this path is that instead of feeling resigned to this, I'm angry about it. I'm almost ready to walk into corporate boardrooms, throw copies of Alan Cooper's The Inmates Are Running The Asylum (highly recommended reading, btw) at them and scream about misplaced priorities.
'Course, that's not likely to get me a job either, so I probably won't. At least not with the yelling and the throwing and the "ow ow" and whatnot.
Anyway, the good news for me is that I actually did know what I wanted back in college, so I have a master's degree in HCI on my resume. And I had enough memory of it to try to work in a few interaction design projects through the years, so I even have a little bit of real-world experience. Still, the job search is slow and will probably take a long time, and now I have to figure out whether I can afford to eat through my life savings while I figure out the details, or whether I need to move to a cheaper place. (Of course, any job leads in this area would be much appreciated. :)
ObFreeSoftware: I have volunteered as a member of the core group working on the first version of the GNOME HI Guidelines -- a "mini-guidelines", really. We're currently working on an outline of topics, which will hopefully be done in the next week or so, and then we'll be doing the document. It won't be a finished product, but hopefully it will serve as a good seed for future GNOME HI improvement efforts.
One of the things I'm struggling with at the moment is the feeling (exacerbated by Cooper's book and Jef Raskin's The Humane Interface, which is also a good read although definitely requires an open mind :) that there are fundamental aspects of the open-source/ free software community(ies) which work against the creation of truly usable (or, I would argue as a better term, "useful") software. I'm working on an essay on this topic, and will likely post it here or somewhere else when I'm done. Let me know if you're interested in reviewing it and offering me suggestions before I post it publicly: the more eyes, the better :).