October 21, 2018

From Graphic Designer to UX Designer

In the tech world, UX designers are known as unicorns. They possess that elusive combination of visual design chops and technical skills. None of them grew up wanting to be a UX designer. Their job descriptions are all over the place, and companies can’t decide what to do with them. (So, they end up doing a little bit of everything.) UAT alumnus Brady Vontran’s path to UX design has been pretty typical because it has been atypical.

UAT Alumnus & UX Designer Brady Vontran

When Brady arrived at UAT, he wanted to be a graphic designer. “It was a super vague goal, but at least I had a direction,” he said. He spent most of his time at UAT studying design thinking, making logos and collaborating with his peers whose passion for design inspired him.

“In college, the path seemed really clear: Do well in school, finish your degree and get a job. The path to achieve it was really well laid out with lots of people ready to help you on the journey,” Brady remembered. “But life after college is very open ended with endless paths and journeys to pursue,” he added.

Brady forged his own path as a freelancer, designing print ads, brochures and posters for clients on tight deadlines. He honed his HTML skills and began working on web design projects too. He taught himself Javascript and built up his portfolio. He did some WordPress work for oil refineries and a nonprofit.

During this time, Brady also volunteered as a web designer for the Chron’s & Colitis Foundation. Hiring managers are always looking for employees who give back to the community and keep their skills fresh.

Then Brady joined the UX team at GoDaddy. After cruising through the initial phone interview, Brady buckled down for a four-hour interview and design challenge.

The challenge? Redesign Craigslist.

Brady drew wire frames on the white board, identified several design tweaks that would provide immediate value to users and explained his thought process. “The most important outcome was not to create a ground-breaking redesign or reinvent the wheel. The most important thing was to show my thought process, describe multiple ways to look at a problem, provide different solutions and decide which solutions to execute,” Brady said.

Brady manages the hosting and WordPress pages on GoDaddy’s ecommerce team. He is currently working on new ideas for WordPress! Outside of dev and design work, Brady’s job requires “daily project management, working across teams, understanding business objectives and aligning those objectives with the design goals.”

Brady’s advice for students?

“Nail down the basics. Work on your soft skills. Build your portfolio.”

Curious about a career in UX design? Check out our digital media degree program.

Leading New Generations

I hear all the time about how the young adults of today lack specific traits that have been deemed necessary for success in corporate culture by previous generations. I always find these comments humorous as every past generation finds a way to demean the younger generations for what they perceive as faults. As someone who has worked in traditional corporate culture, operated his own business and now teaches young adults in academia, I tend to favor the younger generations.

Quality leaders should view these differences as opportunities to hone their skillsets and grow as mentors. The goal should not be to force younger generations into a mold of what is deemed acceptable for a work culture. We as leaders should embrace change and mold our workplace to harness this new workforce’s strengths. Great leadership stems from adapting and customizing your leadership style to the individuals whom you lead. Just because a group does not have similar thinking, motivations, or goals does not make them less effective. It means that you as the leader need to find a better approach to connect, communicate and motivate this group.

I think the biggest disconnect with current leadership and the new workforce of today is a lack of motivation for current leadership to change their methods. We can successfully lead a very different and new generation of contributors, but many leaders are missing this opportunity by simply dismissing this new workforce as being entitled or less motivated. The way to harness the talents and abilities of the new generation is to embrace the way they are. Meaningful work, feeling of worth in the company, doing good things for the community, overall social responsibility—these are not new concepts, but they are very important to the emerging young workforce.

Leading this group is different as they have their own individual set of motivations that are usually not related to work. They also work well in much different environments than past generations because they embrace technology and are very savvy with most hardware/software. From a leadership standpoint, I see a wonderful opportunity to build teams of employees that I can simply give tasks to, and they will complete the work. This generation works well having freedom to work from anywhere, and they tend to work more hours than when you confine them to a desk for eight hours. So, as quality leaders should embrace the change and new ways of working because in the end, it will be much more effective to adapt than to fight the change and drive talented young employees away.

Want to learn how to lead new generations in technology environments? Check out our master’s degree in technology leadership.

3 Tips for Growing Your Personal Brand

The web service BrandYourself (check it out!), correctly identifies the three pillars of successfully creating a personal brand:

  1. Building a brand
  2. Building credibility/audience
  3. Targeting opportunities

Thankfully, I have a background in marketing, public relations and strategic communication, so I know what I am talking about and can explain each of these pillars.

Building a brand

If you have come and seen me, you may have noticed that I usually begin student meetings with a simple prompt: Tell me about yourself. I meet with a lot of students, so this exercise isn’t just about trying to figure out who you are in a literal sense, but it is a way for me to see who you are in a broader sense. What do you do? What are you passionate about? What are some of your biggest accomplishments? What separates you from every other game designer who comes to see me? Your answer to this prompt is your brand.

Once you have an answer for this, you translate it online. Don’t like being online? Too bad. You need to develop your brand online. This happens through the creation and development of different social media platforms—LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Portfolios, GitHub, Twitch, YouTube, Instagram, etc. Aim to have two personal accounts and two professional-facing accounts.

My Professional Twitter Account

If you already have accounts, clean them up. Make sure the messaging—the content in your posts—is the same across every platform. While each separate social media platform has a different target audience, it should still feel like it’s coming from a similar mindset or voice. For example, if I was to post about education initiatives on LinkedIn, I should also be using Twitter to engage with others working in higher education or perusing Medium to find the perfect articles to share on Facebook.

Building Credibility/Audience

Let your skills, abilities and accomplishments do the talking. Do you know how I am credible? I taught Business and Professional Communication at Texas Tech University. I have won awards for research in persuasion. A national organization uses my research. I know what I am talking about, so I engage with other like-minded people in an authentic and respectful way, use my insights and add to the ongoing conversation. Maybe you aren’t credible in that same way yet. Find another way to stand out. Clearly, you’re passionate about something. Look at the current landscape and find something that hasn’t been done yet.

Building your audience can be difficult. There is no right way to go about it, but there is a wrong to do it. Do not, under any circumstance, buy followers! I will hunt you down and @ you until the cows come home. In the meantime, build your followers organically by adding comments, reaching out to influencers or gatekeepers and staying active online (post multiple times a week). The best thing to do? Watch how other people actively engage with others in a thoughtful way.

Targeting Opportunities

Once you have built up your profiles, capitalized on your credibility and found a target audience, you can proactively look for opportunities to increase your following. This will look different for everyone, but as an example, I will share with you something I did.

I was surfing the web one day and came across Beautiful.AI, a presentation software startup. I used their product and decided to tweet at them. After a few tweets back and forth, I shared their product with others. Along the way, I made sure to engage with them on a regular basis. This then turned into an opportunity to beta test new products and services. Boom. That’s all it is. I noticed a company that had a good product, and I engaged with them on social media. I now get retweeted by them regularly (helps my brand), and I share their product with others (helps their brand). Win-win.

Do you need help building your personal brand? Reach out to me on LinkedIn, Twitter or in-person on campus.

5 Takeaways from Our First Stratospheric Balloon Launch

A team of UAT students spent the summer designing a self-funded stratospheric balloon program to gather scientific data, test and demonstrate new technology and inspire the next generation of space explorers.

Under the direction of former NASA program manager Nathan Eskue, students built, launched (and recovered!) a stratospheric balloon. Some things went right. Some did not.

UAT students and faculty share their top 5 takeaways:

 

  1. Define your vision.

But make sure it is digestible. “If the group is unified in the end goal that they’re trying to solve, many communication issues are prevented because the team understands the big picture problem,” Nathan said. Identify internal and external stakeholders early on, share wins and losses and proactively seek out feedback.

 

  1. Know your audience.

Students learned quickly that pitching to professional groups and local companies is not the same as pitching to K-12 partners. Both have limited time and resources, but the “Why?” for a middle school science teacher and an aerospace engineer is going to be considerably different.

Shout out to the Local Motors engineering team for sharing tips on crowdsourcing design!

 

  1. Collaboration is key.

And Discord makes collaboration easy.

Professor Eskue suggests that when starting a large, uncertain or risky project, the team should work together collectively to identify a project management process that works for everyone. “It should be as simple as possible, and the team should use it as the main communication tool.” Professor Eskue’s team worked in an Agile environment, which helped them increase productivity and improve the rapid prototyping process by emphasizing repeatability and documentation.

“Collaboration is one of the most vital facets of any tech project. When team members collaborate effectively, the team can proactively identify and resolve problems before they even occur, said Roberto Perry, a U.S. Navy veteran and Robotics & Embedded Systems student at the University of Advancing Technology.

READ: Demand for Robotics Engineers is Growing, and It Pays Well

 

  1. Diversity adds value.

The team of UAT students who worked on the stratospheric balloon project includes students from widely different degree programs, including Advancing Computer Science, Business Technology, Digital Maker & Fabrication, Game Programming, Robotics & Embedded Systems and Virtual Reality.

“Without all of these disciplines working together, this project would not have been able to fly,” said Jill Coddington, UAT advancing computer science program champion and mom joke aficionado. “You are not just a programmer or a robotics technician—you are a team,” Jill added.

 

  1. Fail often.

“You have to start building prototypes early in the process, accept that they will be far from perfect, learn from them and repeat the cycle as many times as possible before your deadline,” Nathan said.

When you design new technology from scratch, you encounter problems. For example, the team’s first balloon ended up somewhere in the Superstition Wilderness. For their second attempt, the team developed a GPS-enabled glider that improved the accuracy of the flight path.

Roberto learned a lot about the capabilities and limitations of different GPS systems, power supply, data transfer, microcontroller circuit design and integration of different devices. But he also learned a lot about failure and teamwork.

“When you’re creating new technology using custom tech designs and working on a diverse team, you will fail. But you fail as a team, and that failure leads to new discoveries, which eventually lead to success,” Roberto said.

What’s next?

Our goals for Mission 2 include:

  • Secure funding
  • Establish K-12 partnerships
  • Launch balloon with STEM experiments on board
  • Improve flight predictions
  • Test multiple temperature control solutions
  • Develop proof of concept to transmit command to payload
  • Add sensors to improve flight computer and GPS
  • Enhance Rx/Tx data visualization
  • Increase video capabilities
  • Attend ANSR launch this October

Want to join the UAT space exploration team? Check out our unique degree programs here.

Are you with a local company or school that wants to collaborate on the project? Reach out! marketing@uat.edu.

The U.S. Cyber War Needs More Soldiers

In a small town in Alaska, a sophisticated cyber attack nearly wiped out the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough network servers with a virus cocktail of ransomware, a trojan horse, time bomb, Cryptolocker and dead man’s switch, according to reports by BleepingComputer and BBC. This attack forced the town’s businesses to dust off old typewriters and conduct business by hand until IT experts were able to get back online.

While the use of machines that click clack is unsustainable in the digital world, the Mat-Su attack is just one example of the type of criminal activity happening in the public sector that keeps cyber warriors on their toes.

Fortinet Threat Map

According to Statista, government agencies are at the top of the list for cyber attacks, which involve “non-state actors, such as terrorist groups, political or ideological extremists groups, transitional criminal organizations and hacktivists,” who intend to cause destruction or mayhem.

Between 2014 and Q1 2018, the U.S. government and military reported 350 million breaches to their systems, according to Statista. And in 2015, the government dealt with the largest global data online breach to its U.S. voter database.

Penetration by foreign governments is a real threat and an on-going battle for our nation’s online warriors.

Dr. Greg Miles, Program Champion of Cyber Studies at the University of Advancing Technology, principal of Peak Security and former Black Hat teacher, said the most prevalent foreign countries initiating attacks include Russia, China, North Korea and Brazil.

“Their goal is pure disruption with the intent to cause fear, uncertainty and doubt in U.S. organizations,” Miles said.

Russia has been on the radar for some time, especially with the ongoing federal investigation into the 2016 elections. The Russian hacker group, referred to as “Fancy Bear,” hacked the Democratic National Committee computers and exposed information about political candidates. The CIA determined that Russia’s motive was to assist Donald Trump to win the election instead of “undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system,” according to the Washington Post.

Recently, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), FBI and UK officials issued a joint warning about Russian attacks to everyday equipment such as routers, switches, firewalls and our power grid system.

“These hackers want to create a level of chaos where people can’t conduct business in a regular manner and target critical infrastructures that affects people and the ability of governments to keep control of our citizens,” Miles said.

The top two concerns from these agencies include the ability to “access data and intellectual property, allowing them to spy on companies and individuals and steal not only their secrets but the data that they use to run their businesses. The second, is that the Russians could be setting up backdoors that would allow them to take down critical infrastructure such as banking, energy and manufacturing as a precursor to actual physical war,” as reported by USA Today.

With increasing threats to our country’s defense systems, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) developed the Cyber Incident Response center that “share threat information with private companies [and] identify the country’s digital ‘crown jewels’ that may be especially vulnerable,” as reported by Fifth Domain.

If hackers can get defense designs, they will either build defense systems themselves or find vulnerabilities to disrupt our defense systems,” Miles said.

The House passed legislation for the Cyber Incident Response center authorizing their warriors to hunt down cyber criminals and “help owners and operators of critical infrastructure respond to cyber attacks as well as provide strategies for mitigating cyber security risks. The bill would also allow the Secretary of Homeland Security to add cyber security specialists from the private sector to the response teams,” according to The Hill.

With the need for more online warriors, the public and private sector are investing in more talent and technology. Within Arizona, there are over 40 cyber security companies in different stages and currently over 10,000 job postings within the industry, according to cyberseek.org. And “for the 2019 fiscal year, the U.S. federal government has budgeted $45.8 billion for federal IT spending,” according to Statista.

READ: Arizona Cyber Security Sector Needs More People Faster

For those looking to fight in the nation’s online war, picking the right educational program can make you more attractive to government agencies.

The National Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) is an accredited cyber security program sponsored by the DHS and National Security Agency (NSA) given to colleges for their alignment to their “specific cyber security-related knowledge units vital to securing our nation’s information systems and validated by top subject matter experts in the field.”

For 22 years, University of Advancing Technology (UAT) has graduated cyber warriors from one of the longest running CAE designated programs in the U.S. At UAT, students can build their skills and obtain a cyber security degree in a shorter amount of time than at a state school and enter the workforce 2.5 years earlier on average with a higher level position and salary.

UAT takes an applicable approach to cyber education to prepare students for battle and make an impact. In UAT’s cyber security program, students engage in real-world activities, develop and redefine ethical hacking skills in UAT’s Cyber Warfare Range, which is equipped with 16 FRED machines (funded by a D.O.D grant) and experiment with tools in an isolated environment.

FRED Forensic Workstations

UAT students are pushed to think out-of-the-box, develop innovative ways to combat attacks and demonstrate their cyber warrior abilities. To support a student’s growth, the Cyber Advisory Board brings in alumni to help mentor students for potential cyber intern opportunities with government agencies.

Aside from education and training, there are important qualities that make up a strong cyber warrior.

You must have the desire, passion, need to learn and protect, and the ability to think outside the box. These attackers are going to generally be one step ahead of you and you have to think a lot like an attacker in order to put the right defenses in place for whatever organization you work for,” Miles said.

Learn more about UAT’s cyber security program HERE.