Last week I got to do something very cool. Wearing my hat as the Usability Professionals Association’s DC-chapter president, I got to introduce one of our speakers for the evening, Dr. Kent Norman, the professor at University of Maryland who first got me interested in usability almost 20 years ago. Further, the person that he had referred me to who gave me my first “real world” usability job, Dr. Dick Horst, attended the event, so I got to thank not only my professor, but my first employer as well.
As an undergraduate psychology major at UMD, I lucked into Dr. Norman’s statistics class, held in the very innovative “AT&T Teaching Theatre.” I was very impressed by the way that the class was taught using technology. We sat in teams of two and would do statistics problems on our desktop computers. When we had all completed our work, Dr. Norman would ask for a volunteer team and would flip a switch to have that team’s screen appear on the main LCD projector.
The next semester I took a research methods course, and when required to choose a psychology lab to work in, I remembered my impressions of Dr. Norman’s innovative statistics course, and so I chose his lab. I didn’t know much about human factors or usability at the time, but I enjoyed the work that the lab was doing in the field.
Later, while studying abroad, I emailed him from overseas and asked him if he knew of any jobs where I would have the opportunity to continue in the field of usability when I returned. He referred me to Dr. Horst, who ended up offering me an internship while I finished up my undergraduate studies. This referral to Dick ultimately led to a great working relationship that continues to this day. Ultimately, I credit my usability work with Dick as the primary force that shaped me into the usability practitioner that I am today.
I am continually impressed by the serendipity of life and work. One connection leads to another connection, which leads to yet another connection. The setting adapts just in the nick of time and seemingly on its own to set the stage for the next exciting event. A few years ago, I even tried to keep a running sketch of this in Visio. I called it a “serendipity chart” and wanted to use it to remind myself of how each interesting connection and each new project had come about.
My take away to you is to keep your eyes and your mind open. Serendipity is the way of the world, so be prepared to follow the strange new path that might open up in front of you and surprise you.
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