The Unicorn Designer or Full Stack Developer

April 22, 2017

I wrote this for a class in college. it is written in MLA format with the sources at the bottom. This is for the student looking to get a career in software development, and this is for the colleges trying to keep up with the exponential boom that is technology. I hope it helps. . .


           Over my time at UVU I have found there to be a discord in the way the digital media department has been run. I see after years of being out of school that they are forming a sounder structure for the web development degree. When I left the school in 2012 I was little frustrated with how things were running. My attitude towards web design was simply that it should not take so long to come up with a design idea before coding it up. Most websites follow patterns and it’s not hard to adopt those patterns. I was opposed to design because I felt they were teaching us the same thing repeatedly at each level. They were also throwing us into classes that had no relevance to web design but were more focused in all digital media technology. I learned about game development, 3d animation, audio, video, and script writing. These all fell under the digital media degree. It was disheartening. If being a graphic designer, UI Designer, or any kind of designer, was the student’s choice, then this degree was built for that student. I was not that student. The focus was not on writing code or becoming a full stack developer. The push may be for students to become unicorns. A unicorn is well rounded in both web design and front-end development. I believe that’s fine if the student is a designer first and a front-end programmer second.


            There has always been a relationship between technology and education. They go hand in hand. When discoveries are being made, there are often tools used in making those discoveries. Our early ancestors designed and built great structures not just for awe but as time telling machines to alert them to a coming of the seasons. With the structures, they took their bearing on the time of year it was so that they could sow, cultivate, harvest, and store. It would be unwise to recognize the well thought out designs and important planning steps that our ancestors would have had to contemplate to bring about such large and awe-inspiring structures. The ancient Egyptians planned and built several pyramids. Though it is not known who built Stonehenge, the design is clearly visible in the layout of the rocks. Behind every city layout and building there was first a thought, and then a design.


It is easy to see that design is principle based. Popular aesthetics do not change very quickly. We have known about the golden mean since the Greeks decided that it was the most pleasing point on a line fragment. That point helped them in building their structures. It is the golden mean that permeates much of the ancient art and is prevalent today in architecture, art, and all manner of design.


The observation I want to make here is that it seems to be much easier for the digital media department to focus more on design because they don’t need to update the courses as often. There are principles of design that are as ancient as time itself. Updates to design courses may not even need to undergo scrutiny from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Updates, if any, would be on what software to use, and current trends in what is popularly aesthetic. The technologies that are required for development are always improving and changing. It is incredible how fast a programming language can change, or a new development pattern is adopted into the mainstream. A programming language that isn’t dynamically improving can easily and quickly become obsolete. For the development courses to stay relevant, updates to courses need to happen quicker than they have been.


It is important to have recognized standards of accreditation. The accreditation standards may also be falling behind though. All accredited universities fall under a bureaucratic entity that assigns the accreditation, even though they may have little to no experience in the course they are allowing credit for. UVU falls under the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. If we were to read their “Standards for Accreditation” one can conclude that there are an awful lot of hoops to jump through to become accredited. If any changes to courses were to be made there are even more hoops to jump through and a fee to get courses updated. I understand the need to have standards in place for accreditation. The standards are there to protect both the professor and the students. They give direction to the university.


Before the advent of computers, I would assume that technology and education moved at relatively the same pace. It is apparent now that technology is pushing far beyond what is being taught at the university level or at least at the level UVU is at. I fully expect the universities professors to keep a pulse on the industry and to modify their courses to keep up with current trends. Or, at least tell their students what is going on and how they can be better prepared for what comes after graduation. My professors that have best communicated this to me have been my web development professors.


The point of this research paper Is to show why it is far more beneficial to a student wanting to be a web developer to study web languages, development patterns, libraries, frameworks, and server setup than it is to push design on someone that thinks design should not be such a process.


This research is geared toward the digital media department at UVU. They have preached the need for the unicorn in the workplace. If someone can mock up their design in HTML and CSS that is great. A couple of concerns are that their focus on the backend (server side) Is lacking and that the current curriculum for JavaScript is out of date.


We can look at the difference in average salaries for the graphic design and web developer careers. You will find that web development is paid a lot more. When you move the design degree into a UI/UX focus you can see that salary is very competitive with the web developer salary. Salary may not be the reason to separate the developers and designers in the degree. I have spoken with many of the students in the web design and development degree. There are many who are happy with the way that it is focused on front-end development and design. There are many who have my attitude towards the degree and find much of design to be tedious and unnecessary. The department has separated the degree into two focuses, UI/UX design and web app development. The web and app development students are still required to take a ridiculous amount of design classes. What it comes down to is a preference in what a student wants to do for their career. There are a plethora of UI/UX jobs with great salaries. There is also a great need full stack developers out there. Design is a right creative brain activity. Development is a left analytical brain activity. I lean more to the analytical than I do to the creative. Hence my bias for classes is skewed towards the need for more development courses. There are many other options to gain an education out there. Students can find information online on just about anything. Most of my own skill set has been obtained through online courses.


For several reasons, I left the university in 2012. The academic reason was because of the unfocused direction of the digital media degree. As mentioned before, the classes were a mess of digital technologies thrown together to make up the degree. I felt I could learn more and have a better chance at getting employment if I just studied online. I did have success as finding employment. The employment was often short lived. In my own mind, I felt discredited often because I did not have my degree. I would search for jobs and they would often require it. 

The need to return to school became more evident.


            In August of 2016 I rejoined the ranks of students attending UVU to finish up my degree. Within the first couple weeks I found out that one of my favorite professors would be leaving the school. Thor Anderson has been a great mentor to me. He is one of those professors that has his pulse on the industry. He understands where the industry is headed and was trying to lead the web development program in the right direction. Thor was teaching the RIA 1 (Rich Internet Application) class that I was a part of. On the first day of class he made us aware that he would be leaving in a couple weeks. The department could not find a replacement for him. On the third week, all his students showed up to class not sure where the department was going to go with this. We marched ourselves down to the department and had a discussion with the department head, Arlen Card. We discussed where Thor was taking the class. Arlen informed us that there was really no way for the department to replace Thor. He also informed us that an adjunct would be taking over the class but would not be teaching the same material that Thor was going to teach us. The class was changed to an online course with an adjunct named Hiro. Hiro had been a previous student at UVU.


            I spoke with Thor Anderson about his departure. Thor took a job as the director of academics at Helio Training. Helio training is a coding boot camp that was started by instructors from Nuemont University in Salt Lake City. I posed a question to him. Aside from the money, why did you leave the university? His response provided me a lot of insight into the problems with the structure of traditional education, how, by its nature can’t keep up. What I took away from my conversation is that the university is not going to be able to get the best instructors for the job. The university can’t pay enough to attract the right talent. The universities accreditation will only allow for professors to teach who have PHD’ s. Students who go to school for computer science or web development, for the most part, aren’t going to school to get a PHD. Therefore, the best talent is going to be out there working. A band-aid solution for this has been the hiring of adjuncts. They pay adjuncts pennies. Being an adjunct seems to be more of a service than anything.


Why I want to show Thor’s perspective on this subject is to illustrate the need to update the current model for technology education and computer science. Some universities are taking on the issue of the education gap. Arizona State University offers its graduates a coding boot camp to level up their skills. The University of Missouri also does. They are both partnered with a company called Revature.  If UVU could work hand in hand with a coding boot camp that web design and development degree might be worth something. There are several that are found in the Salt Lake and Utah Valley areas. UVU could also go the route of creating their own boot camp to help graduates level up their skills. I don’t think the accrediting bureaucratic entity is going to change anything anytime soon. Governing bodies move slower than molasses, and often do more harm than good. In my opinion, it should be the universities responsibility to offer the best value and solutions to these problems. The universities can petition the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities to make changes. They can continue hiring adjuncts to teach the current trends. Or, they could consider the best solution to the current situation, create or partner with a coding boot camp to help students level up their skills. The great thing about coding boot camps is that although they might be an arm of the university, they can also function as a separate standalone entity. They can charge competitive boot camp rates for students not part of the university.


There is so much information just in a full stack developer track that all the design any student wishing to pursue that field would make up one or two classes on design. Over my course at UVU I have hated the mundane tasks that is design. The questions UI/UX designers always ask themselves are the same. The biggest being how is the end user going to interact with my product. There are ways to dive deeper into this area if that is what the students’ interest is. I do believe that developers should know enough about design to be able to communicate with designers and vice versa. I do not believe that a developer needs to know everything about design. If you are a developer you may already have a grasp on things like hick’s law, signal to noise ratio, wayfinding and numerous other principles of design. Hicks law is a principle of design that states “the time it takes to make a decision increases as the number of alternatives increases. (Lidwell. Universal Principles of Design).” Signal to noise ratio “the ratio of relevant to irrelevant information in a display. The highest possible signal to noise ratio is desirable design. (lidwell)” wayfinding is “the process of using spatial environmental information to navigate to a destination. (lidwell)” A full stack developer does not need to spend weeks, months, and years learning about these things. For the most part, it makes sense for anyone designing or building a product to make its functions and procedures intuitive and without distractions.


            To help with bridging the gap, students who want to be developers should focus more on coding. Those who want to do design should focus more on design. There are times that I have felt that school is getting in the way of me learning. That is ironic seeing that it should be school teaching and helping students learn.


In the book learning to code for dummies III they offer a great deal of information about how to receive an education in coding. In a traditional education background one would be more likely to learn a whole lot of theory that you most likely won’t use anywhere in the workplace.


The need for computer science professionals far outweighs the number of students ready to work in the field. “Although Computer science graduates earn some of the highest salaries in the US less than 3 percent of student major in computer science, and less than 1 percent of AP exams taken in high school are computer science.” (see coding for dummies III NPR chart).


Many companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon find their pool of graduates from MIT and Stanford. Still, we find that more important than the name of the school that you graduated from is what you did while in school. Employers will ask what kind of things or application did you build. They will ask “How you challenged yourself with your course load, and the applications you built and why.“ 


I am showing this source because I am trying to back up my statement about web development students. For the student, whose goal it is to just get a job in coding. Traditional education may not be the most financially sound decision to make. As you see with most the courses offered at traditional institutions like Stanford and Penn State focus on theory. The focus on theory is likely not useful to an employer. Some of the courses may be relevant, like databases and algorithms. These are used quite heavily in the industry. 


According to Coding for Dummies, the argument for the value in a traditional education route comes down to the goal of the student. If the student is looking to change the industry or work on cutting edge technology, the traditional route may be the most beneficial. There aren’t many other places that you can have access to a professional of this magnitude to push the limits of basic understanding. If the goal of the student is to take the basic concepts and make a living in the industry, without the desire to change it, there are many less expensive and time intensive ways than getting a degree in computer science.


Now I do want to make the case for the degree at UVU and the way that it is headed. Though I am personally not satisfied with my education at UVU, I can see where it would be important for both developers and designers to have a fundamental understanding of how the other works. Leonard Teo gives us some brilliant insight into his software company startup Artstation. His peace called “Designers Will Design, Developers will develop and why you must stop them” is a prime example of what not to do.


The growing pains that can be accompanied by a startup are real. To quote our modern day society “The struggle is real”. When you’re building a startup, you must sell the dream to those who want to work for you. You may not get the best talent. Those who want to work for you may not be well rounded enough or versed enough in multiple disciplines. He states that the first few people that accompany recruits are important.


Designers love to create new things, they love innovating. Teos problems start with designers having no constraints. The designers try for the wow factor. His designers came up with every single icon and an innovative user interface. It had sex appeal. I have yet to come across an artist or a designer that was not obsessive over their work. I relate completely to Teo when he comments on one of his designers wanting to spend hours on one single icon. His comment resonates with me “If we had used a pre-made icon kit like FontAwesome, we would have just chosen an icon and that was it. 30 seconds of work, not days sic.”


The designs were so innovative and pushed the limits. They weren’t very usable in real life. Many of the interface pieces were new. It’s the developers job to put it all together. The first version was terrible. It’s been my own experience that you can mock up the coolest and greatest designs in photoshop. You can then show how everything works using a prototype tool called Invision. If you haven’t had a background in coding you don’t realize the constraints that would show up in trying to implement the most cutting edge designed tech. The time it takes to code everything in a design from scratch is not worth the money it costs to do it. Teo’s designer passed the design over to the developer. The front-end developer had to make the decision to code all the CSS from scratch. CSS stands for cascading style sheet. It is what an internet browser needs to display styles. His back-end developer put together architecture that was excessive. It seemed everyone was trying to give over %100 to put together the product. Teos woes were big because everyone wanted to start from scratch, the product was an awful mess to ship. He didn’t want to step on anyone’s creative fingers, but it cost him a lot for not doing so. It is illustrated in the comment he didn’t say to his back-end developer “Dude — you’re writing stuff that we can just solve using standard Ruby on Rails and gems —please don’t rewrite the freaking wheel. Sic”


            The project became such a problem for Teo he recommended to his co-founders that he wanted to shut it down. His co-founders were stunned and asked him to take a couple weeks off from the project.


            His stress got the best of him, he did not want it on his conscience that he was a quitter. Teo went ahead and redesigned the entire interface using “tried and true(non-innovative) components. He designed it with the constraints in mind. He then mocked up the front-end design scaffolding with Bootstrap. He threw out all the CSS the front-end developer had created. He changed all the icons to use the icon library FontAwesome. The months of work his team were thrown out for a product that works and would ship.


            The frustrations with coming up with a product from scratch are many. If the company a developer or a designer is working for has the money to be completely unique and innovative it may want to go that route. For a startup with limited capital, it would be advisable to use open source frameworks and libraries that are available for free.


            I share the story of Leonard Teo to give credit to the digital media departments foresight into the current workplace. Had Teo had a web design and development student from UVU on his project, with a knowledge of all the working parts from design to shipping product, his startup experience would have been a lot different.


            In conclusion, I am finding the real value of my educational experience at the digital media department at UVU. They have not been training us to just be designers. They have not been training us to just be developers. They have been training us to see a product through from start to finish, from design to front end mockup, from front end mockup to the interaction with a database, and then on to the final product. Because of my education, I can see how each piece works together.  I see how the silo type of development about ruined Teo’s startup. He had designers and developers working separately instead of together. The developers needed to communicate constraints to the designers. Designers need to create designs with the constraints in mind. I am partial to bootstrap, I have used it in many of my development projects. That is because it offers a lot right out of the box. Any time I create a design I do it realizing that when I go to code it I will be using the bootstrap HTML/CSS framework. I do it realizing that I will be loading content dynamically with an API or a database.


            I am a developer, I have been training at UVU for this purpose. I cannot say that I am the greatest designer. My passion has been for coding.  I do see the need for designers to understand the constraints that coding can have. I also see the need for developers to have an eye and an understanding of design.


 The question for the student before they start into this degree and focus must be what is your goal? The goal to get an education in coding and to find work in the field can be accomplished by attending a boot camp. The goal to oversee projects from start to finish understanding all the design and what technologies to use to implement it is what the degree is for.


It is the universities objective to make money. They have constraints that make it difficult to update and change things. It is still their responsibility help the students with the direction they should take. When I started in the program, the professors would brag about the caliber of students they were releasing into the job field, that Adobe and other companies coming to Utah would pull talent from our university. I am hoping this is still the case.


I hope I have made the case and shown the value of the web design and development degreed student from UVU. My bias is there because of the sacrifice and investment I have made into it. The case for separating the design and development tracks has not been made. It is only addressed to show that the developer students may have goals in line with the track that they are on but disagree with how the degree is prioritized more for designers. I have shown that there are other less expensive options out there. What it comes down to for the student is, what is their goal.



            Abraham, Nikhil.  “Getting a Coding Job for Dummies”3 Aug. 2015. Print.

This is a resource that helps compare the difference between using traditional education as way to get a job in coding and alternative routes, i.e. a coding boot camp


Browning, Randal. “How to Decide if You Should Be a Web Designer or Developer.”

1 Feb. 2017.

Randle does a rundown of a few myths that many see when deciding on what path they wish to pursue, “Designer, or Developer. He breaks down the tools and skills needed for each. Randle created a great infographic that breaks down the skills between both designer and developer and then shows a third option as a unicorn, someone who can take a product from design to finished product using front end technologies. The only thing on the infographic that’s missing is that it does not show the unicorn as having back end technology skills.


Leaf Group. “Salary Differences Between a Web Designer and a Web Developer.” 12 July 2012.

We will use this source to show the difference between the salaries for a developer and a designer. This will not be the only source. Once a designer becomes an UI/UX designer their salary goes up substantially. It almost equates to that of a developer.


Morgan, Tommy. “Thinking Like a Developer.” A Medium Cooperation,

27 Feb. 2017.

Source that tells us how to become a good developer


Nagode, Luis., Mantha, Venu., Licht, Art., & Stackowiak, Robert. “Addressing Skills Gaps” Big Data and the Internet of Things. 8 May. 2015.

The “addressing skills gaps” chapter shows how employers currently address handing the gaps that students have. It involves teaching young developers the trade at the level the employer needs them to be at.


Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. “Standards for Accreditation.”

Looking at this document there are a lot of policies and procedures that go into creating a course and having it be accredited.  There is a lot of data collected to help show and sell the bureaucracy on changes that need to be made. It is this kind of behind the scenes governing body, in my opinion, that kills progress for teaching tech.


Shain, Susan.  “Can You Really Earn 6 Figures After a 12-Week Coding Bootcamp? We Investigate.” The Penny Hoarder, 21 Jul. 2016.

Here Shain attempts to answer the question about coding boot camps. Coding Bootcamps are another way to show an employer that you are a credible coder and that you have graduated from the boot camp. Shain shows many great examples of students that have attended boot camps and have gone on to have great success.


Teo, Leanord. “Designers will design, developers will develop, and why you must stop them.”

20 May. 2016. Web.


This is a first-hand experience about customizing everything from the design to the code. Sounds like it was a real pain in the butt for Leo Teo. One huge reason to streamline everything with using a css framework is because you can have a great working product in weeks instead of months or years.


Tran, Melania. “From Coding Novice to Professional Developer: An Interview with Malina Tran.” A Medium Cooperation, 16 Nov. 2016.

The interview is with a student of and her experience in the field after receiving her education.


Wkipidia “History of Astronomy” Greece and the Hellenistic World.


Sims, Zach “Education Needs to Move As Fast As Technology”


Revature “University of Missouri and Revature Launch No-Cost Coding Bootcamp for Grads”.    Business Wire.

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