From Coding to Research: A Software Engineer’s Journey into Human-Computer Interaction

People researching!
Image credit: Business illustrations by Storyset []

For four wonderful years, I held the role of a software engineer in a dynamic, small-sized company. In this vibrant setting, I engaged with exceptional individuals and enjoyed some of the best years of my life. However, as time passed, I came to the realization that staying in my comfort zone would not afford me the growth I yearned for. So, I took a bold step. I departed from my home country and moved to Bonn, Germany, with a minimal grasp of the German language. This thrilling venture felt so right as it marked my transition from a full-time engineer to a full-time student, trading long hours at a desk writing code for equally long hours in libraries and classrooms.

During my time at the University of Bonn, my eyes were opened to the fascinating subject of usable privacy and security. It amazed me to discover that there was an entire academic field dedicated to studying the human factor in software. We delved into various user interfaces with privacy and security components, like password authentication systems and privacy settings on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. This resonated with my engineering background, where we often created applications under the presumption they would be loved, with little engagement with the end-users. The profound insight that comes from conducting a user study, and the subsequent realization of “Oh, I didn’t think of that,” was such a rewarding experience, it inspired my love for this field of study.

This newfound love of studying the human aspect of technology took me back to my engineering days. I recall being responsible for developing a cutting-edge app for the real estate market. While we thought it was state of the art and packed with cool features, our actual users, the real estate agents, were perplexed about its purpose. We had overlooked the need to understand our users, why they required the app, and how they wanted it to function. This made it clear to me how important it was to be mindful of user needs when creating technology.

Fast forward to 2023, my love for understanding the societal impact of technology has grown even more. Now armed with a Ph.D. in Human-Computer Interaction, I fully appreciate what it means to build technology that serves people. I have never regretted the decision to leave my job and embark on this new research journey. It’s immensely rewarding to explore topics unknown to me and delve into the latest papers and research. This contrasts starkly with my engineering days, where I was becoming a “coding monkey” with limited opportunities for creativity.

Yet, I must confess that I do sometimes long for the intensity of programming and the joyous moments that came with it. The gratification of producing a tangible outcome was incredibly rewarding. This is why I’m currently seeking roles that are more product-focused yet still encompass elements of pioneering research. Ideally, I’d like to see more companies that benefit from the intersection of academic research and product development, where the divide between the two isn’t so stark.

Mohammad Tahaei
Mohammad Tahaei
Mixed Methods Researcher

Mixed Methods Researcher | Ex-Software Engineer