Like so many millennials, Taylor Ho’s initial gateway to coding was customizing layouts for his MySpace profile as a teenager. Those early days of writing HTML/CSS purely for self-expression eventually led him to graphic design and web development. Now, he’s a Principal UX Designer at Twitch.
“I’m a strong believer that each skill you pick up is inevitably going to feed into the next things that you do,” Taylor says. “If you have the right mindset, everything stacks up.” In Taylor’s case, he taught himself to program with PHP (he even used Codecademy) to complement his design sensibilities, and kept an open mind to learning new things.
Though Taylor isn’t writing production-grade code every day in his role at Twitch, he views all of his design ideas through an engineering lens. “I sit kind of at that line between design and code,” he says.
Taylor, who is of Native Hawaiian descent, is also the co-founder of Hawaiians in Tech, a directory and community for Native Hawaiians who work in the tech industry. Last summer, the organization hosted its first hackathon, which was themed around building genealogy tools.
Here’s how Taylor networked his way to a job at Twitch, why his developer background helps his work as a designer, and his advice for folks who want to break into tech.
What got me interested in the job
“For me, it all started with customizing HTML banners in MySpace. This was before social media was what it is now, where your content is kind of your self expression. Back then, MySpace was like your visual display and how you represented yourself. My high school didn’t offer a graphic design class, but we did have a screen printing course. That course introduced me to an immediate application of graphic design, and from there, it just proliferated.
I joined a video production organization, because digital cameras were getting much more powerful. We started collecting so many videos that we needed better control of how we put them out into the world. I said to my buddy, What if we build a website?
Being the self-taught, motivated person I was, I ended up getting a book to learn WordPress, just so I could build this site. This meant I was also learning PHP at the same time. Having a destination in mind made it easy for me to get through the pain of learning this language. Looking back, I can’t believe that PHP is the language I started with. I was picking up things on Codecademy and other sites, just finding all the stuff I could get my hands on, and anything that the internet had to offer.”
How I got in the door
“It had a lot to do with networking. The first year that I moved to San Francisco, I was literally cold calling places to see if they’re looking for a contractor. This was a really interesting window of time, because I pivoted from thinking that I was a Front-End Software Engineer that had a strong knack for design because of my past experience, to actually saying, I am a Designer who can code.
During that year I picked up all kinds of projects. I went to this design conference, and met someone by dropping into the Slack channel just saying, Hey, I need a ride. I don’t have a car! I drove to the conference with them, and that person ended up being my first referral when I got my first job at Unity. When six months had gone by at Unity, I had proof that I could work at a big company. This made for a much easier transition into applying for a company as big as Twitch. My mind was blown when I landed the job.
In 2020, JSConf was hosted in Hawaii. I was lucky enough to get to speak about being a Native Hawaiian in tech, which was an amazing opportunity. The talk is on YouTube, and someone randomly hit me up a couple months later saying, ‘Hey, I saw your video, and it spoke to me.’ Over the course of our conversation, we came to realize that we were people in an industry where we both previously felt like: I must be the only one.
We thought, what if we were to start exploring, helping other people find that community on a platform or website? There’s a ton of really cool websites right now about diversity and representation across different industries, whether it’s design or tech, so Hawaiians in Tech builds off of the ideas and the shoulders of other greats. We’re constantly trying to find ways to broaden beyond representation and this directory of our efforts.”
What I actually do every day
“I am a Principal UX Designer at Twitch. What that means is I’m responsible for maintaining a very interesting and important space, which is our ‘Channel’ page. I also am spending a lot of time in the ‘Browse’ space. Finding content and watching content on Twitch are my primary focus areas. My job also entails being a consultant/advisor for other teams that are looking to design and build.
I’m a pretty versatile designer — jack of all trades, master of none, maybe. I do design from start to end. I work with product partners to explore loose ideas that they’re wanting to chase down, and it’s my job to bring it back to the user experience. We have a really great UX research team, and half my work is reading the research that they put out that’s available to us.
Occasionally I have my hands in code, because I do a lot of prototyping. Our core UI team put together this really stellar prototyping tool, where you just have to know basic React, HTML, and CSS. We use TypeScript as well at Twitch. Because I have a developer background, pixel precision is a big thing for me. I try to produce designs that engineers can trust. I don’t want them to have to guess if the spacing is what I intended or have them to look at my schematics and be like, Uh, should this be that far? I got you. I thought about that.
After experiments are complete, I look at results with Data Analysts, trying to make sense of what ended up happening throughout the experience. Because of my proximity to UX, I’m able to influence pre-, during, and post-experiment product decisions. It’s such a fun space to be in. I love it.”
Here’s what you need to get started
Taylor credits much of his career success to his enthusiasm for learning. “I have a willingness to pick things up based on the needs of the situation,” he says. If you’re interested in working as a developer someday, you’ll constantly be learning new things and picking up new skills.
Whether you’re at the start of your programming journey or are switching careers into tech, it’s important to work on real-world projects that inspire you, rather than solely focusing on coding theory and principles, he says. (Check out our catalog of coding projects for inspiration.)
Want to learn more about UX design and research? Our free course Introduction to UI and UX Design will teach you about key design principles and how to create your own wireframes. You can also start with our UX research courses, Learn User Research: Generative and Learn Design Thinking: Ideation.
And if you want to build a strong coding background before jumping into the world of UI/UX, be sure to check out our full catalog of beginner-friendly coding courses and paths.