Information architect, user experience lead (consultant)
Current assignment: American Airlines, Dallas
As an information architect, Jeff Stachowski describes himself as both a translator and an ambassador.
"It's up to the information architect to work with the business or project manager and understand all of their requirements, then communicate to developers how to build what they want," he says.
In his current assignment as a user experience lead on a Web development project at American Airlines, Stachowski says, "Communication is my No. 1 strongest point."
Stachowski built his first Web page on a lark back in 1996. He and a graphic designer friend bought a modem, started checking out early Web pages built in straight HTML and were hooked. "It was the most amazing thing I ever saw in my life," he says.
Over the past 15 years, Stachowski, who is largely self-taught, has worked as a Web developer, information architect and user experience expert, on both a permanent and contract basis. He keeps his knowledge current by attending seminars, reading blogs and gaining on-the-job experience.
In the course of a day, Stachowski says, he works with programmers, business managers, art directors, designers and clients. "The information architect is like a real-life architect who figures out where to put the restrooms in a building or how much parking is needed and where it will go," he says. "You have to understand everything that is going on and organize the information in a logical manner," he explains. That includes figuring out where to place various buttons, tabs and the logical progression of links to other information.
"In my job, I don't need to know every trick in Photoshop, but I need to be able to communicate visually an idea. You also need an understanding of a browser's capabilities and how to store information in a database. I don't know how to do all of those things, but I must know if it's possible and what the requirements are," he says.
Because technology is changing constantly, Stachowski says anyone considering a job like his "has to be fluid and willing and able to change."
"With HTML3, everything is in tables, then HTML4 has Cascading Style Sheets, and now there is HTML5. It's not like it was with mainframe programmers who had a specialty. We don't have that luxury anymore. Systems change every four to five years and you either learn or you're always going to have that college kid coming out of school who knows all the new stuff," he says.
The payoff is steady work, even in a stumbling economy.
"There is absolutely a demand for my skills," he says, noting that he typically receives three to four calls and three to four emails a day from recruiters with jobs paying between $80,000 and $90,000 per year.
"I turned off my resume on Dice and Monster," he says, referring to the popular job sites. But he also cautions that demand for his skills is cyclical.
"When the Internet bubble burst, guys like me were the first to go," he says, again adding, "You have to be fluid and willing and able to change."
— Julia King