Is it a good idea for me (a freshman in college) to focus on front end web dev and UI/UX at the same time?
I was just wondering what you think about me (a freshman in college who is new to web development) learning front end web development and also doing UI/UX research on the side to hopefully learn more about design and user experience. Is it a good idea to try to learn both, or am I better off focusing on one and becoming really good at one?
My UI/UX research will be with a professor, and it will focus on the design of electronic voting machines and examine eye movements using eye trackers. It's something I'm very interested in, so I'm really excited to start...but should this be a long term commitment towards a career?
Should I maybe instead focus on being really good at front end web app development, something I am also very interested in?
Or is it viable for me to focus on both, and market myself to employers as a front end web developer and designer?
I studied Human-Computer-Interaction, which basically was what you describe as hybrid. Though, it was more in-depth and a very well mixed assortment of classes, like data structures in coding and SQL, but at the same time stuff like psychology, ergonomy, prototypes and user research.
I'm not sure how much more into the UX field you can or will go, besides this one specific topic that you mentioned. I'm also not sure if "just" doing this one specific UX research topic is already basis enough to completely go in that direction. You have to be the judge of that, I can only make assumptions.
But regarding the actual question if it is viable:
I will say that it is literally comparable to multi-classing in RPG games. You learn 50/50 of both and, thus, can contribute to both sides equally when it's necessary. But at the same time, you aren't as qualified in either of the halves as someone who focuses only & specifically on that.
And oftentimes people are looking for someone to solve a specific problem or fill a specific role in their company, and they'd rather have two experts than to have one person who only knows half of each. On the contrary, a smaller company or a start-up is often more interested in that type of hybrid. Have the necessary fundamentals of both sides and only pay one salary? Great! Because they may not need the very deep expertise and are happy with the basics.
So it's also a question about the size of the company; one that is huge and established won't be interested in doing experiments with someone in both fields, whereas those with a very lenient and free structure very well might be.
My suggestion: This is based solely on my personal experience, maybe someone else can share others views on this, but I would suggest to not go strictly 50/50 on UX and coding. Instead, go for a major role with a complementing minor role. Like 70% UX and 30% frontend.
Because, as I said, oftentimes they want someone for a specific problem, and it's easier to take someone who's majorly focused on the topic they need AND has some extra knowledge of a related topic ("wow, valuable!") than to have someone where they aren't sure if you have enough expertise in this ONE topic that they need to even hire you.
I, for example, have went with a 80% UX - 20% code representation of myself for my professional career, but do about 50/50 in personal projects on the side. So I still get to use both parts equally.
Personal note: I also have to add that when you're planning on doing your own thing and going freelancer or starting your own project, it's super valuable to have both skills, because you oftentimes only need the basics and can cover nearly everything by yourself. I am very glad to have both skills.