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Now Hiring Leonardo DaVinci

Jack Bellis, September 29, 2006

Synopsis: Question: As our rapidly increasing technology produces more multi-powered individuals, are companies any more justified in trying to hire artists who also code? Answer: Maybe. Below is a recap of a discussion I recently instigated on's discussion group.

The Best Ad I've Ever Seen...
" Help Wanted:"Christ with a Briefcase"

I've always been fascinated by ads for someone who can do both graphic design and, in his or her spare time "reengineer our world-wide network topology" (loose allusion to an old Dilbert). The following bullet items are extracted from an ad that prompted me to post the question above.

  • ASP scripting
  • Bachelor of Art (B/A) degree in Graphic/Web Design .
  • Ideal:
    • Ability to create illustrations
    • Experience with coding in JavaScript and using Ajax
    • Experience with print design and color separation
    • Experience creating brand identities
  • Design print ads, online ads, and associated site landing pages
  • Design, code, and standardize ... HTML, CSS, and ASP
  • Adhere to Extreme Programming practices

I particularly like the juxtaposition of "B/A degree... illustration... Ajax... Extreme Programming Practices." I understand that there might be a few (10? 100?) such marvels in a given city. And I understand that small companies are, well, small, and many of us in organizations of all size must help wash the dishes and put out the trash. But I've always considered it just plain silly to expect to have your branding done by your Java developer. I'd advise any small company to use an agency of some sort if they think they need Leonardo, but that's not my question. My question is, with our newer, very talented young folks, is this becoming a more realistic expectation of them and/or the employee market?

I'm doubtful, but some of the responses were illuminating. One post told of a curriculum that put equal time on programming and art. This answer seems to validate that "yes, employers might be justified," irrespective of the supply and demand balance. Perhaps the trend toward leonardo-ism is just a matter of time. By extrapolation, I wonder if by the year 2050, a typical worker might have to ask oneself... "hmmm, do I want to go to my job as a statesman, neuro-chemical engineer, or concert violinist today?"

It will be very interesting to see if the art/programming graduates from that curriculum end up persisting as professionals at both. Only time will tell. Small companies might appear to benefit (or would they still be well-advised to use an agency?).

There is however one thing that requires no crystal ball: every day it becomes possible to accomplish more technology with less study. The perpetual promise that "some day you won't even need programmers" continues to elude businesses like a mirage moving away in the desert. But even someone like myself who doesn't thrive on the engineering was able to make an ASP database page (for free in fact but lots of popunders; see and

Significance? I believe that many artists will learn the technology (varying amounts) just as virtually every workplace role will. Some will stop at tools, some at Ruby on Rails, and some not until they've unsoldered the wires on the motherboard and managed to transmit 1's and 0's directly from their hypothalmus into the accumulator. I don't believe the converse, that art will pervade all other disciplines, making compsci students flock to Photoshop. Instead, when they need a visual element, most will use stuff that's already "engineered" for them.


On the left is an ad I saved from some months back. It's the epitome of such over-reaching. A co-worker of mine had the perfect expression for such job descriptions, saying they wanted to hire "Christ with a briefcase." You could argue that it's actually not quite as unrealistic as the ad that prompted this discussion because it stretches more in terms of depth than breadth. They want someone who's done it all but they're not quite as clear cut about doing art and illustration. There are many senior folks who've done a lot of the Templeton skills but it's questionable to expect to hire someone to do them all in the performance of a single role... to work in the grease pit and the boardroom at the same time. What would Leonardo do?




"My interest in usability arose from the pain and tears of patching the wounds of suffering interface designs with the inadequate bandages of help files and user guides." — Daniel Cohen

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