Human-computer interaction (HCI) is the study of how humans interact with computers. This is a multidisciplinary field encompassing aspects of computer engineering, design, and psychology. Students majoring in HCI can find work as an HCI researcher or scientist. While UI designers are typically more industry-focused, HCI researchers are more academic in nature.
When you speak about HCI, the first thing you may think about is the physical interaction we have with devices like the keyboard and mouse. However, HCI is focused more on the research and psychology of how humans interact with technology. HCI researchers may design studies, implement a prototype and report on their findings to determine why a specific interaction works (or not). While HCI has traditionally focused on computer interfaces and interaction, with the advent of mobile and wearable technology a whole new set of HCI challenges and questions pop up.
The resurgence in virtual reality and augmented reality likewise require a new set of standards and research to determine the best way for humans to interact with these new systems.
Most people who want to start a career in HCI need to first complete a bachelor's degree in a related field such as computer engineering or computer science before moving on to get a master's degree in HCI. Some schools offer an undergraduate degree in HCI.
Besides the educational requirements, successful HCI researchers will be very detail oriented and have excellent analytical skills. Much of the work an HCI researcher performs will be to create experiments and carry them out. HCI researchers will also often present their findings in academic journals or in conferences making communication skills critical to the job.
As you can imagine, HCI is a fast-growing field with 19% growth expected over the next ten years according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is about twice as fast as the average for all tracked careers. With the growth of mobile and wearable devices, a resurgence in virtual reality and upcoming advances in augmented reality, the need for HCI scientists has never been higher. HCI researchers can expect a median salary of over $110k per year.