Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Well, LA was not as bad as I feared, and indeed it was interesting to see a customer's system for the first time. It really gave me a new perspective on what I do, and it's always valuable to get feedback from the horse's mouth.

I made a few mistakes, though.

It's curious how technical users can put up with the craziest of things. People will wait and restart after crashes; they will endure counter-intuitive interfaces; they will generally find the best way they can to do the job. And provided you don't get data loss, they will live with what they have.

Now, under those circumstances, my heart always goes out to the poor fool on the front line who is actually doing this, and I really think "what can I do to ease their pain?". When I feel comfortable in a job, I occasionally generalise this to "what can we do?".

This generalisation turns out to be a mistake.

Now, I don't believe that not helping the user is a good thing; clearly quite the opposite. However, when you're on the front line, you tend to believe that a customer's needs are more pressing than the "grand plan" which is being expressed back in the office. Caring about the user is a good thing. Translating this "tactical" care into code is, apparently, bad.

Well, you live and learn.

The thing is, I over-generalise. I go in and solve a customer problem, and I assume that that customer is both all-important and representative of the customer base. I don't necessarily take my eye completely off the ball; I am aware of the conflicting needs of others, so I conceive things that are optimised for this customer, and appear to give everyone what they want.

At this point, I infringe on the "grand plan". The plan is generally shepherded by one person who has been at the company between three and thirty times as long as I. I'd like to believe this means they've seen many more customers and know more about the domain than I do, and so I will. However, I still get annoyed to have my idea of the time - which has been carefully constructed with my eye firmly on the user - cut down without investigation. In fact, this happens even when it is within my area of speciality. That really annoys me.

In the past, I have reached a point within a job in which I can go ahead with an idea anyway. Sometimes they don't work - but I still learn something. More often than not, however, they do work, and some real, tangible benefits arise.

If you want to innovate as a company, you need to nurture new ideas - even ones you think are poor ones. Few ideas in software require significant investment to get to a point where any hidden benefits are visible.

And, after all - if you didn't do anything new today, why did you get up?


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