It’s a people thing

[I wrote this approximately 2007. I originally had this as one of my thoughts about tech on my main ‘tech’ section. Now demoting it to the blog archive]

My job (and the kind of I.T. work I’m interested in) is actually all about understanding people. It’s really not about computers at all.

This is particularly true at the moment, because I’m working with ‘workflow’ software, which involves placing manual processing steps (people power) into the system architecture.

I am often involved in piecing together system requirements. Theoretically this should take place at the beginning of a project, but in practice it is an on-going process. It means building up an understanding of how people are going to work with the system, and what the stakeholders really want the system to do for them. Often a customer will tell me how they think system should be built, and I have to struggle to reverse-extrapolate the high level requirements (what the people really want). Sometimes I gently try to make this point. My experience as a software engineer equips me to make technical design decisions, i.e decide how a system should be built, but before I can do this, I need to know what the system should achieve, and how we want the people to fit in.

User interface design is a fascinating challenge. It’s such a subtle art form. You know when it’s done badly, and you know when it’s done well, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. When I try to justify a particular U.I. design, my arguments often end up seeming petty and insignificant. That’s because there is no right and wrong answers, only ‘good design’ and ‘not so good design’. It’s really all about empathy; Putting yourself in the position of people who have never seen this interface before. It’s also about striking balances. Laying things out so that it all just sits together elegantly. It’s …art.

Recently it’s come to my attention that many people are hopeless at it. This leaves me with an even greater challenge. Without having any any solid arguments, I should persuade these people that their ideas are bad. …but often I give up, and just implement the ‘not so good design’.

But probably the biggest “people” factor of my job is the project politics

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