In a puckish piece of provocative titling, Dorothea boldly flings Why Software doesn’t Work out into the midst of a group of bloggers who are guaranteed to fall upon it, like ravenous dogs on a poor, defenseless baby bunny. If she continues this type of writing, I’m going to have to consider passing the Burning Baton of *Inciteful Blogging to D, I seriously am.
Dorothea writes about the eBook business and the Cult of Programmers who seem to want to have little to do with the actual users when it comes to designing software:
Even the Alan Cooper brigade doesn’t seem to favor (or even talk of) direct experience feeding into software design. Instead, developers sit around and imagine what real people in real jobs do. That such imaginings all by themselves are a vast improvement over what has gone before is a pretty strong indictment of software development, to my way of thinking.
(Adherents to the Cult of the Programmer too often display a lamentable contempt for the implicit knowledge in other professions, incidentally, while vociferously insisting that no one else in the world is capable of absorbing theirs. Definitely this is part of the problem.)
I’ve not worked in the eBook industry, but I have in the technology, government, manufacturing, aerospace, academic, energy, and finance industries and can assure Dorothea that the number one complaint from programmers in these fields is that we don’t have enough user requirements and access to the users. I’ve seen meetings where some poor user has walked in and had technologists tripping over themselves trying to get direct access to the person. Geeks on stampede is a scary sight.
My favorite example of getting close to the users was when I prototyped a touch screen application for a door manufacturing company in Wisconsin. Every day found me donning my head phones, to protect against the noise, and heading into the product line to test the previous day’s efforts. I used a set of hand signals co-developed with my clients to check their reception of the current efforts. Too hard to use? Thumbs down. Just right? Thumbs up. Confusing? Scratching head, with an occasional finger pointed at the screen and exaggerated shrugs of the shoulder. After I would brush the sawdust off my clothes, back I would head to the computer to incorporate the day’s feedback into the next iteration of the prototype.
Perhaps that’s the difference between my previous efforts and the eBook industry – not enough sawdust.
Dorothea also takes on the Cult of Programmers as she calls them (us?), and has some points:
Not to mention that the Cult of the Programmer mandates that Real Programmers be computer hobbyists from youth. Real Programmers are never ex-accountants or ex-typesetters. Heaven forfend they should be ex-secretaries! Like, er, me. Yes, I know the Cult of the Programmer is not exactly representative of the entire field, but it does wield significant and in my opinion excessive influence on commercial-programming and open-source practices.
Liz will attest that this does tend to happen. In fact, one of the differentiators between men and women in the computer field is that men tend to be computer hobbyists in their youth more than women. What’s interesting though is that men’s earlier exposure to playing around with computers doesn’t typically increase their chances of success with technology, academically or professionally.
I consider myself a Real Programmer, for whatever that’s worth, but I didn’t play with computers at an early age. Heck, I didn’t even enter the computer field until I was 28. Before that I worked in a succession of jobs, including secretary, insurance underwriter, and photo studio manager. One of my more unique jobs was steam pressing ties for the Britannica Tie Company in Seattle. It was my only union job, and we would all take our vacations at the same time in the summer because the heat would get too much and people would start passing out.
(I still catch myself checking out the press on ties when I pass a rack in a department store. Old habits die hard.)
I’ve also had too many waitress jobs to count. In fact, my first real job was when I was 15 and a runaway from home living in Salt Lake City. I lied about my age, pretty easy back then, and got a job in a diner working minimum wage and tips. It paid enough for my boarding house room, but just barely. I didn’t make much, but it was better than the alternative, which happened to be in the massage parlour that several of the other boarders worked in and tried to recruit me to.
I did check the parlour out once because my friends seemed to have so much money. The head of the parlour showed me around this classy place with saunas, and showers, and clean, brightly lit massage rooms. All the women wore immaculate pastel colored uniforms, were quite attractive and seemed very professional, as they moved briskly from room to room with their massage oil and fluffy white towels.
To demonstrate their work, she boss lady had one of the other masseuses give me a steam/salt massage in a cedar lined room, soft music playing in the background. It was an incredible experience, I can still feel it now. This convinced me that the operation was the real thing. However, just when I was ready to sign on the dotted line, the head of the parlor explained all the requirements of the job.
I wasn’t a prude by any means, and I’ll have to admit, I thought about the job requirements for some time, and waivered more than once about signing up. Eventually though, I stayed with my minimum wage job, providing food for business people who used to leave an extra quarter just because I smiled at them when I poured their coffee.
Of course, once I got my degree in CompSci and entered the field, I knew I’d never have to wait a table again, answer phones, or press ties. Or work under the nom de plume of Candy at the local House of Delights.
*not a misspell