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Re: What My Cat Brought In Last Night

According to the blogothon rules I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I should have commented on Justin’s post What My Cat Brought In Last Night over the weekend. Lazy me. (And I probably have Justin to thank for the fact that a well-known Rubyist originally from South Korea commented on mine. Hi Francis, I wrote the Ruby Weekly News for a couple of years in 2005-2007 before disappearing off into a different geographical and programming hemisphere.)

I found Justin’s article useful – it started out like it was going to be a bitch about how the software we write in ye “business” world is mostly boring and trivial and woe is us, but it was actually the opposite, telling the complainers they should either become knowledgeable in the business domain they’re working in or piss off and stop taking the money.

I’ve been guilty at times of being one of the complainers, but I do agree with Justin. Some of the most effective and enjoyable times I’ve had as a programmer is when I’ve developed intuition about business needs and been able to brainstorm ideas with analysts.

It sounds obvious, but one of the best ways of understanding how to “add business value” is to actually meet customers and listen to what they focus on. Especially in the UK, working at big companies, it’s easy as a developer to only know the customer through requirements documentation written by an analyst who got an email from a salesperson who thought they heard a customer say something.

Around six months ago I received some enlightenment after an extended weekend tenting at an Irish music festival, when I turned up to work on a Wednesday morning to find that I was flying to Brussels the next day for pre-sales meetings. I’d just spent a year working on an application that provides a service to banks, but hadn’t ever actually spoken directly to anyone from a bank. I wore the same tie I’m wearing for today’s ironic casual Friday (a social activity that it seems only I celebrate – my life’s sad enough that I find amusement in answering “because it’s casual Friday” when asked why I’m wearing a tie when I usually don’t. I probably wouldn’t do it if we actually had casual Friday; maybe I’m subconsciously protesting it’s absence!)

Within an hour of the meeting starting I found myself realising that all kinds of things I’d glossed over were actually really important to our customers. They had a completely different perspective to me – I was focused on our systems talking to banks’ systems and had almost forgotten that in the end our application was (indirectly) providing a service for banks’ customers.

Oh, so that’s why we care about how many days it’s going to take a downstream system to process our message – there’s a human being out there who’s trying to buy a motorcycle for travelling around India and they swear they’ve sent the money already if you just check your records sir.

See Justin, you’re not just talking to yourself!

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