Customer Interaction

At 8th Light, they follow a practice of training people through an apprenticeship period. As it is nearing the end of my apprenticeship, my mentor has asked me to write a blog about one thing of the things I have learned.

For me, the one skill that I learned the most about was the one skill that needed the most work in the first place. The main thing I learned was that I was writing software for others. Similar to that idea came the need for increased customer interaction and learning how to interact with people in general.

Prior to working at 8th Light, almost all the programming I had ever done was either for myself, or for school projects. In the first case, I was my own user, so there was never any issue in communication there. And for the second case, the requirements were almost always very clearly drawn out(and not likely to change). Again, not much room for error.

Once I came to 8th Light, I was forced to write code both specified and to be used by someone that was not myself. This was something new to deal with. For at least the first month or so, my thought process was for myself. It wasn't until I came to that realization that I was able to change my thought process.

There was not one single event that made me learn this, but it was something learned over time. When starting a story, once the requirements have been approved, I don't try to change the story. Even if I don't agree with the desired functionality, it is what the customer wanted, and that's all that matters.

Now, when I finish a story, I take the time review the requirements and make sure it meets all of the customer’s specifications.

In order to provide a high quality product for another person, you must maintain a high level of collaboration with them. Without talking to them, you will never be able to guess what they want. So, in going along with the first lesson, I also learned that a lot of customer interaction is important and any issues that arise should be addressed quickly.

One event in particular occurred that helped me realize this was the week leading up to one of our releases. It was around this point that the customer decided to begin some testing of the system and uncovered a number of bugs. There was some concern as to whether or not all the bugs were being kept track of in some way, and this added stress to both the development team and the customer.

It wasn't the bugs that taught me anything, but the manner in which Micah handled them. After our iteration meeting, he called attention to the problem. He didn't blame anybody, but just said that something needed to be done to fix the problem and even proposed some possible solutions. It was the high level of communication between the development team and the customers that was valuable to me.

This made me realize that you have to address problems quickly, and it helps to offer multiple solutions to a problem. The customer also seemed to appreciate that we brought the issue up, and partly because of this week of bugs, we introduced a new bug tracking tool to our process.

I also began to learn that if you have a question about how something is supposed to work, sometimes the best solution is to just ask the customer. At one of our recent iteration meetings, the customer mentioned functionality that they expected to be in a completed story that had never been discussed. We realized that there was not enough feedback gained from the requirements, so we altered our process to account for that.

Now, after determining the requirements, we bring them to the customer and discuss them in person. This is something we just began, but it already has shown signs of success. The customer has actually come to us to discuss the requirements for some of the stories. It is because our team values communication that we were able to improve our process.

Learning these things has already helped me work more productively. If I have a question, instead of trying to spend too much time reasoning it out my own, it can be much faster to either go to the requirements or directly to the customer.

During the course of my apprenticeship, I also learned a lot about coding but nothing was as important as what I learned about human interaction. This is a lesson that has definitely changed my mentality towards coding and will hopefully improve my skills as a professional software craftsman.

Eric Meyer, Software Craftsman

Eric Meyer has recently been developing applications for the iPhone and iPad using Objective C.