A Software Odyssey: How I Learned I Love UX

On Monday, Emily and I launched a project we’ve been working on for nearly two years: a new website for Acorn Host, and a new backend system to manage the customers and billing. It’s extensive and awesome and will greatly relieve some billing and customer service headaches.

Creating a billing system…sounds boring, right? But actually developing this project has been one of the most exciting things I’ve done in my life. What I’ve discovered is that software architecture and usability design utilizes new parts of my brain and soul, and it fully engages me like nothing else has.

There are many things I’ve dabbled in (and been obsessed with) over the years, and although it might seem like software development uses a very specific skillset, my role in the project was multifaced. I’m not the programmer (Emily is). But I’ve done programming, I’ve done design, and I’ve worked with data. I know enough about all the pieces of the software puzzle to enable us to collaborate in a unique way on the level of ideas and structure and user experience.

Not only that, but the methods we used to work together we also engineered as we went. Starting out from the classic development model of creating a spec and then trying to create software from it turned out to be hard. And dull. Documentation gets outdated quickly, and it’s hard to maintain; it doesn’t live.

Halfway through our project, we switched gears to an agile development process called Scrum. They have mottos like “discussions over documentation”. You work in “sprints” of one or two weeks, creating focus and clarity. The team all works together on the same part of the project and creates usable code each sprint, so you have an immediate sense of accomplishment and teamwork.

Scrum is more gratifying  than traditional ways of working. It increases happiness as a developer. And it releases you to improvise and develop software iteratively, instead of trying to match a spec that is months old and no longer reflects the great idea you had last week while chatting over coffee. It helps the project live and breathe. It produces better software.

This experience has opened a whole new world for me. I always knew that I wasn’t a programmer. As a designer, I’m good, but I’m not great. (for example, I am more of a font snob than a typographer). I like to write, but only when I’m inspired. Given how fascinated I am with personal growth, I’ve thought of becoming a coach or a therapist, but I’m not suited for it. I’m an ideator, a strategist, a creator.

This–being the idea part of software development–this I can be great at. This I dig completely. It brings in all the skills I’ve developed and all my strengths. And things that have frustrated me about myself make sense–like, why am I eternally annoyed at tiny inefficiencies in the day to day world that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things–oh, because I care about user experience! I don’t need therapy, I need to create software!

At the very end  of this project, we started creating a new project to help us work better. It’s nominally a bug tracker or a task management system, but it’s really a way to work in this Scrum style, which makes quite different assumptions than typical task trackers.

The billing system I had to build; this I want to build. I want to create something that helps people work happier. I’ve always believed work should be fun, but it turns out that it’s not as simple as “do what you love”. When you start working on teams, on large projects, doing what you love can quickly become awful. Structures matter: they can empower creativity or frustrate it. I loved the process of working on this project, and I want to help other people feel that way.

I don’t know exactly where this is all going, but I’ve never been so excited about work. I’ve always felt like a dabbler. I built Acorn Host so I could support myself, and that it does, and it’s a quality product that I’m committed to, but I’m not like, in love with web hosting. I have always felt like I wasn’t fully utilizing my brain, and yet I hadn’t found anything that fully engaged it. So this is a happy day for me. I’m not sure where it will lead, but I wanted to share that much with you.

Comments

  1. I knew I clicked with you. I had no idea it included a love for User Experience! That is very cool, very cool indeed. 🙂

Leave a Comment

*