The Little Things

When it comes to products, the little things are what make something stand above the rest.

This is a no-brainer, really. I used to be shocked by the amount of products that don’t do this. After being a software engineer for a decade or so, you really stop being shocked.

The following is a true story from my younger years. I’d probably fix your problems these days… probably:

Step 1: Stockholm Syndrome

As a customer, you think you use a product a lot? Think again. I write the software that you use, so by default, I literally use it nearly 8hrs a day, sometimes more. If you work with the software I write, you get to turn it off … I live and breathe it’s little problems, quirks and bugs. In fact, you could say I start to fall in love with it. Even if those bugs are disastrous to you … I love them.

Sucks to be you.

Step 2: You Complain

So, you call/email/text support. You complain about your problems. I see it, and I send it to a graveyard — a place where tickets go to (probably) never be read again. I have bigger problems and more important things to do. Like why did some of our users get emailed twice, how can I fix that so it never happens again? Your problem is an easy fix … in fact, so easy that if I were to fix it, it would never make it past review and/or it would be a thorn in my side.

Because we’re software engineers and we like to bikeshed. I don’t know why. It drives me crazy… I admit though, I do it sometimes too.

Step 3: Someone Else Complains

This is really step 2, all over again. Only this time, it wasn’t you. Still sucks to be you…

Step 4: A Designer/Business Analyst/Programmer Sees the Ticket

They probably have some kind of mission. Like they want to redesign this whole feature you’ve been complaining about for months (or years). They saw your ticket and they are going to use your problems as ammo to get what they want.

This is good — or terribly, terribly bad — for you. The bug/quirk you’ve been dying to see killed may or may not be squashed. I’ve literally been told at several points in my career: “Do this thing, but we want it to work EXACTLY the same, including bugs”… wtf? Seriously? OK Bob … sure thing.

Step 5: It Sucks to be You

And guess what? It still sucks to be you…

Fixing The Stupid

This is stupid. I’ve left products because of these little quirks that drive me mad. I’m sure you have too. We have to fix the stupid … but as my Drill Sergeant would say: You can’t fix stupid.

Oh, but yes, we can.

It starts with us, the people who make the products. When we get a report that sounds like a bug but it could, just possibly, be a feature: that’s something to polish and make right. Call the customer, or email them. Find out how to make their life better with your product. They cared enough to tell us something wasn’t just quite right. They’ll appreciate the contact.

And for the love of Life, stop the bikeshedding. If it’s simple, like changing a string of text … it feels like everyone and their brother/sister/cousin/uncle/aunt/grandparent wants to comment on how it could be better. This is good — but sometimes, just let it go. When we see more than five people commenting, it’s bikeshedding. When it’s two or three, it’s just people working out the best thing.

Also, realize when people are just bikeshedding and ship it, ask for forgiveness later.

Don’t be afraid of people bikeshedding this simple fix.

Examples of Polish Tickets

When you see things like these, it probably means you need to take the hour and a half out of your week and do it:

I noticed that my [bank account’s] projected balance shows how much I need until the end of the month. You know when I get paid, can’t you just tell me how much I need until my next paycheck?

“Continue with Facebook” is really deceptive, I didn’t know it would create an account. If you don’t mind, can you change it to say “Signup with Facebook”?

It’s really annoying how the whole website shows the text, flashes white [without any text] and then the text suddenly appears. Can you do something about it… please?

Your email misspelled “your,” it’s supposed to be “you’re!”

When I signed up, I lost the product I was looking at… can you help me find it [again]?

We’ve all worked on teams where any of these could become a two week project. Even changing the misspelling of “your” to “you’re” could result in rewriting the whole email … several times. On those teams, those tickets go to a graveyard because “ain’t nobody got time for that”.

My New Job

I recently joined up with Automattic, the makers behind, the spam wranglers behind Akismet, security experts behind Vaultpress, and the frequent fliers of Jetpack. There’s no fear of any of this, in fact, it’s rewarded here. We’re hiring: come work with us.

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