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The mutation - Part 2: Being a pain is part of the job
2011-06-02

This is the second part of a serie dedicated to one of my biggest career moves. I started at my current company as a web developer and, after a few years, I was given the opportunity to become a UX designer. I'll turn the spotlight on some major differences I noticed during the progress of my mutation.

I recently had a meeting with our Testing department, and the thought came up again: within a company producing software, User Experience and Testing persons are both strongly dedicated to a product's quality. Of course, developers are, in the best case, too. Still, as my friend Liz, our former UX analyst, often reminded me when I was a web developer:

You are not the user!

Fighting my brothers

Lions 1Representing the user within a company means getting into lots of work-related battles. My first ones were against fellow developers. My programming colleagues weren't "us" anymore, facing challenges together under the banner of the code. It was "the users and me" against "them".

In my developer role, I had to evaluate the feasibility and the cost-time factor of features; my response to the "strange requests and utopian feature designs" of our UX person was often "No". Depending on the technology, I was able to provide one or more alternatives that would also work. As a UX designer, I was suddenly in the position to ask my former crew for these strange features. That's when I faced the infinite - and worth being admired - willpower of developers (resembling that usually attributed to dwarves in fantasy stories). That's when I had to make use of my own programmer strength against them. Not yet painful, but highly interesting: I was confronted with replicas of myself, knowing maybe more than I should about the technical background ("Did you create a class for that? You did, right?").

Knowing that friction breeds greatness, I carried on with convincing and winning my developer colleagues for my new cause, the user's experience. It surely was a positive aspect that we've all been working closely together for years.

Fighting authority

When I dealt with our principal stakeholders (mostly from Management) as the user's advocate, I had to
  • admit that I was being even more a pain,
  • cope with the fact that I probably always would, in this position.
I had to accept it as an important part of my job.
I told my bosses "I have to disagree once again" and "I don't think we should do it like that" many times.
Was I going too far? Should I just have shut up instead?
Time gave me the answer: Hell, no!
Pointing out at dust piles under the carpet is the first part of what I'm paid for.
The second part is to elaborate the best way to clean them.
I learned that the messenger delivering bad news wasn't likely to be shot at if she stuck to reality and objectivity.

The path

While continuing being a pain, I pushed my coworkers into thinking harder, developing great ideas to overcome the issues I revealed on their way. I see myself as a sort of trainer, helping people generate great usable software and shaping our path to success.

What about you?

  • Do you believe you are a pain in your job? Why?
  • How do you manage to keep a healthy balance between being a pain and still go on well with your colleagues?


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