Building software that users actually want

Vincent Chu
3 min readOct 1, 2021

As anyone who’s been focusing on creating the best products possible would tell you, building software that users love is extremely difficult. Yet most software engineers are only interested in the implementation part, and not many spend time thinking about what users care about the most. A common argument justifying this behaviour is that defining products is the job of a Product Manager or a Technical Program Manager. However, being active with product definition can be very rewarding, arguably much more so than just taking orders captured in a Jira story. In addition, a lot of details are often missed and engineers who don’t understand the users often end up creating well engineered products that no one uses. A classic comic strip pokes fun at this.

Just as the industry realized about 10 years ago the importance of combining dev and ops into devops, it is perhaps equally powerful to combine product and dev into Product-Dev.

At least make sure the engineering team is diverse

Buying into the product-dev setup doesn’t solve all the problems though, as it creates some new ones. A notable issue is that some engineers believe they are the users or they know the users more than the users do themselves! They would create new products in silo, imagining the challenges they have and the business problems needing to be solved, all without talking to a single paying user. While in some very limited settings this silo method may be fine (perhaps the product is an engineering tool), it is analogous to how ancient Greek philosophers do science before the scientific method — they just think about the problem all day without doing any observations. This is unfortunately very common with smart engineers — perhaps the confidence of their smartness is built on their belief that they know better than the users, and by talking to users it somehow undermines their self-image. Or perhaps engineers are more introverted and they prefer not having to talk to users — in that case, at least make sure the engineering team is diverse so some of them can think like the users.

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Vincent Chu
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I'm an engineering leader in a SAS company with more than 15 years of software industry experience.