Software Development: Get in the Room with Customers

Sean Adkinson | May 14, 2013

Jama has an initiative to get every employee in front of at least one customer, in person, which is not something that developers generally get to do. In fact, I’ve never heard of another company that sends developers on customer trips. My task was simple: follow Shane Angus, one of our technical account mangers on the Jama Services team, around the customer’s campus, observe and help out where I can. Shane was onsite to help onboard this new customer, a process involving many meetings and lots of time at the whiteboard. At Jama, my days in software development are usually spent coding in front of a computer screen, so being in these sessions took me out of my element.

The most valuable takeaway from the excursion is that what I build every day affects the work of real people. It sounds obvious when you say it out loud, but it is difficult to fully grasp without firsthand experience.  At work, it’s easy to see a customer request come in and say “Yeah, that would be useful.” It’s a completely different thing to witness the customer struggle with your product. On the other hand, when something worked well and the customer was impressed, it was very rewarding and gratifying;  I felt like I made their job easier. In either case, I’m seeing the product in a way that I never have before, and that experience makes me think about the development differently. I certainly have a better appreciation for user experience and consistency!

This trip also helped me make a personal connection with our customers. I truly want them to be successful using our product, and I’m willing to exert extra effort to make that happen. During one of our meetings, I foresaw a challenge they might run into and spent the evening in the hotel looking for a solution. Being a developer, it’s easy to scope your realm of influence to your product manager and next sprint’s worth of work, but when you see real people using your software, it gives the development process a whole new meaning. I feel personally invested in our customer’s success now, and that alone is worth the time and money Jama invested in me for this trip.

Bonding with a fellow employee was valuable as well. At Jama, we all have the same goal of making our product successful, and learning about how someone else makes this happen gave me a sense of unity and appreciation for what they do. When employees have visibility into the work of others, we make connections that make many aspects of our work easier.

This customer trip was an eye-opening experience, one that I’d encourage all developers to pursue. By watching real people use the software you built, not only do you get a new sense of pride and purpose when coding, but also you develop a personal connection with your users. The result is a better-built product.

Interested in joining the Jama Team? Check out our job listings.