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Preventing Backend Tunnel Vision

January 17, 2014

As a backend engineer, I often feel disconnected from end users.  One thing I love about working at Trifacta is how often I get to interface with designers and discuss the impact of my work on those users. While it’s important for engineering and user experience teams to interface at every company, at Trifacta it is expected of everyone on the dev team (or the Triforce, as we call ourselves) of all experience levels.

This environment connects my code to its broader context. Any cool new features I can dream up need to be accessible for their full potential to be unleashed. Throughout the development life cycle, we bake usability into the product through constant collaboration between design and engineering.

 I see the impact of this development style every day. For example, I’ve been building a feature that will allow users to customize our product to fit their needs better. This change in particular has the potential to add unnecessary confusion to our users if we don’t communicate it well. One of my coworkers refers to a common problem with software products – when there are an overwhelming number of options shown – as “death by a million tiny buttons”. As tempting as it can be to code in as many configuration settings as I can imagine, I’ve learned that an excess of complexity can actually be detrimental to the product. I’ve definitely improved at simplifying my code, and it turns out that can be as challenging as writing it in the first place!

Watching a user study also helped me remember to avoid engineer tunnel vision and keep a fresh perspective on the whole product. It’s humbling to realize that great engineering alone can’t do it all, but also exciting to be part of a team with such different strengths. I joke to the designers that they help me step up my game when it comes to fashion (who knew there were multiple shades of black?), but they also make me a better engineer.