Why (good) software matters

Lost in day-by-day activities I recently felt I didn’t know why I was working. Don’t get me wrong, my job is about building digital products - such as websites and mobile apps - and I knew exactly what I should do. What I didn’t know was why I was doing this work in particular and not something else. So I tried to get an answer by thinking of what made me get started with this in the first place, and hoping there was more to it than simple chance.

It turns out I’ve always built things. As a kid I loved carpentry and playing with tools on a workbench. As a teenager I built websites for my hobbies. Now as an adult, I like to cook my own food, build my own furniture and sew my own clothes. Building things makes me feel good and that’s the first reason why I have this job. The remaining question was then why, out of all things, was I building websites and mobile apps. I think the answer is part chance and part choice.

When I was born (some) kids had easy access to computers and not so easy access to the tools of other crafts. Furthermore, computers with internet meant we could easily learn more about them. That's why I learned how to code and put pixels together, but never learned much about woodworking.

If I got started by chance, I definitely stayed by choice. I used to think it wouldn’t be fair to make this hobby my job, because it came so naturally to me that it didn’t feel like real work. After a couple of small detours, however, I made peace with myself and took the conscious decision to go do what I really liked. I started build things for a living, using the tools I already knew.

Today I keep building all kinds of things but I remain mostly interested in software. There’s no other thing you can build that’s as easy to give to other people. If what you pass around is good, people will use it. And as people use more software products, more and more of our daily things are recorded in digital devices. In order words, the record of our whole society is going from paper and spoken word into bits. Everything is becoming searchable, shareable and nothing can be effectively hidden. The truth is getting harder to violate. Software is making our society more transparent and fair.

This kind of impact can’t, however, be credited to all kinds of digital products. It’s a condition that the software is actually used by people, which means it should be built with the explicit purpose of serving well those who are going to use it. A process of designing products with such purpose in mind is usually called user-centric. It basically means software follows the User - with his or her personality, life circumstances, expectations and needs - and never the opposite.

Turns out my job is not about building products after all. It’s about getting to know real people.