by Bob Berry

How to guide your coding and your coding career with real users, in the real world

How many of them will use the code you write? How well do you know their skills, preferences, behaviors, pains, and aspirations? How well do you know what happens when they try to use whatever widget or program or system you’re coding?

Experience drives everything. It’s the basis of our reality. It’s all we know. It’s at the center of every aspect of our conscious existence.

Answer this: Have you ever observed closely the exact interactions of your users with the system you’re coding, as they are using it? Do you know how to systematically assess the success rates of real people with your code and systematically apply those insights to your craft?

If not, you are missing or avoiding the one phenomenon that defines your professional existence.

Expanding your understanding of the user’s experience makes all your coding efforts more effective, more relevant, and more caring.

If you’re considering becoming a coder, if you’ve started your coding education, if you’re already a beginning programmer, or if you’re a well-paid software developer — do you know whom you serve or will serve? It’s not your boss or your company, or even your client. Are you aware of who really pays your salary?

I’m a principal user experience researcher with 25 years of user engagement experience across the planet. I currently conduct in-depth research initiatives for Apple, Google, Facebook, FedEx, Amazon, and Cisco. Over the last few decades, I’ve run thousands of user experience research sessions for those companies, as well as for HP, GE, eBay, PayPal, Citi, Microsoft, Canon, and Honeywell.

I have a passion for the lives, jobs, challenges, and personal stories of the millions of real people in the real world using our digital creations real-time.

What’s your interest in those human elements? Do you understand the full picture of where your development efforts show up in the wide world?

All coding must serve real people and actual users. If you’re learning to code or have recently started a new coding gig, now is the time to learn where those real, breathing, clicking humans show up in your programming projects, jobs, and contracts. Whoever they are, wherever they are, figure out how to find them and listen to them, watch them, question them, appreciate them.

Oh, the humanity!

To succeed as a coder or programmer, and to win the paying work you seek in this profession, you must demonstrate not only an understanding of who you serve, but you must also show how’ll you connect with them to ensure you’re serving them well. If you’re coding on the back-end or developing APIs, though you’re removed from the more relevant human interactions, knowing your end-users is no less valuable.

And if you’re on the front end, what you create will directly impact the experiences, jobs, and lives of real user-people. Learn how your coding creations will touch their lives, learn what they are trying to accomplish, and learn ways to assess the interactive experiences you’re putting out in the world.

Know your users and how to connect with them, and you’ll enhance all aspects your coding life

For the users you serve, you will accomplish the following things.

Craft a better reality

Experience is everything. Far beyond the user interface and how people use tech, all that happens in our reality moment to moment is experience.

Various philosophies claim that there is in fact is nothing else we can know or claim about the minds and the lives we inhabit other than the continual unfolding of subjective experience. Nothing that exists, to our knowledge, can exist outside that.

Think about that for a moment in the context of the work you do. You can actually enhance the quality of someone’s reality. Or you can make it more frustrating and waste their time.

What will you chose? How will you know what to choose if you don’t know who they are and the reality and experience they inhabit (and seek)?

Be more useful to the real world

Your reason for existing as a developer or programmer is to design, create, test, deploy, and maintain systems that perform useful functions.

When you learn and incorporate the ultimate purpose of those systems — which is almost always user-centric — you’ll produce a better result. And what better goal could you have?

For your own personal benefit and satisfaction, you will:

Enjoy your work a lot more by knowing exactly how it helps others Everyone needs a sense of purpose. We don’t live and work in a vacuum.

While your coding work may or may not represent a ‘higher calling’ for you, your life and your work will contain more joy and satisfaction if you know you’re doing something meaningful for real people, in the real world.

Do this. Find your users, put them in front of your stuff, and watch them go. Then, get better.

Get out of your coding bubble and poke your head up once in a while Programmers, developers, and coders choose their work based on their personal inclinations. They choose not to go into marketing and sales for a reason. They may be talented but introverted, thorough but shy, kind but often reserved.

You probably exhibit some of those traits. It’s easy to settle in behind your computer screen or into your cubicle and get comfortable away from the noise and stress and social demands of the wider world.

I used to be that way.

I was as awkward and withdrawn as they come. But once I learned to interact with users, it not only changed my professional world, it transformed my life.

Why? How?

Because I could go to those users with a specific set of questions, with a script and a clear agenda. I didn’t have to be spontaneous and chatty. I had a plan. I planned precisely the in-depth conversations I wanted to have with them. And quickly I got out of my shell, out from behind the virtual glass I was hiding behind, and learned how to be in the world.

For your job, further your career and help your colleagues

Advance your career, ensure your employability, protect your income

User experience has moved to the forefront for all companies, not just in high tech. Companies now provide interactive systems of all kinds: software, apps, websites, intranets, social media, e-commerce, and every other virtual interface under the sun.

All those systems touch or serve people in some way. By knowing who those people are, how they use your creations, and what impact those needs have on your job — and being able to reflect that in your work — you’ll enhance your hireability for new jobs and your credibility in any existing job.

Become a leader, mentor, guide, and model for other coders that come after you

New coders are entering the workforce by the thousands. You probably had teachers, mentors, bosses, colleagues, and associates that helped bring you along when you started — or who provide that for you now as you get up to speed.

Modeling mastery of the user experience for your colleagues will help you ‘pay it forward’ and return the favor. All new programmers need to learn about the power and necessity of superb user interactions. As you become more seasoned, step forward and provide that.

She pays your salary and funds your industry. Serve her well.

For yourself, benefit your art and your profession

Always get better at what you do

The tech industry moves fast. The roadside is littered with obsolete companies, technologies, devices, user interfaces, and all the people associated with them.

Consider what the iPhone did to the Blackberry, or what Facebook did to MySpace, or what the ATM did to bank tellers. That list of what better user experience ‘did to’ entire companies is endless and continues to grow.

Don’t become the victim of a ‘did to’ — learn who is using your stuff, figure out how to listen to them, and get in front of the wave of change.

Enhance your own credibility

If users and the user experience drive virtually all interactive systems and virtually any possible coding effort, your ability to understand user experience dynamics and design approaches is central to both your technical skill and professional credibility.

Appear clueless and you’ll pay the price.

Demonstrate authority and you’ll reap the rewards.

Advance the state of your art, whatever it is

New interfaces emerge all the time, and key features of existing user models change constantly. Users and their demands for what’s easier, faster, more intuitive, and more engaging drive virtually all of those innovations.

Do you want be out in front of that, or let it drag you along? You can contribute to the future by understanding how users interact with what you create. Or you can fall behind the rapid rate of change happening all around you.

For humanity, you must do the following

Do your part to humanize the art of programming

The world of software and technology can be a cold, unfeeling place. AI may someday learn compassion and humor, but for now it’s soulless.

Typical reaction to poor user experience.

In your coding, you can contribute to that chill with the language you use, the way you design task flows, how you lay out interfaces, and the overall presentation of your systems. Or you can learn about humans and human factors and what it means to make an app or an interface inviting and useful.

We’re all human here. Let’s not let the tech run the show.

You not only create user experiences, you constantly use them yourself in your personal and professional endeavors. You’re a user too. You know what a good interface looks and feels like, you use them all the time. You know what a bad user experience feels like, you struggle with them all the time.

Make a choice for your own integrity and authority, and make a choice for the delight and satisfaction of the end users you serve.

To learn more about how to find your users and connect with them, get my free 57 Ways to Master Your Target Audience ebook and get in touch with the real world.

For all the reasons above — and for your own professional satisfaction — your programming and coding perspectives will expand to fill the promise of the career you’ve chosen.

Additional paths to user mastery: