Recently, we got some new office space for our Podio HQ. We were already almost sitting on each others’ laps (don’t think of Jimmy Saville now), so it was about time. One of the things that I don’t like about it, though, is that the product team (developers and designers) and the business team (user engagement, communications, and marketing) are now separated on two floors. So I remembered how it was in the beginning when I tried to make the first contact.
Business studies fail at many things but one of the most fundamental flaws is that most of them do not bring business and tech people together.
And if you think you don’t have to work together much with developers in a startup when you join as a marketer or on the sales side, you have a huge problem. The developer ninjas are where the shit happens. They do seriously impressive stuff. Even if it’s just an ecommerce startup, you better spend some time with the devs.
How I approached developers
This is probably not the best way but that’s how I did it in the beginning
- I ping them on skype whether they got a minute. The answer is yes? Run over to their desk – now or never!
- Sometimes I forget to ping them and just walk over. If I see either a black or white screen with lots of stuff I don’t understand I keep on walking, passing their desk and pretending I was just on my way to the kitchen for a coffee. You don’t want to interrupt their flow. If their screens don’t look like code war I just start talking.
- if they seem busy but I’m sort of eager to talk to them I just stand behind them until they acknowledge my presence…chrm…chrm
- you might feel engineers are by default grumpy, which really is not true, but they might not be in the best mood during bug fixing times. This post explains why and gives some more great insights. So unless you got the latest tech gadget as a present for your developer or your question is about life or death, consider asking it later
Ok so now you are at the point where you ask your question but here comes the next hurdle:
Communicating to a developer
This is where I learned a lot. Sometimes the hard way. And I’m still learning:
- how I can be precise
- how to communicate the bigger picture, reasons, and goals for a required action in a simple and short way
- how I can involve the developer early-on in the creative and decision process and not just push an isolated task in the end of that process
- to know what I want – or make clear I need their input first
- to make sure we both have the same understanding of what we just agreed on
- to include all information in a structured way
Oh and don’t give up only because you get a “no that’s not possible” at first – that goes for many things of course.
Go back to your desk with a big smile and pat yourself on the shoulder – you’ve just successfully established contact with a developer! Carry on, you’ll find out how amazingly nice all of them are.
Generally, don’t assume they don’t want to talk if they don’t initiate the conversation. Don’t assume they only want to talk tech stuff, or are not interested in what you’re doing. Some might really only live in their code but most of them are just people like you and me, just a little different, and that’s good:)