And Now for Something Completely Different

In November I took over the account management of one of our clients on campus.  I say clients somewhat hesitantly, as our department has a cost recovery model in which we bill other departments for work.  Not everyone on campus operates this way, so we have a very interesting ecosystem.  But I digress.

I haven’t set aside my other responsibilities, but am instead adjusting the load to account for these changes.  And what I’m finding is moments of insight while traversing the maelstrom of my new and old responsibilities.

Lesson #1 – Clients are Demanding

While this may sound terrible, it is actually great.  Imagine if Mozart’s father hadn’t been demanding?  Without the external pressure to deliver, complacency is just around the corner.

I used to work for a small insurance agency, and one of my friend’s father was a very demanding client.  He would have all kinds of wild requests that seemed technically unfeasible.  Many people bemoaned his demands, but without him our company’s sales would have flattened.

He demanded that we all go to the moon, and our job was to help him build the spaceship.  Oh wait, that’s John F. Kennedy.

Lesson #2 – Clients Are Wrong

…then again so am I. A client understands their problem space, but may not understand the best steps towards the appropriate solution.  With an external lense, which my team can provide, we provide a different perspective on the problem.

There is a lot of potential for misunderstanding, as both sides are crucial for delivering the solution that will be an amalgam of all those involved.

And I know this can be frustrating.  Developers are notoriously cynical and often full of hubris.  I know I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking I know something as well as a client – or even better than them.  When in reality they have an abundance of nuanced knowledge that is never immediately obvious.

So if I think someone is wrong, I need to listen again, because they are saying something that is very likely right, but maybe they are not saying it in a way that I’m expecting to hear it.

Lesson #3 – Clients Want Regular Updates

And this is a good thing, it keeps us accountable for delivering their solution. I’ve found that transparent conversations are both appreciated and truly build a team. And, as an added benefit, our regular updates can help others be accountable for their part.

And this all boils down to practicing basic communication.  Yes people will be upset if their site isn’t done on time but it is better to find out about an issue early. Then the entire team, which has built trust (see Lesson #2), can rally and address those issues.  The resulting conversations may not be pleasant, but it’s better than the conversation you may have had later down the road.

Lesson #4 – I’ve Only Got One Head

And it’s really hard to wear more than one hat.  I’m working really hard to serve the needs of our client, but this is coming at a cost.  I’m not able to wear my developer hat as often as I used to – it’s a comfortable old hat that I’ve grown quite fond of.

I’m not the best developer, though I think I’m pretty good.  I’ve learned many of the lessons that I’d like to have learned, but I see other lessons to be learned that have nothing to do with machine compiled code, and I look forward to incorporating that into my personal and professional development.




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