Developers + Business Stakeholders = Culture Shock
No matter what path brings them to a company’s doorstep, many developers experience a shock when they have to work with project managers, business analysts and other stakeholders to produce software that solves business problems. It’s a long way from creating home baked projects on your laptop at home, or writing contrived code samples for your CompSci classes.
When a junior developer or even a mid- or senior-level developer who has been sheltered (think some types of government work) receives detailed requirements for code projects after a separate – outside of development – requirements-gathering process has taken place, it isn’t hard to see how they could feel like a fish out of water.
A Developer’s First Steps at Their New Employer
My advice to these developers is to learn the business, and fast.
Building Better Solutions to Company Problems
Companies (especially small to mid sized with limited resources) want developers who understand their company’s business models, goals, sector and processes—and the developers that do so have a distinct advantage.
I have never worked for a company where I had meticulous requirements all laid out for me in tickets. Developers, at times, have to wear many hats. You aren’t just developing code. You are building solutions to business problems and there is a LOT of creative, fill-in-the-blanks sort of thinking going on.
Developers who understand the business are better able to propose and craft the most efficient solutions to the company’s problems. Companies place high value on their bottom line. That’s how they make their money, and you can wow your employer by delivering a solution quickly and efficiently—and ultimately increasing your own bottom line (hopefully).
Learn the Company Lingo
Analysts and others who define requirements for technical solutions appreciate a developer who can speak their language. It’s the perfect marriage of business and technology when you see a good Business Analyst-Developer pair in action. The faster solutions are crafted and delivered, the better the outcome for the individual, the team and the company overall. If you want to level up your technology career, then you need to fit into the business side.
So for those of you saying, “That’s all well and good, but how can I know what I don’t know?”
For one thing, you can never do too much reading. These days, I am mostly relegated to reading articles from the comfort of my cellphone. I never stop, because those who have the most knowledge never stop reading. Pick up a book or an industry magazine, or hit up Google. You might be surprised at what you learn about your industry or company.
It’s OK To Look Clueless
Of course, every company does things differently, and you will want to start by flashing some of your new knowledge to your director, supervisor or manager, rather than at an all-staff meeting. Your manager can expose you to some company-specific knowledge if you happen to stick your foot in your mouth with mix ups or incorrect terminology.
You can also practice by talking to your family, or some friends who might let you down easy if you sound ridiculous at first. The point is to start with a non-intimidating audience to flex some industry-knowledge muscle, and help it sink into your head.
Learning Opportunities — Don’t Miss Out
Let your manager know you are interested in learning more about your company and the realm of their business. You could gain some (company sponsored) learning opportunities, or you may get to go to some additional meetings.
Go to them. Take notes. The investment is worthwhile. Every time I do this, managers have been impressed. Be honest about your level of knowledge. There can be a big change in perspective when somebody hears you say, “I don’t know very much about this subject; how can I learn more about it?”
Finally, if you’re the academic type, a community college class can be a good route to take to gain some basic business knowledge.
Find the Problems Your Company Faces
The more people you talk to, the more likely you are to discover some problems that companies commonly face in your industry. This should give you something to brainstorm about, and you could perhaps work your ideas into your project at work, or even a side project. Use that analytical side of your brain that all good developers are strong in to connect dots and see patterns.
No matter which route you take — and the routes can be long — I am sure your manager will appreciate your sincere effort, and that effort will pay dividends when you actually have a strong knowledge of the business that you can incorporate into your development career.