How could you work so long on a website?

As a web developer in an innovative start-up environment, I sometimes feel misunderstood. Mostly by non-tech or very conservative people but sometimes also by other developers who work in a different kind of environment. Today, I’m working as a front end developer at FLAVR, a service that connects people who are better at cooking than I am with people who like food. This is actually my fourth job not only at a startup, but also at a startup where the product or service is the core business.

Some of the questions I get all the time are like ‘How could you work on a website for such a long time?’, ‘Don’t you ever get bored doing the same stuff?’, ‘Is the project never finished?’ or my absolute favourite: ‘What do you do all day?’…

A lot of those questions are asked by people who have no clue about what I do at all. I like to refer to them as ‘the ignorant people’. Some of the questions are also asked by web developers or other tech people, who work at consultancy companies, agencies, etc… where they change projects each couple of months. As they also don’t really seem to get what my job’s about (although they think they do), I like to refer to them as ‘the ignorant tech people’.

Maybe I should stop calling people names and write a blog post about the only thing that matters here: the answer

My job is not building a website

In companies like FLAVR, Showpad, Netflix, Spotify,… your job is not building a website, it is providing a service for your customers. That service is then usually automated by a website, a mobile app, an API or even a FB messenger bot.

“But… you’re describing customer support? You’re not working at customer support, do you?”

Yeah, my job is pretty much customer support. I need to implement new features because customers (in the particular case of FLAVR: read ‘hungry people’) need them. I also need to fix bugs or make other improvements to make the lives of people easier. All of this is well described in a picture I found on the LinkedIN of Kayode Abraham.

You actually need to give a F*

Usability

Accessibility

“But these are just a smaller group of people, I don’t care about them, nobody does”

That reaction is typical for someone who does not care about his/her customers at all. Also the statement ‘nobody does’ could not be more wrong. Facebook for example has multiple people working on accessibility only. They are even building an AI to recognise what is shown on a picture to guarantee a better experience for blind Facebook users.

Performance (or as Paul Irish likes saying it: #perfMatters)

“Yeah, but I am building a service for Belgian people with an iPhone. There is 4G everywhere nowadays”

NO, there isn’t! If you’re convinced by that statement, consider visiting West-Flanders one day, you’ll be happy getting an EDGE-connection after climbing up a tree. Also, in the city center, where a lot of people use a mobile connection, it can also become pretty slow…

Scalability

“It works for five users, it will most probably also work for 1M”

Do people still believe that? Apparentely way too many people react like that. Let me whisper a secret: “IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY!”

“We will just add some more RAM when needed”

Uhm, okay (let’s just pretend that’s a solution). Who’s going to pay for that?

Desktop / mobile / watches / …

“Yeah, mobile is the future, but you can still use the site with a desktop computer. We can build a mobile version later on”

‘Mobile is the future’ is nowadays a straight up joke. There are way more people browsing the web through a mobile than a desktop device. Actually, mobile as we know it today will soon belong to the past. The internet of things has been coming up as well as bots. Don’t worry, soon there will be a better alternative than a mobile browser or app…

Browsers

“Hey, I am not an archaeologist, people can update their browser.”

Unfortunately, a lot of users are NOT able to update their own browser. It can either be due to a lack of technical skills, but also in case of company computers, there might be access restrictions.

Anyplace, anywhere, anytime

“Yeah yeah, we will translate our app later on. An easy fix afterwards”

Well, no. Languages are some kind of weird sorcery that don’t follow any mathimatical logic. It sounds like a regular thing, but translating an app/website can feel like going through hell. Orders of words can change through sentences. Some languages even have different kinds of plurals. Luckily, i18next exists, but it takes time and effort to take care of that.

Besides languages that can differ, timezones, currencies and a lot of other things can be different for each user.

SEO

The internet never sleeps

It needs to look better than Angelina Jolie

One more thing

Creating automated tests can at least give you some view about whether your project works or not. Only disadvantage is that creating those is very time consuming. Automated tests are not even the only thing you need, but I’ll talk about that one day, in another blog.

“But I tested it myself, and it works”

Yeah, but you are a limited edition. The combination of personal preferences, AB-tests, language, timezone, country, gender, weather,… makes you probably the only person who has that particular experience of the service.

Users rely on you

“Hah, my dad’s a lawyer and he designed a very beautiful Terms Of Service, that removes all my responsibilities”

That is correct, a terms of service can take away some of your responsibilities. Although, this is not about the law. It’s about attitude. You will receive your user’s faith, but only if you’re faithful as a service, as a company but also as a person.

Other people will use your code, even when you’re asleep

Features, features, features

This is just a short list of things that you need to take care of in a product minded B2C startup. There is way more than people expect. I hope with this little blog I could clarify at least a little bit why my job will always be interesting and how I could work so long on ‘the same’.

Greetz, Jakob

@dejakob

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