Blog Barista: Beth Gier | Oct 8, 2018 | Workplace | Brew time: 4 min

I studied literature and marketing in college. I never expected to end up in the technology sector, but here I am. In my senior year of college, as I braced myself for the world after school—presumably a life in a business field—I prepared for a career in which people are secondary to profit. Priorities are placed on ROI, maximizing output, and whatever other business buzzword jargon you can insert here.

I’m not saying that we should ignore profit, but I was fully expecting to regularly face scenarios in which, given the choice between a solution that would make more money or a solution that would be better for the customer but ultimately cheaper, I would be expected to always choose the solution that makes the most money, regardless of downstream impact on the people that we’re serving. Within a technology based industry there is the added complication of the desire to adopt the most bleeding edge technologies which means, sometimes, even sacrificing a piece of code or solution that may be less cool, but still does its job. But, at the core of both profit and technology should be the person, the customer, or the client—the people who are affected by the product you make. I was reminded of this at the latest Medicaid Enterprise Systems Conference (MESC) when Medicaid members shared their personal and emotional stories.

It is easy to forget about the humanity that should be present in every industry (the concern and care for the people one effects by doing one’s job). Perhaps, this forgetfulness is the reason that emotional intelligence has become a talking point in the circles of business theories such as LinkedIn or TED Talks. It may not always be possible to have direct, passionate exchanges with the people that use your product or whom you work for. Below are three thoughts to consider in order to remain emotionally connected to your work, specifically in a technological environment.

1. Clients are People Too

Customers and clients alike can become abstractions if you do not take the time to think about things from their point of view. They can quickly become an entity that is only thought of as a contract or dollar signs that help keep food on the table. When you get to this point, it’s important to pause and take a step back. Put yourself in the place of the client.

If a client or customer reacts with anger, it’s usually a reasonable reaction to a company forgetting that the goal of a product is to make the client’s life easier or fulfill a need. Instead of disregarding outbursts of anger or frustration, examine how you would feel in the same situation and use the results of that contemplation to do better in the next iteration of development.

2. Technical Debt vs. Emotional Debt

Everyone wants to differentiate themselves from run-of-the-mill performers, and companies may try to do this by being early adopters of a promising technology or code language. But before integrating that technology, think about whether it helps promote your client’s cause and fills a need, or if it’s simply incorporating a shiny new toy for the sake of it.

If the new technology—code base, library, framework, whatever—offers benefits and will make your client’s jobs, life, etc. easier or better, then, by all means, continue the implementation. If the technology could introduce more turmoil and frustration than tangible benefits and it is not absolutely necessary to update in order to continue work, then it is worth it to reconsider the implementation and continue to produce solid work with the tools at hand.

3. Be Self-Aware — No One is Perfect

There will be times in which people, clients and colleagues alike, are going to criticize you or point out flaws in your product. Your natural reaction may be to defend yourself but absorbing and using those criticisms can be key to improving your relationship with people and improving the quality of your work. Feedback—both the positive and the negative—is invaluable to the process of continuous improvement, and part of remaining human at work is not only thinking about how other people will feel, but also about understanding your own emotions and channeling them for the better.

The Guiding Principle

This post isn’t an admonishment of money-minded people or businesses that focus for a healthy bottom line or software engineers who pride themselves for being one step ahead in technology. Rather, this is a simple reminder that, in concert with those things, people should always remember to consider the human element in their work.

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