September Writing Challenge, Post 22: The Customer Is Always Right

If you read yesterday’s post, the title of today’s might seem odd.

If you are designing or writing software for someone other than yourself, you are ethically bound to give your client or employer your best advice on how to meet the project’s goals. (Being persuasive in this is one of the big reasons you should cultivate your communication skills.) Whoever is paying for your skills will then take your advice, or they will not. It could go either way, for reasons that are largely out of your hands.

Whichever way that goes, you are then ethically bound to do it the way the customer wants. Their project, their money. Sometimes, that means implementing things – often user experiences, but sometimes deeper technical details – in a way you know to be somewhere on the scale from “suboptimal” to “imbecilic”. Sometimes, deliberately delivering less than the best possible product* at someone else’s request can fall on an emotional scale from “mildly annoying” to “soul-eroding”.

If that’s too much for you, you could go and make your own product. If you don’t have the savings cushion to take that leap, you could work on a side project on your own time – that can be a real sanity-saver (and a great way to sharpen your skills). And when all else fails, learn this mantra: “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” However you do it, it can be valuable to learn to distance yourself emotionally from work that does not belong to you, when the need arises. Software and business are both complex endeavors, and their intersection will always involve compromise.

Give your customer your best advice, then build the very best version of the thing they are paying for, and know that at the end they are getting what they asked for and deserve the results, for good or ill.

And, of course, make sure that best advice you gave earlier in the project is documented somewhere, with your name attached. Couldn’t hurt.

* If you’re working on medical devices or air traffic control software, and someone could end up maimed or dead, the advice in this post is less applicable. Buck up and push your case harder, in that event.

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