My very first own software app development – 80’s style
Years ago, back in the day, I worked for a brewery in the East Midlands. After a brief stint in the ops department I’d been promoted to the software development team and the IT Director, delighted with the work I’d done in designing the new EPOS system, rewarded me with my first, very own software app development project.
The Marketing Director needed an appraisal system for the estate employees and it was my job to design, code, test and deliver said system. I was thrilled but at the same time a little apprehensive, I’d had a couple of run-ins with the Marketing Director and knew he wasn’t my biggest fan.
He had a very annoying habit of calling me to his office and after our discussion, as I was heading to the door, he’d call out to me to tell me I was a ‘good girl’. I was an independent, single, professional young woman in my early twenties doing my best to raise my young son and at the same time carve out a career for myself. But I didn’t suffer fools gladly and couldn’t resist giving as good as I got. So it wasn’t long before he was walking away from my desk in an open office when I called out his name, and when he turned briefly to see what I wanted, I told him he was a ‘very good boy’. It wasn’t received well. Furthermore he’d commissioned a series of TV advertisements and had asked for open and honest appraisals. He specifically sought my view and so I gave it him as politely as I could; that they were sexist and gratuitous and with a growing number of women beer drinkers he was at risk of alienating a segment of his market. I very quickly learnt that when people ask for earnest and honest opinions, they rarely mean it.
Even so, this was my chance to shine, my very own software app development project, so I was determined to do a good job and not let the poor relationship I had with my key Stakeholder influence my work. It could even re-endear me to him, I hopefully, if naively thought.
I researched and documented the requirements fully, created the design following SSADM methodology (popular in the 1980s) and carefully coded the system making sure my logic was structured and had the necessary comments for ease of future supportability.
After a few weeks it was time to load my new appraisal system with test data, ensure the system met all requirements and was bug free. Now many software developers hate testing their own work and these days there are excellent professional testers who can come in and very quickly and independently write and execute software test scripts. There are even software test tools that can be configured to automate testing for you. But this was back in the 80’s and we software developers were equipped with the self-discipline to QA our own work before handing over to the users to test. Furthermore this was a small system, designed and built by a single developer so it was down to me to test.
Now I’ve never been stuck for creativity when it comes to ideas for software systems or how they should look and feel. But thinking up names for test data has always had me scratching my head, test data and super strong passwords too. So I took inspiration from my favourite TV show of the time, Red Dwarf, and used variations of the main character names as the basis of my test data.
I took the time to diligently test the system and fix any issues I found, practically bursting with pride at how well it had all come together and imaging how it would be used once deployed. Once my work was done I happily handed it over to the marketing team to test and provide their feedback, and went off to the pub to celebrate my first own software app creation. (Yes, we software developers went to the pub a lot in the 80s)
My celebrations were cut short when I got back to work. The IT Director’s office was directly across from my desk and I could see him and the Marketing Director having a very heated discussion with pointed fingers being jabbed over in my direction. I was genuinely confused. I knew I’d done a good job. The app was exactly what he’d asked for, looked great and worked too, always a bonus! As soon as a very red faced Marketing Director stomped out of the department I was called in to speak to my boss, Paul.
I asked what on earth could be wrong the appraisal app, could there really be a problem with the design or quality? Paul assured me there was nothing wrong with the design or build, it was just what had been asked for and worked a treat. But there was a problem. He told me the Marketing Director was convinced I was casting aspersions on his sexual orientation and accusing him of sexual deprivation with lewd and obscene test data. Paul had spent the last hour trying to convince him otherwise. ‘Think about it Helen’ he said, ‘I’m a fan of Red Dwarf too, but it’s only in the last hour I’ve associated the meaning with the character name.’ I sat there and mentally flicked through the names; Lister, Holly, Kryten, Cat, Rimmer…. The penny finally dropped! Oops!
There’s been many great and successful software apps over the years since that I’ve been proud to put my name to, but like cars and lovers, you always remember your first. The main lesson I learnt from my first was the importance of having a good relationship with your Stakeholders and taking care not to cause upset or offence, even inadvertently.
I believe that every business has an app just dying to burst out of it. If you need help in your organisation to identify just what that app might be, call me on +44 (0) 7972 152548 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.