Value beyond tech – hire psych for social site ideas/research
Most communities are by their very nature insulative and software development is no different. There is the typical rhetoric about how difficult it can be as a newcomer into the field of programming to learn from others and be accepted into the community. That’s a whole other topic that is more a sociological issue than an issue with the programming community. Which leads me to the topic at hand – finding room for sociological and psychological expertise in software development.
Asocial social experts
At the risk of perpetuating a stereotype I’ll go out on a limb and say that a large percentage of the people involved in software development are asocial. In many specialties like programming, operations, db administration and testing there is a skewed number of people who are good at their jobs but are also mildly to moderate asocial. Yet these people are often charged with designing and evaluating the effectiveness and humanity of a design or system. Is it just me or does that seem a little like the inmates running the asylum? It’s no wonder that I continually come across poor and inhuman design and constantly hear others complain about how unusable an application or website is. I concede that many companies just want to churn out “something” and don’t see the value is “designing”. For the sake of this argument let’s ignore them.
UX designers grew from shallow soil
In my experience* successful UX designers tend to be ex-front-end devs or graphic designers who bring a psychological bent to software. This applied psychology often leads to great results when someone with empathy designs a site instead of someone who is more concerned with making sure framework X is compatible with system Y. A talented UX designer understands emotion and how design appeals to and alters an emotional state. Unfortunately the standard for most systems is to understand how to alter emotional states to angry.
Go to the source
Maybe it’s a best kept secret at the most successful companies. Maybe there is a secret underground market for top psychological talent. Maybe companies just don’t value designing for the user and are more concerned with maximizing shareholder value than creating a usable and effective product for a user. Are people with psychology degrees just too expensive? Whatever the underlying cause for rarity in general software development I believe there is plenty of room and work for more applied psychology in software development. UX designers may find that learning the theory behind the design may shed light on why a certain design is successful and others fail in much the same way a programmer can benefit from computer science theory. Learning research methods and appealing to the human in human computer interaction is a win-win for companies and consumers alike.
* the usual disclaimers apply. Your mileage may vary, warranty not valid in Hawaii.