It’s not an unusual question to be asked when meeting someone at a party or in an elevator, “So, what do you do?”
I most often just generalize it to “I work at a software company.” That usually satiates (or scares off) the asker and we move on.
On the rare occasion I’ll get some probing questions, like “oh, really, what do you do there?” or “what is your tech stack?” or my favorite: “Is it something that I might be using?”
It’s these follow-ons that have led me to think about that question a little more. Yes, I work at a software company, but any number of people can have that answer. It may be too much sharing for the elevator lady, but I think it’s important to really embrace what you do FOR that software company.
So now my answer is, “I make software.”
I’m a firm believer that everyone at a software company makes software. I realize that may make some people uncomfortable, or may even be offensive to some, but I believe it to be true and this is why.
It has been a number of years since I’ve done any meaningful coding, written a unit test or made a commit to a repo, but the act of coding isn’t the only part of making software. It certainly is a very important part of it I will fully admit, and it takes great skill to do it well for sure. However there are a number of inputs that go into making a valuable software experience for our customers. The reality is that the software engineering side is pretty close to the final step.
So it is at Dwolla where everyone, from engineering to human resources, supports the final mission: making software.
To illustrate, the product team at Dwolla starts the development process by asking our customers what we should build next. What features would get them excited about building on our API? How can we save them time and money? What do they need from us to help them become successful in their business right now? These questions really only give us the “what” and “why,” though. The hard part is taking that information and turning it into something that people want (and will buy).
Once we have a good idea of the “what,” the real collaboration starts to happen. Yes, we have a classic agile product team—product manager, UX, delivery manager and some engineers—but if only those people touched the product we would be leaving a fair amount of experience on the table. As a leading fintech company we have a greater responsibility to our customers (and their users) to ensure what we do with their data and how we do it is done right. This is why we have lawyers and risk and compliance stakeholders as part of our program. They bring yet a different set of experiences to the team. These are not gates, or approvals, but rather inputs and ideas on the “how” from their specific perspectives and competencies we should move forward. All of these stakeholders are considered part of the product team.
Ok, ready to ship?
Nope, not yet. We also talk to our sales team, our customer success team, and our colleagues in marketing. This is certainly not a “build by committee” strategy. This is a reinforcing of the “why” of what we want to build next through the lens of these disciplines, which gives us a better understanding of the full picture and provides diversity of thought that makes the probability of success considerably higher.
In fact, the service Dwolla provides our customers behaves under this principle. Our customers are varied and diverse, they do everything from sell shoes to improve personal finance. Moving money is an essential part of their business and they have determined that Dwolla’s API is the right tool for some or all of their transactions. In that way, we become a supporter of their final product or service. I tell people in the elevator that I make software but I could just as easily say “I help people save for vacation and help couriers get paid and help boat owners rent their boats” because, ultimately, it’s true.
We involve this entire team of software makers in nearly every aspect of the discovery, build and iteration processes. From design ideas to customer feedback, this expanded product team contributes and iterates with us so that what we call our best is ready for our customers. At Dwolla we are all software makers, and we are never done.