Who develops the software you use?
Well, it used to be me. I developed much of Snagit in the 1990’s and was the lead developer for the initial Camtasia product. Somewhere along the way life happened and I moved on from software development to growing our development staff, now serving as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at TechSmith. I am happy with the software I developed and how it lives on, but I am even more satisfied with growing the people who are developing the software you use. They are better than me and incredibly diverse. I would like to share a bit about what makes them tick.
What makes them tick?
Software developers are not simply “nerds” like the classic stereotype, socially awkward with a computer for a brain. Developing software is a delightful combination of engineering and creativity, both a science and an art. By art I mean artisan/craft and true art; it is beautiful to look at, feel, and use. Developers are not alone, as they collaborate constantly with a variety of people in other roles and specialties. Developing commercial software these days requires many things from the team: everyone must understand social networks, be creative, and be able to put on their entrepreneurial/startup hat.
Developing commercial software is hard and getting harder all the time. Way back when I started, it was enough just to have software do something useful some of the time. Then it had to do something useful most of the time. Next it had to be usable, as though people would actually use it without pulling their hair out. Today it has to be all of those things, plus: pretty, animated, and ‘feel good’. Software now has to entertain and motivate, entice and incentivize, and satisfy social needs. I’m not sure what’s next…perhaps it will need to fill emotional and spiritual needs?
So why are developers doing what they do?
There are the usual engineering reasons such as solving tough problems and making things people use. But they are also motivated by having a purpose, making really elegant things, and making our lives better. They have an insatiable appetite for learning new technology and finding new methods of working together. We sometimes find great developers who took a wrong turn somewhere and are stuck using old technology to solve the same old problems. We rescue them from that slow death when we can. And then there is always money…Developers appreciate the financial reward because they often have growing families to support, but that is not typically why they are in this game. They would develop software even if not getting paid, they just have to do it because this passion is in them and has to come out. So money is “necessary but not sufficient”.
How do we find people who do software development, or do they find us?
Many of our hires are new Computer Science grads looking for a home and place to grow. New or experienced, all developers want a place where they are constantly learning and always challenged. They want the freedom to create. They don’t want to be given a specification and told to “build this”. We have to give them the context and high level problems to solve, then get out of their way and let the magic happen. In our case, they also have to be agreeable to living in Michigan, where brains are kept sharp by bitter cold and constant hardship. This is, of course, compared to the south where brains are turned into complacent mush by constant beautiful warmth! So we look for developers that are smart, super passionate, have a breadth of experience in technology and life, believe in what we doing, and for some reason put up with cold weather.
I hope you enjoyed my take on who developers are and what makes them go. They are the smartest, most creative and collaborative people I know. I can’t help but end with a call to parents. If your kids like to take things apart, understand how they work, hack together new crazy things, and solve puzzles, think about steering them to engineering. Of course we think software engineering is the sweet spot, the world needs great software developers and we need them at TechSmith for a long time to come!