Empathy Made Me a Better Software Engineer

Empathy leads to Better Software

I build software, but actually, I build tools for effective communication, so I spend a lot of my time thinking about how we interact and communicate with each other.

I ask a lot of questions. It’s the only way I know to build a great product.

Through questions, I build understanding. It’s now second nature.

Thanks to my employer, 1904labs, I’m indoctrinated in the way of Stephen Covey. One of the habits we espouse is “Seek First to Understand Then to be Understood

It wasn’t always this way.

I entered college with the arrogance of a 18 year old thinking I knew everything. I actually entered with the intention of not finishing. I was going to drop out and build my software business. I thought college was overpriced and useless in a world where I could learn programming from Google. This was 2002 and while my thinking may now seem prescient, it was really just naiveté.

In my college dorm I would think up cool features for my website and spend all night coding them. I had dreams of launching my product to great fanfare and applause, much like how Steve Jobs launched the Macintosh. Eventually I did launch and even got a write up in my student paper.

When the story broke, I expected my AIM chat box to be overwhelmed with messages of how great my product was. I thought I’d become a local celebrity much like Mark Zuckerberg of the recently launched site, thefacebook.com.

Want to know what happened?

Nothing. No AIM messages. No celebrity status. No one cared.

What did I miss?

It took a little over 15 years to find the answer.

The answer was empathy. I had none. All I did while building my website was think about how it was going to help me. I never once thought about my users.

As a consultant at 1904labs, I think about how to be more empathetic everyday. More empathetic to my clients, my team and the future users of the product I’m building.

While I focus on software, it’s easy to see how the world as a whole would be better if we all had more empathy towards each other.

I truly believe empathy is going to be the biggest driver of growth in this century. In a world of abundance the differentiating factor will be who cares more.



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Niarcas Jeffrey

Niarcas Jeffrey

I write about managing software teams and building software products through human-centered and agile processes.