The Secret Things Developers Talk About At Night


I recently had a former colleague of mine, Dylan, over for dinner. My wife enjoys company but she made me promise that we wouldn't talk about work all night. However, I was excited about the way we have been building software at PathFive and I wanted to test some ideas on Dylan (I've also been the odd man out with her co-workers so I figured she would have to forgive me).

As we were chatting before dinner I threw the following scenario at Dylan:

“Last week, a local government partner of ours emailed me and asked if we could change our software to display time in a 12-hour format instead of a 24-hour format. They want to see 1:00 pm instead of 13:00.”

Our software platform is cloud-hosted and supports many clients. This means that if one client wants things to work differently than everybody else we need to add client-specific settings.

“That’s easy, you put in a configuration option that lets each client pick the time format,” Dylan proposed as we waited for the carrots to finish cooking. That was my first thought as well. But, that’s not what we did.

Instead, we posted a question to our community of municipal partners asking everyone how they wanted to format time. The clients hashed it out and came to the unanimous conclusion that a 12-hour clock is definitely the way to go. No configuration required. It turns out everybody wanted the same format.

I quickly made the change and pushed it out to our production environment. From the time the request came in, to the time it was live on production, was about three days.

Community Power

I threw this little case study at Dylan because I knew where he works software developers rarely talk to customers directly. This little example highlights one of our secret weapons at PathFive, which is our relationship with our clients. The time format was just a tiny change, but the philosophy behind it has a big impact. Several things happened:

  • The software ended up simpler -- no unnecessary complexity with extra configuration

  • We gave our community an opportunity to come together and voice their opinion

  • I had to do less work – who can complain about that

At PathFive, this is how we do things. The people building the software talk to the people using it. Our community has helped us design user interfaces, prioritize features and work through more complicated challenges like implementing accounting principals. We work together with our partnering municipalities and school divisions to build great software.

What do you think? Drop me a line with your thoughts and opinions.

Adam Bell is a full-stack developer with PathFive and has close to 20 years of software development experience.