Jul 28 2004
There is significant difference between doing what is asked of you and doing what is needed. Srini, our system administrator, is one of those who understands that. It is very interesting to see him go about solving problems users face. Installing what people want is not the end for him. He goes that extra mile to make sure the solution suits the end-user the best.
Take the simple case of scanning legal documents. When someone approached Srini to get a scanner installed, he did just that. Anyone who has tried scanning documents or any serious number of photographs knows that it is an extremely slow and manual process. Place the document on the bed of the scanner, make sure the edges are aligned properly, carefully put the cover down [to make sure the alignment does not get messed up], start the scan [and wait forever for it to finish], view the output in the software, crop the image, save it in the right format and then email it. A complete pain in the *bleep*, especially when you have to convert large number of documents. He couldn’t bear to see them scan documents at that pathetically slow pace. So his improvisation?! You fax your document to a local extension number, which is connected to his Linux box running the hylafax server. The server receives the fax, converts it to appropriate format and emails it back. No fuss … no mess … neat huh?!
A lot of people do not appreciate the difference between doing what a user wants and doing what the user needs. Identifying such people in an interview is a challenge. One of the things I do is to ask people to write some simple programs, say a program to sort integers or something. If the developer is interested in solving the user’s problem I would expect her to find out more about the problem before jumping to get to the solution. I would like to hear questions like:
What kind of integers are these?,
How many numbers are you expecting to sort at a time? This way you could eliminate those who do just what they were asked to …. implement QuickSort.
I wonder what others do to identify such people.