Getting into IT? – Get into Usability

I’ve been tailed by a graduate this week (who’s very switched on), and in talking to him it became apparent that as part of his rotation activities he’d been sitting in on some usability testing and interviews with users.

It struck me that this sort of experience will be incredibly valuable to him in years to come as he’s forming many of his norms and opinions about the IT world right now and to start off thinking about ‘what the user needs’ is not a bad thing!  I know I was first subjected to the partisan stereotype of users before making up my own mind that the reason many projects fail is because many programmers don’t understand basic usability concepts.  I felt I needed to understand more.

Part of the problem is that all too often companies shortsightedly exploit their new and junior starters.   If you take the example of a kitchen hand in a 19th century mansion, you’d walk in through the door, and be ushered past many rooms filled with things you’re not allowed to experience – past the ladies doing embroidery, the gents in the den smoking cigars and drinking brandy.  Before you could ask any questions (some of which may be quite insightful) you’re locked in the kitchen washing dishes!

IT and programming is still mistakenly viewed as a ‘back room’ function in many places, and thankfully my current organisation has the forsight to expose new people to things that are ultimately going to make them more valuable to the company.  Learning about usability is fundamental to understanding what makes systems work well, and also being able to address those that fall short, so the earlier you start, the better.