Technology teams deserve good UX, too

'You don't want people at your company to reach the wrong conclusions just because their monitoring tools made them confused.'
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

User experience (UX) is the hot topic these days, and there has been plenty of discussion about making customers or other end-users of software as happy as possible. Often overlooked, however, is the UX that technology staff members are receiving -- which often leaves something to be desired. After all, technology types don't need to apply UX to themselves, right?

Photo: Joe McKendrick

This was the gist of a talk given by Amy Nguyen, infrastructure engineer with Stripe, who points out that "the fastest way to become a 10X engineer [one who is 10 times more productive than other engineers] is by enabling 10 other engineers to do their jobs better," she points out. It's important, then to focus on empowering technology teams to "use the tools we develop correctly, quickly, and independently. Yet we often fall short of that mission in unexpected ways," she says.

Nguyen, who designs and maintains monitoring tools for her company's technology teams, says it's just as important to make the tools used by tech teams easy and intuitive to use as a consumer-facing applications. The goal is to "prevent misunderstandings. Not everyone is -- or should have to be -- an expert at interpreting monitoring data," she relates. "Unless you literally work at a monitoring company, not everyone at your company should know about how to use a monitoring in time-series data. Designers, developers and SEO experts need to track the performance and output of their work, but "don't need to know about time-series data to do their jobs," she says. "It's really easy to misinterpret this data, because it's complicated. You don't want people at your company to reach the wrong conclusions just because the tool made them confused."

Nguyen makes the following recommendations for delivering superior UX to technical staff:

Don't overload people with too much information. "Think about when you're overloading people with too much information, versus someone you can kind of just let them figure it out on their own." For example, Nguyen suggests not blasting out email alerts for every threshold that may be passed in a system performance metrics utility. Providing an aggregated view of trend data may deliver the information that is needed.

Make it hard to do the wrong thing. There may be instances in which users may want to just react to the last data point delivered on system performance, versus looking at overall averages, Nguyen illustrates. In this instance, she reports they kept that option, but "hid that option in the drop-down menu, because no one clicks on drop-down menus," she quips.

Make it easy to try things without fear. "People are afraid and anxious when they use your tool, because maybe it's their first time using a monitoring tool. Maybe they didn't use that in their old job. They don't know how your system works. They are already confused." Nguyen's words of advice here: don't mess with the URL address line, back buttons, or other native browser features.

Accessibility is for everyone. The kinds of improvements added into interfaces to help people with disabilities are actually helpful for everyone using the system, Nguyen points out. "When you think about the kinds of improvements you could make in for the sake of accessibility, almost everybody wants those improvements as well," she states. Color contrast is an important feature, for example. "We are all people who look at computers all the time. We're all dealing with eyestrain. Why make it harder for people to read things? If you think about the person who maybe doesn't have the greatest vision, and you just make your text there your foreground and background contrast more, that's helping everyone. If you're waking up in the middle of the night, you're already squinting at your screen. Why make it harder?"

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