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Working With Programmers: 3 Tips

Part of being a leader is learning to communicate with people whose minds work very differently than yours.
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Anyone who has ever created a website knows that tweaks and changes are common. Making them happen means working with programmers.

Through trial and error--and seven years of interesting interactions--I've learned that programming is a very specific field. You need a particular kind of intelligence to develop complex code such as the one involved in e-commerce websites (i.e., shopping carts, databases, etc), and the semantics of a highly trained technical mind do not always translate well to the layman, never mind someone with a marketing or creative orientation.

Here are a few tips for dealing with talented technical minds:

1. Learn to speak their language

You may find yourself wanting to hit your head against a wall if you attempt to explain a requirement (i.e., a change) in your own words. Programmers are very precise individuals. Take the word "green," for example. You may think it describes an existing color on the website, but in reality, the word green is very ambiguous. Is it mint, chartreuse, or lime green? The same goes for descriptive words such as "put." You're going to have to get specific, and even technical. Believe me, this will save you time in the long run.

2. Contribute to the solution

The back end of a pretty website is not really that pretty. It basically looks like an extraterrestrial language full of ~, <, and :. Commands sometimes contain simple words that you might use in a sentence, but they mean an entirely different thing to a programmer. When you've been looking at code all day (I've been told), your head, heck, your mind hurts. Often, the result is that even the most skillful programmers can get stuck.

If you learn to look at the issue at a high level, and stay out of the nitty-gritty, you may be able to contribute to the solution of an issue by simply adding a different perspective.

A caveat, even for those who think they can contribute: Tread with caution. Programmers are territorial about their work and it's very easy to make them feel patronized. Which, of course, they don't like. You know that saying about how you should never anger the person who brings you your food? Well, the same goes for programmers. Times ten.

3. Allow for longer timelines

The tough thing about trying to correct a website bug is that the solution is not always a straight formula. The code that fixes one problem might also cause another. In life, stuff happens. In the programming world, it's Murphy's Law, always. Allow for the worst-case scenario timeline.

This list of grievances could be much, much longer. But the truth is that part of being a leader is understanding that in order to succeed, you need to build a team comprised of vastly different individuals. From the artistic/creative minds to the uber-technical, an e-commerce company runs the gamut when it comes to employee personalities, and the types of minds that make them tick. Challenge yourself to find new ways to problem-solve. After all, as an owner, that's why you're there.

Last updated: Oct 23, 2013

MAYRA JIMENEZ | Co-founder, Orchid Boutique

In 2007, Mayra Jimenez and her husband founded The Orchid Boutique, which specializes in designer swimwear made in their native Colombia. Today, Orchid Boutique is a multimillion-dollar business.




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