Three ways to apply empathy in technology

1. Empathy for our users

There are tons of books, techniques and fancy concepts which final goal is the same: Create empathy with final users. Over the last years, designing and creating technology from quantitive data has been an increasing need. And it makes sense, but even when data helps a lot to make less risky decisions, the right ones usually come from looking closer to who our final users are. Not just in terms of demographics, but by seeing them as what they are, people with a myriad of emotions, needs, and motivations.

We need to be responsible with our users, and part of that responsibility is doing our best to feel their struggles and understand what they really need, which is not always what they or our stakeholders ask for.

2. Empathy for our teams and industry

I work outside Silicon Valley, my passport doesn’t help me to be closer to that place, and that makes me feel sad, not just for me, but because I know I’m not the only one in that position. Recently I read in a tweet “Talent is spread evenly across the world, opportunities aren’t,” and that’s so true. Many other industries use primary resources like mineral as the bedrock for their economy, technology’s primary resource is talent, and so much of this is wasted because the system doesn’t provide enough opportunities.

The challenge to do our industry more evenly must be everybody’s responsibility.

Some time ago I had the opportunity to be part of a small team who got a certain level of independence in the way we wanted to work. It’s was an interesting challenge considering that it rarely happens in companies where most of the decisions are made abroad (USA). We lacked experience and knowhow, but we try to apply a simple idea “Whatever you do, just take in count the outputs of your work are always somebody else’s inputs.” It was simple but powerful, because it allowed us to outline a workflow where the different areas of the development process were working really close to each other, designers learning from developers really quick, developers raising their hands more often to contribute to making design decisions, testers doing pairing sessions with developers and a lot of more exciting stuff. Then, it wasn’t rare that some people started to move across areas because they discovered new environments where they felt happier and were more skillful, I saw a lot of potential Product Managers, Designers, and Engineers in people from many different backgrounds. I learned a lot from that experience as well! Encourage for those dynamics to happen is something that most company should take the risk to try.

Nurture the industry talent is not just about giving fancy roles or positions, is also about taking care of who works next to you and help them to develop their potential.

3. Empathy as the trigger to solve the right problems

This might sound a little vague and not practical, but bear with me. The previous points were mainly about ways to solve problems in a more diverse and collaborative environment, taking care for our users, but there is something significant before reaching that point. What type of problems are we trying to solve?

We have the power to solve problems, but our responsibility should steer to solve the right ones, and there is where we are not doing a good job

Engineers, designers, managers, we are all problem solvers and based on how much technology is improving, we are not bad at it. But that doesn’t mean that we are doing the best for our world. If we are not focused on solving the right problems, the ones which are the true cause of the many issues our society suffers from (which most of them are actually good business opportunities!) then we will continue filling the streets with more electric scooters while signs asking for a better life will keep being raised in the streets. As Uncle Ben said: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

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