Since graduating from Purdue University in the 1980s, with a degree in computer science and mathematics, I’ve served as a software engineer in one capacity or another. And what a ride it’s been! I’ve seen the remarkable successes-and some momentous shortcomings-of the software industry, as it’s grown from its infancy to what it is today. At no other time in history, has society faced a need to evolve so drastically and rapidly.

After observing the impact that software engineering has had on the world, perhaps the thing that stands out the most to me is that successful software rapidly adapts to the evolving needs of its users. And boy do we need that now!

However, what we have all too often, are innovative companies spending billions developing sophisticated code, which in the end, users do not like, want or need. These blunders usually occur in an engineering vacuum, which I envision as an Ivory Tower. A tower which fosters attitudes such as “We’re brilliant and know exactly what our software should do. The users will thank us in the end.” The truth is, that now more than ever, no one has time to think like that – nor deal with the results.

Today, I am very fortunate to be a part of a development team whose thinking is drastically different than that of an Ivory Tower. We believe that if we listen carefully, ask good questions and partner with the people facing the very problems we’re looking to solve, we can develop remarkable software. In Softdocs’ case, our goal is to deliver services and solutions that not only help our customers fulfill their responsibilities, but allow them to focus on taking care of their students, staff and faculty.

While our team continues to make meaningful strides forward in this, we’re the first to admit that there is room to grow. As a result, we are committing significant resources to a couple of initiatives that will further our abilities to truly understand and reflect customer needs.

Product Ideas Section Within the Softdocs Community
Our customer portal, the Softdocs Community, has a dedicated section for our customers to suggest new product features. Suggestions are assigned to a Product Manager, who reviews, asks clarifying questions, monitors responses from other customers to each suggestion and tracks all “votes”. This is done in accordance with defined response-time SLAs we’ve established for all customer-initiated suggestions.

Development Partner Program
As with most software, our solutions contain features which are complex and could be designed in different ways. Through this program, our team works directly with a key customer who has an interest in a particular feature or module that we are working on. Through regular meetings and product testing, the customer provides continual feedback as the feature is developed. This process ensures that when a feature is released, it is more business-friendly, suits the needs of our customers and solves the RIGHT problem.

We feel these initiatives represent the direction that software engineers need to take in today’s world. Notice I said direction – that implies a journey, not a static location. A journey we are all on-perhaps a bit too wildly as of late-but one in which we will continue to look for ways to best use technology to meet the needs of the education space.