by Leon Rosenshein

I Feel You Man

Is your code empathetic? Do your users think it is? Do your users think you're empathetic? Is there anything you can do to change that? Does it matter?

All good questions. And of course it does. But before you can answer them you need to understand what empathy is. People often think that having empathy means that you feel what the other person is feeling, and that's part of it, but there's a more important part. Not feeling it, but knowing how they feel, and doing something about. Being able to predict how someone is going to feel or react, and take that into consideration before it happens.

And that's a learned ability. Something you can get better at. It's training yourself to think about things from the other side. When you're writing code, thinking about what it would be like for someone who doesn't have the context to see it for the first time. If you're wondering what that person would be feeling just take a look at some code you wrote over 6 months ago. Do it now. I'll wait.

That slightly lost feeling you had? Now you know how they would feel. Think about what would have made it easier for you to understand what you were reading. Now add that to your next PR.

Remember the last time you got an error like "There has been an unexpected error. Operation Failed."? Wasn't that helpful? Of course not. So do better. Think about user expectations. Give pointers and direction when there's a problem.

We can't make foolproof code, users can't read the developer's mind, and the code can't read the user's mind, so there are going to be mistakes. And that's where empathy comes in. Be prepared and make it easier for everyone.


Now that we're all WDP, this is even more important. Communication is harder and slower, so mistakes are magnified, and clarity has an outsized impact. There's more than enough stress going around, so taking the time to not add to that stress really helps. And not just in the code. In every form of communication, take a deep breath, assume good intent, and don't overreact.