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Engineers and customers

Today I took the train out to Long Island to meet up with our New York sales team for a visit with a prospective customer. You never know with an initial meeting, but this one was great.

Today I took the train out to Long Island to meet up with our New York sales team for a visit with a prospective customer. You never know with an initial meeting, but this one was great. I thought I'd share a bit about what made these guys so excited which is the same stuff that gets me excited about what we're doing at Delphix. First though, there are some engineers who have never spoken with a customer. There are some engineering organizations in which requirements are collected from customers, correlated by product managers, handed to engineering managers, and given to engineers. It's a fine workflow, but this needs to be balanced against engineers engaging directly with customers, hearing their issues, and brainstorming solutions technologist to technologist. Engineers talking to a small number of customers may miss broad trends or fail to connect certain dots, but it's a complementary activity and part of being a holistic engineer. I've heard software engineers groan that the right technical decision was trumped by business concerns. Those people might be good engineers, but they aren't great ones. Engineering can't stop at the boundaries of software; it must necessarily consider the whole ecosystem of the product and the company. Yes, we might not have architected the feature this way if we didn't have legacy customers support, but we do (and we should be happy for it). (And, of course, this logic can be taken to the other extreme with equally bad results.) This doesn't mean that a great engineer collects all data first hand, but the whole system must be considered, and walking into a customer's office from time to time is a reality check. In today's meeting, the customer was learning about Delphix for the first time. And they got it right away. As with many enterprises, they have a initiative around virtualization to enable more self-service and more empowerment of their developers. The data in their relational databases is a big anchor weighing down those efforts; the time and effort required to copy and provision databases is a huge drag. Smart guys, they oscillated between how Delphix works -- a super-smart, database-optimized storage gateway -- and what Delphix does -- virtualizing their Oracle databases, bringing the agility and cost-savings of other virtualization technologies. And the slide-ware made real through a demo of the product GUI elicited an terse expression of comprehension: "That's cool." And maybe the best reason for engineers to get into the field is to witness customers who get how cool the product is.