Every so often I find myself wondering why it is that I put so much effort in at the day job. A great deal of what I do is not specifically requested. Instead I see what needs to be done within the organisation and begin working to solve the problem. A lot of times this means doing something that will go completely unnoticed, because it's only when something is noticed that the issue is raised. This is particularly true with a little textbook delivery system that I started writing about nine months ago that is slowly gaining traction within the organisation outside of Japan. Whispers are observed through various communications channels about things not quite being right or how an older textbook that is only used by a handful of students can't be found anywhere, and I jump into action and fill the gaps. People don't really notice the changes; they just focus on doing their job to the best of their ability with a more complete set of tools.
For the better part of three years, this has defined a good chunk of my efforts at the day job and every small improvement makes these systems a little bit better for the people using them. But why do this? Why give myself work? Why stay up past midnight solving problems that nobody has complained too loudly about?
As anyone who has worked with me might expect, I do it primarily for me.
In a perfect world, software would be "invisible". People would learn how to use the tools to complete a task, then never think about the system in a critical way ever again. Building software like this is hard. Really, really hard. And it's this challenge that I look forward to.
For the digital textbook system, my ultimate objective is to have every material we have distribution rights for in the database along with every audio and video file for that book. I would love it if a colleague looked for a text we haven't used in the classroom since the 90s and found the resource plus all of the audio files that were once only on cassette tape, or to see someone try to share these resources with a student who forgot their book with a couple of taps. All without thinking about the complexities that lie under the surface.
The goal, as unrealistic as it might be, is to make something that meets the Apple stereotype of "It just works". Corporate software needn't be ugly and unwieldy. Educational software needn't be sluggish and half-baked. People expect more from technology, as they should. So I build the tools that people will hopefully want to use for their everyday work and pay attention to the online water-cooler banter that might reveal the next task to accomplish.
Hopefully one day it will be possible to stand back and see that the effort put into the work has bore some impeccable fruit.