Real World Engineers

In Fantasy meets Reality, Cabel Sasser says:

It almost seems like there’s a real job here for the right type of person. “Real World Engineer”? Unfortunately, the closest thing most companies currently have is “lawyer”.

A fairly common “real job” that does this work is “User Researcher.” As a user researcher, I am constantly trying to answer the question of how something is going to be used in the real world, with real people.

Sometimes, this is to ask “will this feature solve this problem?” But this is still under that same broad question of how will something be used by real people. In my world, people rarely ever use products incorrectly. Instead, the product may not be understandable, may not solve the problem they actually have, or may have another use. It’s my job to find these issues, and help the development team to address them.

Other times, my work is more speculative: “how do people conceptualize this problem or feature?” Still, the emphasis is not on how I want them to react to a problem or new product, but on how they actually act. I often have a hypothesis when I ask these questions, but I try to make the hypothesis falsifiable. That is, I’m equally happy to disprove the hypothesis as I am to prove it.

A few years ago, I did a study about a new feature to solve a particular integrity problem. Within the company, it was controversial, because it could look like Meta was trying to hide the problem. I ended up doing a series of 12 interviews with people in the US and UK about this feature, and eleven of the twelve saw no issues with the product. (And the twelfth changed their mind after an alternate scenario was presented of how it could work.)

Prior to the interviews, I had been one of the people arguing against the feature. After the interviews, I argued hard for it to be prioritized. I go where the data takes me, at least as best I can. So, Cabel, yes. There are a lot of people who do exactly this.