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Getting Apps Done

Feedback is the BEEP

August 08, 2019

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Joshua and Kel chat about feedback: what it is, what it’s good for, how critical it is to growth and how it ties to safety and failure.

Be sure to check out our new Slack community to meet others who are facing the same things you are and share your journeys!

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  • 00:00 Joshua

    Hey folks, welcome to Getting Apps Done: a mostly nontechnical podcast about building software. We have been talking a lot about safety and failure being okay and generally concepts about growth; growth as a developer and growth as just generally, you know, a human being. And we wanted to carry on at that a little bit more and talk today about specifically feedback, what feedback is, how to deal with it, how to accept it and how it's going to help you grow along with all those other things, the safety and the... allowing yourself to fail that we've talked about for the past couple of weeks.

  • 00:41 Kel

    Yeah, so feedback. I guess we should probably start with the, the core concept of what we're talking about with feedback. Cause there's lots of different types of feedback, but as just like a really, really general concept, it's simply I do an action, something happens and that what I see in happen that input backwards is kind of feedback. And so that's like the, you know, the really extreme top level concept of I hit a button and something beeped while that was, that was feedback. Um, but we generally when we talk about feedback in like the development community, we're generally referring to feedback from people. We're looking for like responses from end users. We were talking about responses from our bosses responses from just people around us. So people feedback.

  • 01:24 Joshua

    Yeah. And actually you kind of started to hit on something there that is an interesting piece. It isn't always obvious. Feedback isn't always just somebody saying I don't like this. Sometimes the feedback is their actions. It is a beep or it's something that your employer or your customers or somebody that you need to get information from is doing that indicates how they feel about what you've done.

  • 01:49 Kel

    Absolutely. And it takes, it takes practice to be able to recognize feedbacks. Um, anyone who's worked with like client projects, this is kind of an old is a well trod path. When you work with clients in that their feedback is often not what they're literally saying. Um, they'll, they'll, they don't like a font but that's not what they're going to say. And they're not going to describe it quite correctly cause it's also, it does take, it's another skill to actually give good feedback. Um, you know, like right now we're just starting off and we're focusing on receiving feedback. But it is also a skill to be able to give good feedback. And so like that communication thing is, it's a bit of back and forth and practice that it takes to be able to identify the parts you need to care about the parts that are important.

  • 02:31 Joshua

    Yeah. And it is exactly that. You have to practice that concept of looking for feedback that they don't realize they're giving you because people aren't necessarily good at giving feedback and they don't always know that they're feeding back to you in the first place. Their response, their natural response is the best feedback you can possibly get. Because I can tell you right now, most clients are going to be incapable.. in fact, most people are just incapable of giving really good feedback, but at the same time, they do it naturally. We as human beings, naturally give feedback to everything constantly. We respond to things, we react to things, and those natural reactions are the best kinds of feedback. When somebody immediately slaps their forehead or something, every time they do something that's great feedback. You know, they're frustrated. They don't have to tell you, I hate this button. This thing drives me crazy every time I have to click 400 times to do this simple thing. The fact that they're getting frustrated and they're visibly showing you that frustration is the best feedback you can possibly get.

  • 03:28 Kel

    Exactly. Then that really lies into the, the skill of being able to kind of look and see what the results of an action are though. Like to be paying attention to these people you hear like like using empathy, but it's never quite the right word I feel like, but the paying attention and seeing how people are actually reacting, not just their words, but their actions, their, their motivations, the things they're doing and the types of feedback they're giving. You could be, like you said, a button that they're mis-clicking on for the 50th time and it's like, well that's, that's pretty obvious feedback. I should be paying attention. I should probably write that down. Um, and it might just be, there's something about this I don't like, in which case it might come on to you to like kind of an interview thing of like digging into that and trying to figure out the actual motivations and that's, you know, more of a collaborative type of feedback.

  • 04:14 Joshua

    Yeah, and it is that you have to learn to look for these things because well everybody just says, you know, you need to be empathetic with your users. You've got to be empathetic with you. The problem is you can't be empathetic unless you are paying attention because you need to start to recognize these things. And quite often it's very subtle. It's things that they're not doing. For example, if you've got this really great feature in your application that you think they should be using, but they're not, you need to start to notice why they're not using it, what they're doing instead. And things like this to start to begin to empathize with them. Because until you've got that information, you have no way of knowing what's going through their mind, why they're not using them.

  • 04:51 Kel

    It's a really good example of um, people talk about like intuitive design and intuitive design is not, that is simply a reflection of the things they already know. And so you can build on that, but that makes the assumptions about like all this previous knowledge, like gestures are intuitive if you've already used gestures elsewhere. Otherwise they are completely not intuitive. Like they're... You're just building on learned skills prior. So like it's really important to keep in mind that those are, it's kind of a bias of that. You know, you are, these are intuitive to you because you have all this background skill and so this like next step is really obvious to you. But for someone who doesn't have all that background, it's not going to be obvious. And so you do need to Kinda like, you know, pull yourself back and pay attention to what's actually happening to this other person to get the real feedback. And you know, listen to them. Always good.

  • 05:39 Joshua

    I remember when I was working for Boeing, they had a lot of people who worked in CAD constantly, they're building missiles and all kinds of crazy stuff like that. Rocket ships and airplanes and all sorts. But the CAD guys always had these really funky looking controllers. In fact, I had one for awhile. I never could figure it out.

  • 05:58 Kel

    Oh! The Space Ball thing?

  • 05:58 Joshua

    Yeah. The Space Ball 3000 or something like that and they were always saying this is the most amazing device ever. It's the most intuitive thing I've ever used. I took one look at that. It looked like it came out of an alien spaceship. Well.. it's called a space ball...

  • 06:12 Kel

    Yeah, I borrowed one from the a, the engineers at the car manufacturing gig and that they had one hiding around for the same thing, you know, computer aided design stuff. And it was the least intuitive thing I've ever used.

  • 06:24 Joshua

    Absolutely. Because we come from a completely different context for us, the keyboard and the mouse, those have always been the intuitive interface.

  • 06:30 Kel

    Exactly. And especially at that time when I played with them, I was still very 2d ish. Like 3d was not quite as prevalent other than, you know, certain aspects of video games. So it was, yeah, I'm trying to,

  • 06:42 Joshua

    The faking 3d... Doom and... Quake was probably the first real introduction. I had two real 3d stuff and yeah, I just that whole concept.

  • 06:53 Kel

    2.5! Yeah. So like, yeah, so it's not intuitive like, and that's a very important part of the feedback is learning to trust in like really being able to work out that that... I really don't like the word empathy cause I don't think it's quite the right word. It's like really close and people use it for that. But I don't think it's quite like too many, too, too overused of a word. Um, but like, yeah, being able to, to really trust that feedback and learning what the actual feedback is and not making too many assumptions about what they're doing is really helpful. Pay attention to, you know the data basically? Yeah.

  • 07:24 Joshua

    I I, I think I, I do agree. I'm not sure that empathy is the right word, but it has similar traits. You're trying to move out of your own context and recognize somebody else's.

  • 07:33 Kel

    Yes, exactly.

  • 07:34 Joshua

    Because, in the case of the Space Ball for them it was the most intuitive thing ever because they lived in a 3D world and I lived on a 2D world that, you know, we typed text on text into screens and that was it. A lot of the stuff I was doing at the time was on unix systems and it was just command lines and that was the intuitive thing for me. In fact, quite often I didn't even have a mouse connected because I didn't need it. And then they've suddenly got this 3d space do hickey thing and they're saying, yeah, this thing is great. They weren't in the same context.

  • 08:04 Kel

    I mean it did look super cool.

  • 08:06 Joshua

    It did look very cool.

  • 08:07 Kel

    I wanted to love it.

  • 08:07 Joshua

    You put it on your desk and suddenly you felt like you should be flying through space.

  • 08:13 Kel

    It looked like something that would control, like the Enterprise or something like it looked like a belonged on a spaceship. I really appreciated that. The thing I just kind of figured out how it was supposed to work. Yeah. So feedback, we actually should probably mention we, you introduced this as like a continuation of the previous topics of safety and failure. Um, and this ties into feedback because a lot of your feedback will be the confirmation of your failure that something you thought was going to work really wonderfully does not. Um, and that kind of, that ties back one other hop to the safety thing of how do you create a safe environment to give that type of feedback. How do you make it safe to fail those feedbacks and things like that. So I feel like we mention that since we led in with that, that completely went off on a tangent.

  • 09:00 Joshua

    Well, I think all of these concepts have a lot to do with your ability to grow because without these things, you aren't growing. You're stagnant, you're stuck. If you're not safe, you're going to stay exactly where you are and hide. Basically. If you aren't pushing yourself a little bit further than you're comfortable with, to the point that you're probably going to fail, sometimes you're probably not going to grow much. You're going, you're still, you're hiding, you stay where you are. And if you're not going out and getting the feedback you need to improve anything. It's not just development, it's anything about your life. Getting feedback is really important. Whether it's feedback from other people, feedback from yourself, your own behaviors. These are all critical to growing as a person, as a developer, as whatever it is you happen to be. A designer or...

  • 09:45 Kel

    I mentioned at the beginning that a feedback can be like literally anything like the tone of a be, you know, a phone or hitting button. Like it doesn't have to be a person. Um, but the difference with a person is people are a lot brighter there, you know, another supercomputer wandering around. Like it's a great way of confirming complex things, of getting feedback that is well beyond what you can get just by, you know, looking at data and that's why it's kind of important. Like why feedback from people is usually the one we highlight because it is by far the most interesting and like depth and useful information. So there's a lot of like there's a lot of reason to trust people to like gain that trust, to learn that trust and then get that feedback because that just kind of like doubles your own computing processing.

  • 10:26 Kel

    I think of course entirely in computing analogies cause I'm a programmer but like it is kind of important. Like that's why we have people feedback is because they are really bright. They have all these other experiences that I can't share that's like more than I can fit in my own head and that that's important. And so we get feedback from people and that's why we kind of emphasize that type of feedback over, you know, just data feedback. Data feedback's important but it might not be as insightful or as interesting.

  • 10:55 Joshua

    Agreed. And yeah, there are lots of different types of data feedback as well that are going to be statistics. So when you're looking at marketing in particular is really big on statistics because that's valuable data to them. That's feedback. When they put up something new, they can do some a/b testing and get feedback on how it works, see who stays or goes or whatever they're tracking. Similar with development. The compiler, that's your first... It's probably the feedback you interface with most during the day because it's telling you off all the time, giving you immediate feedback saying don't do that. That doesn't work. That doesn't compute.

  • 11:30 Kel

    I was playing with the rust the other day and it actually gives really friendly messages. It's like you did this, you probably meant to do this, you should try this instead. And it was like, wow, this is the best feedback I've ever gotten from a compiler.

  • 11:43 Joshua

    Very nice.

  • 11:45 Kel

    Yeah, it was. It was a pleasant experience.

  • 11:48 Joshua

    I'm not sure. I kind of like it when it tells me off. It reminds me that I've done something stupid. Yeah.

  • 11:54 Kel

    Yeah I don't really mind if it's Sassy. It's actually kind of entertaining when your computer is sassy cause it like the, it has no meaning. Like it's not actually being mean to you. It's just like, yeah, it's like having this fun joking thing going back and forth. But you know, if you don't want to hear that then you know that you got to have the whole, you know, consensual feedback thing. Very important. Um, I guess we should roll back there to the A/B testing because we did want to talk about like actual specific types of feedback for ones, we're kind of bad at talking about specifics like examples of real world, things of these like abstract concepts that we love to talk about. But like a/b testing is a great example of applying data to things like how can you get a feedback, how can you remove, you know, all of those biases or as many as you can and then actually have like a measurement for these types of things and like a/b feedback which is try two things and then measure how which one worked better is a very basic type of feedback.

  • 12:47 Joshua

    Yeah. And specifically by "work better," we mean you are tracking behaviors, you're looking for the behaviors that you want. For example, somebody using the feature that you just spent a lot of time versus not using it. And that is actually what we're looking for with all of this feedback is about looking at behavior. Sometimes that behavior is very, very direct. "I don't like this," but a lot of the time it is looking for those specific traits, the things that they're doing or not doing, depending on the situation that you either want them to do or you want to learn about why they do those things.

  • 13:21 Kel

    Yeah. Stretching past kind of what we talk about, uh, like the topic is just being the feedback, but like you do need to know what your goal is to be able to do anything useful with that feedback. Um, which is, I mean that's kind of the purpose of a user stories is a user story is like this is my goal and my implementation may or may not achieve that goal and that's why we're testing it and that's why we're getting feedback to see if it actually solves this problem. Um, and that's also why your user stories describe a problem and not a solution because the solution is just, you know, that's the implementation. That's the details. That's the the thing that might or may not work, might need bug fixes, whatever, but the user story is describing the problem that you're trying to solve there. That the abstract, that concept and the feedback is how you find out if your solution works or not.

  • 14:03 Joshua

    And we have talked about user stories and building a proof of concept in the past and using these sorts of things because that's exactly what you're trying to do. You are trying to solve a problem for somebody hopefully because that's usually what we're doing. That's what I got into software development for in the first place because I like to solve problems and I think software is a really great way to solve a lot of problems, a virtually unlimited source of solutions. The problem is not all solutions work as well as some others. And by building up these user stories that tell us what are we trying to fix, what are we trying to improve? What are we trying to help? And then using that feedback to test those concepts because some of those solutions are gonna work really well. Some are not. And getting feedback is what helps us decide. That's how we grow, that's how we evolve our products. That's how we evolve. By getting that feedback, determining did that achieve the result I was looking for or even if it does achieve the results, does another way. Improve it even more?

  • 15:00 Kel

    Yeah, exactly. That's actually one of the wonderful things about feedback. As you always run into the surprises of your, your theories or what you were trying to do wasn't quite right and you find out, oh this is way better than what I had originally intended. We should run with this. You'll you, when you build product products, it's a really common thing that you hear is you built this thing, people start using it and suddenly your product is going in a totally new direction because how the people are using it is not how you expected whatsoever, but it's better. And so you run with that plan instead and so your product takes on like this whole new, just a whole new path and whole new traits because it is no longer like the way that people use it as totally not how you expected it and everything kind of shifts from there. So yeah...

  • 15:42 Joshua

    That's great! That's what feedbacks from her. Yes, absolutely. In fact it's not even, I would just actually said that you have these user stories that ask the question, but sometimes you find out you're asking the wrong question in the first place. You're solving the wrong problem.

  • 15:56 Kel

    I mean we have a great example of this. We're talking out of it right now of are the original concept of the podcast was to talk about building applications. And we were originally thinking more along the lines of project management. But the stuff that is resonated the best has been us talking about more kind of like basic stuff like these more like lower down concepts of ...

  • 16:17 Joshua

    What software development is.

  • 16:18 Kel

    Yeah. Like what, what does development mean to us? And like, you know, we have this just ridiculously wide range of experience, which is a little unique for us cause we don't go as deep into a lot of skills. I feel like a lot of people do, like our, our primary skill set is more skills. So how we have like kind of an interesting viewpoint on just the sheer quantity and different implementations of these same problems and like, but that's the part that we talk to the best. And so yeah, it's a great example of the feedback we got from the community and people listening has totally changed.. not totally but as has definitely driven the way we've like moved our topics.

  • 16:51 Joshua

    Absolutely. And that's why we probably drive them crazy asking for more and more feedback because we love feedback. Even if they're telling us that they don't like the things we're doing, it gives us a chance to change.

  • 17:02 Joshua

    Okay, so I will put some transcripts up at Please be sure to check out my website at and Kel's website at If you have some stories about getting feedback, particularly funny stories, we love to hear funny stories about feedback because it's such an easy way to get really fantastic stories when things go really, really unexpectedly, because people are people. They'll find amazing ways to surprise you. But we'd love to hear your story. So let us know. You can pop onto our slack community at and let us know about those things and we'll share some with you as well

  • 17:40 Kel

    And use your feedback to help shape things.

  • 17:42 Joshua

    Yes, absolutely. Alright. Thank you for listening today. We will be back next Thursday.

  • 17:47 Kel