Paul Lell (Engineering Support Lead)
What Is the True Benefit of Experience?
I’ve been a hardware nerd my entire life. I learned to wrench on my own car from my dad at an early age and, when I got into computers (in the late x86 days), I was all in for building my own rigs going forward.
I now have thirty years of experience building computers, upgrading them, supporting them, troubleshooting and maintaining them. I’ve maintained bleeding edge gaming rigs and helped my parents keep their fifteen-year-old email machine limping along well past its expiration date.
More than that, though, I also worked at a major cable MSO for fifteen years, first working on and installing internet service in customer homes; back in the day when we had to open their computers to install ethernet cards and deal with drivers and IRQ conflicts to get them up and running. The second half of that early career was teaching other techs to do that same work. I’ve seen and worked on hundreds of different computers in a myriad environments, all customized to specific user needs/desires, but each needing the same basic function added/worked on: internet connectivity.
When my youngest recently announced he was buying parts to build his own computer, I of course offered my experience to his endeavor, looking forward to some parent-child time and the ability to share my passion for building things.
His response: “One of my friends has a lot of experience, and he’s helping me.”
I’ll admit, that stung a little (okay, a LOT), but I didn’t want to be an impediment so I just added that if he had any questions about compatibility, longevity, performance, etc. as he was buying parts, I was happy to help him out.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and all his shopping was done, hundreds of dollars spent. The parts were on the table and his friend was there to help him assemble the new monster gaming rig. Except there was no case and no power supply. My youngest had assumed he could use the case and power supply his older brother had recently moved out of with his own upgrade (without asking first, of course) and had never thought to check for compatibility.
As it turns out, the case was too small for his new mainboard and the power supply didn’t have the correct connectors for his high-end graphics card. I watched him ask his computer-savvy ‘friend’ why he’d said it was all going to work without looking or asking any questions and the ‘friend’ just shrugged, said ‘How was I supposed to know,’ and left. He added ‘Let me know when you get those parts and I’ll come back to help you put it all together’ as he went, though.
Super helpful guy, right?
I recount that tale to make a point, of course, which is when you’re going into a new project that may be in unfamiliar territory, the value of real experience can be of immeasurable importance. Did this ‘friend’ intentionally mislead my kid? Of course not. Or he better not have, anyway. But did he have a vested interest in the success of the project? No.
What he had was the ability to point out choice components and direct the spending of someone else’s money. He had an end goal in mind, but wasn’t thinking of any of the little details that, in the end, meant the world to the project. Maybe he forgot to verify the connectors on the power supply. Maybe he didn’t know the difference between a micro ATX and an ATX mainboard. Maybe he assumed my kid knew these were important details and so assumed, again, that they had been checked.
Whatever the case, important details that were small and easy to miss caused the entire project to grind to a halt and be delayed for a week (not to mention the increased cost) while new parts were ordered. Details that I had hinted at throughout the process and every time received the teenager refrain of, ‘I’ve got it, Dad!’
The point of this story is that when an expert gets involved, the provenance of their expertise is important. An expert in marketing isn’t necessarily an expert in marketing everything under the sun. There are nuances to marketing a hyper-car that do not apply to, or move the needle on, sales of minivans. Similarly, there are experts in UI/UX that may not be intimately aware of the particulars of an OTT app user’s desired experience. Button placements and system interactions that make sense for a blogging app, or a productivity app, may not apply to a media consumption app.
The team at Penthera lives and breathes in the OTT space. We see dozens (hundreds, even) of OTT apps in a year. We obsess over the experience that users have from the moment they open the app, to the moment they swipe it closed. Where is the download button? How long between pressing play and seeing the first frame? How do you access downloaded content? How are downloads prioritized? Does the app play downloads before streaming if possible? Can the user manage how much storage space their downloads can consume? What about controlling whether they can download over cellular, or unknowingly kill their battery because they are downloading?
These are the little details that we obsess over, but may not be in the forefront of the average app developer’s mind, or even within the realm of their experience.
So, what is the value of your experience? Is it worth working with a group that has experience with value?