How Ideas and Assumptions Impact Applications: An Interview with TJ Usiyan


In this interview, TJ Usiyan, an instructor with Iron Yard, talks about whether development and testing teams need to be on the same page. He also explains how subjectivity influences our systems and applications and why teams overlook subjectivity.

Josiah Renaudin: Welcome back to another TechWell interview. Today I'm joined by TJ Usiyan, an instructor with the Atlanta-based company Iron Yard and a keynote speaker at this year's Mobile Dev + Test Conference. TJ, thank you so much for joining me today.

TJ Usiyan: Thank you for having me.

Josiah Renaudin: Absolutely, and before we actually dig into the meat of the abstract of your keynote, can you tell us just a bit about your experience in the industry?

TJ Usiyan: I started programming in iOS seriously probably about eight or nine years ago and I worked on a couple of apps for myself and went to a bunch of meet-ups. I was fortunate enough to bump into Aaron Hillegass, actually. Big Nerd Ranch. We chatted a little bit. He, in passing, mentioned that they were looking for people and I never let him forget that until I graduated and bothered a few other people as well. I was there for a few years and now I teach for Iron Yard, still in Atlanta. I have, in that time, mostly been teaching but I have worked on a couple of contract apps and done some map ... Mostly I'm a teacher. Mostly I spend my time trying to explain how to write apps and use all the tools.

Josiah Renaudin: Gotcha. Your keynote itself, it covers how our ideas and assumptions impact the applications we develop, which is a really interesting topic that I haven't heard too often. So to kick things off, what are some of the actual benefits of human subjectivity when it comes to influencing our systems and applications? I mean, of course people make applications but I think sometimes people forget about, so what can subjectivity really mean for applications?

TJ Usiyan: One of the nice things that can occur is that you can ignore things that don't actually matter to your user. If you know the problem space really well, you know to some extent what the user knows and what they care about. You can place emphasis on things that you know will delight the user and remove emphasis from things that the user doesn't actually care about. Sometimes you do that without realizing it, so that's a benefit of subjectivity and making assumptions, and sort of having in-built assumptions that you just go with.

Josiah Renaudin: Of course, there's always the other side to that coin, that because our assumptions and ideas are really magnified in this space, how could you actually see that being detrimental to development? Especially since, like you mentioned before, sometimes we don't even realize how much our subjectivity is influencing the stuff.

TJ Usiyan: Yeah, that's kind of the main point, that the benefit that we get often is a double-edged sword because we think that we are being efficient and cutting out the fat, so to speak. You can always later on find out that we actually trimmed a little bit too much—the user, it turns out, sometimes does care about this, or there's a user who you simply had not considered.

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