My Dev Empathy Story: Discovering #DevEmpathy (Ariel Caplan)

I was just a few months out of the Flatiron School, had gotten my bearings in the codebase at my first job, and was starting to take on more responsibility. I was sitting with a product manager—let’s call her Sierra—trying to explain the technical impact of a product idea she had proposed. And I was frustrated.

No matter which way I explained it, she just kept getting confused. Why couldn’t she understand that making these changes would drastically increase response time on a critical endpoint? It was a simple workflow involving 2 microservices and a NoSQL database, and she didn’t even have to understand the details, just how they were connected together on a high level.

At some point, I realized: No one had ever given Sierra any level of technical explanation of the system whose development she was supposed to guide every day. Instead of going further with the conversation, I asked, “Why don’t we set up a meeting just to describe the basic outline of the system? Nothing overly detailed, just enough to allow us to have a conversation about how product concepts will impact the real-life product when they’re translated into code.”

To my surprise, she agreed. To my further astonishment, I actually enjoyed the meeting more than any other I’d had since beginning my software development career. We slowly built up a diagram of the parts of the system relevant to her job, clarified confusing points, and made sure every bit of explanation was clear to her.

At the end of the meeting, Sierra thanked me and said, “You know, no one’s ever done this for me. This is going to significantly improve my ability to come up with ideas and communicate with developers. I’d really like to understand more about the technical elements of the project, but there never seem to be opportunities for me to learn.”

At that moment, I realized something that has become a theme in my career: The most significant impact you can make on a product isn’t through design, code, marketing, sales, or customer support. It’s building bridges, enabling people of varied backgrounds and skills, each with their own perspectives and spheres of understanding, to work together through effective communication.

This #DevEmpathy story was originally published on Ariel’s personal blog. To share your own story, contact

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