The Weight of the Wizard

Startups fly around at a million miles per hour. Just take a look on Hacker News, or Tech Crunch, or any of the countless other news outlets revolving around tech. When I look at the hubs, I see stories about scrappy developers who are working on the next big idea and hoping to make it big. These articles hit on a great part of being a software engineer right now, we can build anything that we put our minds to. However, how did these engineers come about finding and executing ideas? A software engineer will have many ideas bounced off them in their career, and many of these ideas will be humble requests from normal non-engineers. The real wizard must know how to look past the dollar bills or the latest Hacker News trends to find the ideas that might not be glamorous, but will make an impact.

Software engineers out there can most likely relate to the countless times that individuals in their business organization, school, or family pitched an idea for a product or tool. Analyzing the impact of the product is the first step to knowing if it is worth the time. A product could potentially have significant impact on the daily life of a few individuals or be a generic consumer idea that doesn’t directly benefit anyone in particular. An engineer drawn to trends online might look at the first option as not having much direct benefit to them. It certainly won’t generate revenue if only a few people benefit and it might even be a time-sink in the end. However, the gratitude and favor that the development will bring to those people may potentially be worth intangibly more over time. Looking past the latest trends and analyzing the direct benefit is a good start to determining if a project is worth your time.

So how do the best engineers that I know choose a project? They look for areas that are going to make an impact. However, they don’t get caught up in whether the impact will be 10 people or 10,000.

What do you think? How do you pick projects and balance all of the project ideas that people throw at you?

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