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I'm a junior employee in my field of work (web programming, four years) and so often my day-to-day challenges are usually technical and not so much into the managerial or logistical kind. I'd figure the latter stuff doesn't take center stage as much until you take on a more senior role at work.

There are cases where I would want to actually see my work as something as a true "accomplishment" or a real game changer for the intended client. I get a positive buzz for every nerve racking bug I fix, but I hardly notice about results such as increasing production within a department, or improving conversion rate or sales for a particular client. I feel like my work might get lost in the shuffle of just being another website completed.

For most places, getting products finished and on time is the minimum requirement for success. In order to really impress you must do more than the minimum. But it's extremely rarely that clients follow up with our managers saying how our work has given positive long term results. I don't get the end of that news. Nothing about "guess what, our client X is taking in 15% more sales after the new re-design" or "our email campaign brought 200 new customers for company Z".

I'm currently looking to other companies to change jobs, and at interviews I want to impress with talking about how a certain project benefitted a client, rather than just going on the technical details of what I did in the project. Does it seem hard to come by for a junior worker? How should I approach managers about getting business metrics when it's relevant to the work I do?

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Do you do any design stuff? It's easier to wow with a good design portfolio and some descriptions of your tasks than trying to quantify programming, a notoriously difficult problem. –  Rarity Apr 16 '12 at 19:35
    
Unfortunately I don't do much designing as I've taken on a developer role, but I do flaunt it when given the opportunity to do some design work. I'd say my work is 80% programming and 20% design. –  Chris C Apr 16 '12 at 20:04

4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

To add to some already good answers...

There's two types of feedback - internal performance and external impact

As someone in the 0-5 year range of a software engineering role, it is likely and expected that the direct feedback given to you by your management is internal, not external. For most roles (plenty of exceptions) a junior person is not given direct exposure to customer feedback, because they are not given direct responsibility for resolving the issues that may be part of that feedback. Those types of issues are typically bigger than the contributions of a single developer - they are team level, or even corporate culture level issues, that take multiple individuals to fix.

In a perfect world, your manager would synthesize some of this feedback for your team and present it to you here and there as it suits the organization. I've often done this, and my team has comprised everyone from college interns to people with 20 years of seniority. In those cases, the manager is usually saying "we did this" and not picking out an individual - because for the most part, the effort is a team one. Even when one person makes a stellar "save", they likely cannot have done it without the rest of their team being there to support them.

It's not only OK, it's encouraged to ask for the impact of your work

Saying "how'd we do boss?" is a perfectly wonderful question to ask management. Hopefully they know how well their team is doing and what impact its work has had on the external world. If they really seem to have no earthly idea, ask a bigger manager, or find a new job. If there is no bigger manager with a clue like this, you are hitting danger signs, because it may very well be that your company is not fulfilling a business need, and that's not a good sign for company longetivity.

A thought on interviewing

Be very aware of the difference between "I" and "we" - both in conversations with your manager and in potential new jobs. Since you do not have responsibility for the overall customer relationship, and since almost any reasonable sized project is more than a single individual - it is unlikely that you can claim solo credit for most significant accomplishments. You can definitely take credit as part of the team - "our product does X", "our product helped the customer these ways", "I worked fixing bugs that had this impact..." - those are all great ways of putting it.

If I were interviewing someone within the range I'm hearing (0-5 years in the field, medium level individual contributor, not responsible for customer accounts, but possible contact with customers in the course of bug fixing) - I would be looking for what you, yourself have done, and that would be the day-to-day - not the enormous picture. I'd want to hear about particularly tricky bugs, particularly difficult customer communication, and things you did to improve your own efficiency and help those around you. I would be surprised, confused and dubious if you quoted to me lots of metrics about how your work saved the customer money, time or increased company or customer profits. If you gave me some general ideas of how the product, or your team does these things - bonus, but not necessarily a huge contributor to a hiring decision. At your level, I'd be looking to see that you are in firm control of how to manage your own time, your own efficiency, and that you can contribute significantly to the team in such a way that the whole team is made better by your existence.

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It's not unthinkable that you will never get to fully see the effects of your work.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was involved in building an industrial ERP. The project was far from a typical heavyweight ERP, it was a fully customized solution that dealt with everything, from accounting to precisely monitoring oil levels in a wide range of heavy machinery. We only called it ERP because we couldn't come up with a better description for it.

Although it was a fairly boring project, since the solution covered almost every aspect of the client's operations, we had access to every data you can imagine, and then some. Whenever they introduced something new, be it new machinery, a new training program or even a couple of new faces, our little behemoth monitored everything and spat out performance reports by the kilo. Every little tweak in the system was immediately quantifiable, and each one of us had a pretty clear idea of whether our work was beneficial to the client or not.

Fast forward a few years, and I'm working as a web developer for a small startup, that invests absolutely no time or resources in collecting such data, or trying to get feedback from clients. Sure, we had the typical automated analytics for all our web sites, but you can only make so much sense out of them. The company was more focused in getting new clients than keeping old ones, and management never saw any value in providing such feedback to us. Our only hope of getting even a vague idea of how beneficial our work had been, was the client calling us directly. Well, it happened. Once.

At the end of the day the feedback you are looking for is information that should be passed from the client to your company, and then to you. Somewhere along the way the signal may get lost in the noise, especially if it was noisy to begin with. You should always feel free to ask your boss for feedback, especially since you are starting out, it's only natural to look for self fulfilment. But you should be prepared that you may never get it, ours is a creative craft that's extremely hard to quantify, even when the conditions are ideal.

Every now and then someone mentions that they used a website I've build during casual conversation, and that's the closer I get to seeing the “real” accomplishments of my work. Unless of course something particularly nasty happens, then suddenly everyone seems to remember I was involved in the project, even if it's been almost a decade since I worked at the company that build the damn thing.

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3  
This sounds like it applies well to me, because most of my experience has been with small start-up companies. Even the one "enterprisey" project we did couldn't show results because client cancelled in the middle of it. It had to be either some really good or real bad news to make an impact. It's like God from Futurama said, "When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all." –  Chris C Apr 16 '12 at 21:44

In my experience of over a decade in the industry i still find that getting real feedback is still not a regular thing. There are multiple things at play here. But there are things you can do.

1. Onus is on you
tell me that getting explicit feedback is more of trying to find yourself and figure out based on action rather than people coming back to you with explicit good/bad (let alone quantitative) and from that, figuring out what was due to your contribution is probably even harder. But as a general rule in one's career, the onus to get feedback is on us then on the customer or management might be coming down.

2. The good/bad balance
Good feedback comes very less. Bad ones almost always. How often have you had tasted a great new dish in the restaurant and rush to the kitchen to appriciate the chef? Against this, how often you had a service complain and yelled back to the call center? You will realize, that typical customers are like Unix commands; when everything is fine usually there is no feedback. When things go wrong you will see a surprise bomb on a Good Monday morning. So in a way, when explicit feedback hasn't come to you, you can actually be a bit relaxed that you never did a big enough goof up that someone will bother you with.

3. Your level in hierarchy matters
Not getting feedback also sometimes means that your higher ups have taken up responsibility of it. In that case, talking to higher up or having open communication repo helps. When you will move up the ladder - most errors will be owned by you and you will see more direct view of it. Many comapanies, don't count lower hierarchy people share feedback thinking that it will unnecessarily move them.

4. Transparency is what changes signal to noise ratio
Many organizations has fat layers across which one cannot see. There is clear hierarchy laid out for responsibility laid out. But things needs to travel only on pre-defined paths. So good or bad, if you are not higher up in the ladder or relevant function of company - you don't need feedback and you don't get feedback. Most often asking customers or sales guys directly might be best best -but it could be a bad gesture or a complete taboo in many organisations. Actually, in a startup like companies you can always openly discuss the matters. But that also depends on your initiative to ask more relevant people. In all regards, it is the habit to ask (harmlessly) will give you some feedback.

5. Quantification needs systems
In many companies, systems are inherently geared up on processes and quantification. When your core processes or systems are more tacit by nature it is difficult, costly and sometimes quite artificial to generate this information from this. As Yannis pointed out, when there are no measurements in the system to start with, asking for quantified measure might be pointless; but if your organization is open in communication, seeking explicit feedback is more of the tacit form and you can seek that from people who you trust. What is important is to get to know first what was the overall fate of the project? What elements were good or gave problems, and did we do well for time and budgets. This are sometimes easy to answer but difficult to measure.

6. Feedback against expectations
Sometimes what we really care about is how much of our work is aligned to the purpose of the larger objective or not. It is different from knowing whether we are doing a good job or not. I know of cases where a young guy works out of his way and what he thinks a homerun, ideally should have been done much more systematically by more or senior people. The point is, there is a difference between (self) appraisal [how well you could do against your caliber] and end user feed back [whether customer had any help from this work]. Both this things match only when your profile is perfect fit against customer expectations on your job. This looks obvious, but rarely true in real life.

7. Understand the bigger picture
Quite often, people take things granted when they see things obvious. You will see many peculiar departments don't receive value because they don't participate (or are not allowed to participate) strategically. Admin guys, IT guys, even HR guys sometimes stand by the wayside and people keep watching the finance and sales guys taking up the center stage. It is not that company will not work without them, but it is not the core business of the company. In my opinion great many people should outsource stuff - but that is not always true. The same function could be very valuable in other companies. So if you part of that dock, you won't expect much feedback for yourself. If you take up career where your function becomes the core department (or controlling one) you will see lots of feedback even if you didn't ask for it.

8. Everyone is busy
The higher ups are always busy. Either they are busy fighting lot of pressures to meet demands or they are busy dreaming and expanding. Only organization who is not extreme hungry on growth but still do great job in holding existing customer well, actually have a real channel of feedback after relationship evolves a great time. More often than not when we see customer walking out suddenly is a sign that no one really bothered to understand their problems. It is when strategic functions of business are jumping in the focus, real feedback doens't come to business itself, let alone the last curious guy!

Sorry, if this was too long -but i think this is a real challenge in most places i have seen.

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If you talk to the people that use the software you produce, I'd likely ask them for the details of the story for what kind of impact has some of the changes you've done brought them. I'd bypass the manager as the key here is to know what are the important bits of the story. For example, I could imagine getting someone to tell me, "That program you gave me makes this take only a few minutes where it used to be hours before!" or "Wow, I love being able to see the inventory now. Very powerful stuff there," kind of lines that really do pump me up quite a bit though if the information is secondhand or third hand then it is likely to not quite be as powerful or authentic to my mind.

While metrics can be nice as a bullet point, giving the emotional punch of the story where someone can suddenly feel way more empowered to do great work may sell a bit better in some circles.

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