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I'm a software developer and I'm looking for the correct business term that best describes an empathetic developer. More often than not, a developer is just a code monkey. They receive a set of business requirements and follow them to a T, regardless of whether the requirements make sense or not. However there are developers who take an empathetic approach to coding per business requirements. That is, the developer will analyze the requirements with respect to the business needs, the end user, design, and implementation, and then discuss potential issues with the business when they spot a requirement that doesn't make sense. One would think this type of mentality would be inherent in a developer, unfortunately it is not, so I'm searching for the best term that describes this.

To me it seems like “empathetic” would be the best term but I have never heard this term used in a business setting.

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The normal business term has nothing to do with "empathy". Someone who's responsible for establishing/understanding the needs of the client/user as well as implementing the coded solution is called a...

programmer analyst - a person who analyzes and designs information systems and designs and writes the application programs for the system.

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  • A programmer analyst is the typical job title used to define a developers role. Just because a developer is entitled with the role of a programmer analyst doesn't mean they possess the ability to properly analyze the requirements. I probably should have been more specific and asked if there is an adjective to describe: a person in business who puts themselves in the shoes of their end user in order to identify with and then act in the best interest of the user and their business product/service. – Michael Dec 5 '13 at 15:50
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    I'm a software developer, and feel pretty confident that "programmer analyst" is out-of-date, as current as COBOL. It may still get used occasionally, but it's not a good way to market a job today. – Clay Bridges Dec 5 '13 at 16:57
  • @Michael you can edit your post and include your comment if you believe it helps your question to be more specific. – Mari-Lou A Dec 5 '13 at 20:10
  • @Clay Bridges: I quite agree it's an "out-of-date" term. But to my mind, so is OP's notion that developers are either "code monkeys" or "empathic". How many people actually make a living writing code without understanding why the (prospective?) users want/need it? Virtually none, I suspect. – FumbleFingers Dec 6 '13 at 12:31
  • @FumbleFingers: "... why the users want/need it?". That's a straw man, and is not what UX is about. Software has the power to delight or annoy. Delighting someone with software, as in making love, is about seeing things through their eyes, being attentive to their needs, and then getting creative. If "uncommonly good" exists in such domains, it follows that most people won't have it. – Clay Bridges Dec 6 '13 at 15:01
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I'm a software developer. I can't think of a single word which conveys what you seem to want. (That's probably quixotic. :) In my world, this kind of thing is referred to as "user experience" (or UX, in our argot). I'd go with something along the lines of:

"focused on the user"
"user-focused"
"sensitive to user experience"

As an aside, I'd say you will get better people if you steer far away from standard job-post-ese, and be direct, clear, concise, and show some personality.

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    +1 and I would add "user-centered" to your list of synonyms. – LindaCamillo Dec 5 '13 at 17:45
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In business, a common distinction is made between strategic and tactical approaches to issues and activities. This site describes the difference as follows

A strategy is a larger, over all plan that can comprise several tactics, which are smaller, focused, less impactful plans that are part of the over all plan.

Your programmer who is more comprehensive and goal orented (rather than task oriented) might be called a strategic programmer.

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For a single word, I think insightful may be best. It means “Possessing insight”, where insight usually is understood as “Power of acute observation and deduction; penetration; discernment; perception”. But per wiktionary, insight has an additional marketing-related sense, “Knowledge (usually derived from consumer understanding) that a company applies in order to make a product or brand perform better and be more appealing to customers”.

When capturing a complex idea it's reasonable to use several words and phrases to box it in, rather than expecting a single word to encompass all nuance. Use insightful along with some of the phrases in the sentence below or as suggested in Clay Bridges' post.

Phrases associated with “eating your own dog food” might or might not be relevant; but you could refer to a developer who “breathes the same air as users”, or who can “think like a user”, “wear a user's hat”, “walk in the user's shoes”, etc.

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