The Power of Software

At first I wasn't too sure what to make of it. An email explaining that a mobile application I’d written had changed someone’s life. But it turned out to be the single best piece of user feedback I've ever had and probably the best email I've ever received. It all started with an ultimatum from my wife, and a desire to create an app which would “scratch my own itch”.

You can listen to an audio version of this post over on Audioboom.

It was back in 2008 and Nokia were still a mobile powerhouse. I’m a geek and I’ve always loved to code. When my home computer became a little too slow to play the latest games I turned to coding as a way of relaxing.

One evening after a particularly late night coding, my wife collared me, “You spend so much time writing software, you should try to make some money with it” she said. I decided to take that as challenge. I had just completed a period contracting at Symbian, the company which produced the operating system which ran on most of Nokia’s high end phones; it seemed like a logical next step to write an application for Nokia handsets.

I had been working on a simple application which would solve an itch I had. My last name is Woods, and my wife and all of my family always appeared at the bottom of the Nokia address book. This was silly I thought, my phone knows who I text and who I call, couldn't I just get the phone to work out who I want to talk to?

So concentrating on just text messages I created an application called TextQuick. It searched through your messages and work out how often you were talking to each person. It then ranked the results, with the person you talked to the most coming first on the list.

I released this initially as a free beta, and after Zak Epstine posted a review on his personal blog my little application got several thousand downloads (I still owe Zak a beer for that). I was blown away by this. Eventually after about 8 months of adding user requested features and bug fixes I released the software as a paid for download on one of the largest mobile app markets at the time, Handango.

The application had been on sale for a couple of months, when I received an email from a user who had purchased a copy. These emails were normally bug reports, or feature requests so I was surprised when it opened with:

You've changed my life.

I must admit I didn't believe it. But the author continued …

I'm blind and I use a screen reader on my Nokia phone. When I want to text someone I need to scroll through everyone in my address book (alphabetically) until I find the person I want to text. It takes time for the screen reader to read out each name as I scroll past it and it can take several minutes for me to reach the person I want

I’d never considered that my application could help a blind person before, it was just an itch I had solved for myself. The email went on …

The person I talk to the most is my Dad, but he’s always at the bottom of this list. It can take minutes to scroll to his name. With your App, he is always the top of the list. This means it is easy for me to text him. I now talk to him more often than I ever have before, you’ve changed my relationship with my Dad.

To think that my little App had made such a huge difference was incredible, it blew me away. This email remains one of the most amazing I’ve ever received. To think a little bit of software I had written had changed the relationship between a father and son, was amazing. I think as developers, architects, and software creators we all hope that the software we make, the insights we see and encode within it, will have an impact on those who use it.

It’s astounding to think that sometimes it is the smallest of things, like re ordering a list, which can have the biggest of impacts.

I wish I had kept a copy of that email, but a computer crash and a house move later I can’t find either an electronic copy of it, or one of the many print outs I made.

I just wish I could let the author know how his letter, and its contents helped change my life too.


You can listen to an audio version of this post over on Audioboom.

Chris Woods is a Software Architect, and overall technical lead of CloudWave, he has experience in mobile application and cloud software design and creation. You can find out more about Chris at http://mcwoods.me or via Twitter https://twitter.com/mcwoods