Field trips help you write better software

Edgardo Gutierrez
Mar 13 · 4 min read

A Frenchman, a Belgian and a Mexican enter a bar in a train, order a beer and start playing a card game called Polignac. This may sound like the start of a joke, but it was exactly how a trip to meet one of the biggest radiologist groups in Munich began. Actually, let me rephrase it.

A UX researcher, a product owner and a developer from Doctolib go on a field trip to address the needs of their customers.

Sounds better!

Our adventure starts in Hannover where we meet with our first client. As a young software developer, this would be the first time I would hear product opinions first hand — from the user, so I was clearly nervous.

We entered a big office, there was coffee, apple juice and a projector with a computer already set up (I know right? I was impressed too). We sat down and a practitioner with 3 secretaries entered the room. Our UX researcher Stan started presenting to us, alternating between French, German and English. (This guy speaks all 3 languages fluently).

After some Q&A we asked their opinion about what was just presented. How can we make it better? Does this address your problem? Those questions really echoed. Each time I took a ticket in the sprint, was I asking myself the work behind each user story and the impact it was having on the end-user or was I just seeing a task to complete?

Feedback ended and while we were preparing to stand up suddenly the practitioner asked if we could take a look at some suggestions he and his team came up with to improve the calendar view. “We love your product and we are eager to help you make it better”. Then he showed us a list of at least 40 suggestions. We looked at each other. Unexpected… They were really looking forward to this meeting.

After going through the list, we asked if we could observe how the secretaries were using the product to take appointments. With secretaries taking appointments in parallel, approximately 1000 appointments are taken per day, about every 5 minutes. They answered a call and started typing the name of the patient in the search bar… Wait… the search bar?! This was a big revelation for me. I never expected that they would take the appointments that way! How I didn’t see this before? Why didn’t I ask these questions? Using the patient search bar instead of the appointment modal? Interesting.

We finished our visit and thanked our clients. “Please come back any time and keep us up to date. We are impatient to hear from you again,” they said. Nice words to hear, kept me motivated for the dangers to come. We said our goodbyes and continued our trip to Munich by train. This is where the train car joke starts and I lose miserably at that weird card game.

The next 2 visits continued in a similar way with a slight modification: I had a Pretzel that was really good. We demonstrated the product, received some feedback and discussed how we can make it better or if there were any pain points that they would like to address. Every organization said the same thing: “We like Doctolib and are thankful that you took the time to listen to us”. Really heartwarming stuff, you can’t deny that.

Before going back to Paris we had a debrief on the different topics that were exposed. Having different points of view (product, user and software), we could establish some common ground but at the same time discuss our main concern regarding each of our scopes. “Germans use the product way too differently,” said Stan. He was right. How can they use the exact feature to achieve totally different things? We debated some concepts, enhanced some ideas and rejected some features that didn’t make sense. Then it clicked. This is how coding starts. It’s an iterative process, and not perfect, but one who gets close to transforming ideas into actions. We shook hands. Mission accomplished boys, let’s go home.

As a developer, sometimes you might be trapped in your bubble. Focusing solely on delivering features, fixing bugs or refactoring code. At some point, along the way, you start forgetting the reason you’re actually doing this. Was it for fame? Money? Knowledge? You don’t know anymore, and you feel lost and empty… Ok, I’m exaggerating, but what I mean is that during this field trip where I was in contact with the people who actually use our end product I realize the importance of each line I’m writing. The differences between the German and French market were exposed and I got to discuss and refine our product scope in order to address the needs of our customers.

We need more developers out in the field, not only to get closer to the user but to also cooperate in the refining process and expose their ideas and fears from the code perspective.

I’m now a different developer than I was a week ago and I’m eager to start working on our next feature and hear how we tackled a key point for both countries, but I must admit I’m even more eager to go to the next field trip and beat Stan and Benoit at that French card game!

If you want to learn more about our tech team we write a weekly newsletter you can sign up for here and if you want to join us on field trips, we are hiring!

Edgardo Gutierrez

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Pour un système de santé plus humain, efficace et connecté

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