One of my favorite quotes is from Mitch Hedberg:
An escalator can never break — it can only become stairs. You would never see an “Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order” sign, just “Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience”. We apologize for the fact that you can still get up there.
I’m reminded of this quote whenever I travel because so many apps on my phone don’t fail over this gracefully. My favorite historically have been foursquare’s. Whenever it couldn’t tell where I was, it would say “A surprising new error has occured.” or “must provide il or bounds”. Let’s forget for a second that these are the most unhelpful error messages ever and get to the bigger problem. foursquare (and most other apps) are designed only for a fully connected, localized experience. This is in a world where, even in cities, 4G connections can be intermittent, and GPS quality is sketchy at best, especially inside. Apps break all the time because of these issues, and it’s not excusable.
As we move towards always in the cloud, total internet and GPS reliant services, software makers need to think about these alternate states and design better experiences for them. It will be a long time before a wireless connection is reliable anywhere in the US, let alone internationally. It will be a while before GPS tracking works well in many places. Connections may be slow. Batteries may be low. Available storage my be low. I like to think of it like testing for different browsers and devices. If you aren’t testing for different connection states or with/without certain pieces of key information, you’re not testing right.
When I was a high school student applying to universities, I had this assumption that application evaluators read thousands upon thousands of applications each year. To stand out, you really needed to show something unique in your application. So in all of my essays, if there was any sort of “other” option, I went for it, and crafted very unique essays. I didn’t get into any of the schools I wanted.
When I was applying for graduate schools right after college when I didn’t have any jobs lined up, I made the same mistake. I went for the unique essays, and again didn’t get in anywhere. Since I was a graduating senior, I was offered application feedback from one of these schools. The evaluator told me point blank, the evaluators extremely disliked your essays.
I didn’t quite understand why until I started evaluating resumes for a position at GrubHub.com. I had clear requirements of what I was looking for, and overall knew what I wanted. What I realized when I started evaluating these resumes was that I only wanted to see what I expected to see: experience in the skills necessary, a cover letter that actually mentioned things related to the job. Really simple requirements that almost no applications met. I probably received more applications that said they enjoyed windsurfing than those that said they were proficient in Excel. That’s when I finally understood where I went wrong in the past.
Evaluators of resumes for jobs or applications for schools don’t want uniqueness in their applications. So few people follow the directions of meet the requirements of what they want that a perfect application is just one that meets the basic requirements requested. Applications that are flashy or out of the box just make it harder to evaluate whether the candidate is right for the position or school. So, a lesson for those applying to jobs or schools: just do what the application asks, and do it right. Don’t try to be unique.