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I work on internal software in an aeronautical engineering firm. Often internal users will request software enhancements using highly technical aeronautics terms and I have NO IDEA what they're saying! I try to be patient and tell them that I don't have a background in aeronautical engineering and that I don't understand what they're saying, but it doesn't seem to help!

They just keep telling me what enhancements they need to the software and I still don't understand what they mean. Then they get annoyed that I don't understand what they mean and then they won't talk to me any further.

I have discussed this with my boss, but he isn't helping any.

Does anyone have any suggestions for dealing in this type of environment? When you're building software and you are good at technology but you aren't an expert in your user's domain so you don't always know what they're saying to you?!

  • 3
    "Primarily opinion-based" close votes? This is a good, answerable question. – user31143 May 9 '16 at 5:53
  • You say "I try to be patient ..." And, what about them? Of course they are annoyed by your luck of understanding. In order to sort it off, you must realize that the problem is you, not them. It's not en engineers conspiracy to bother you, it's normal people doing their normal work, needing normal upgrades. – Juan Lanus May 10 '16 at 20:08
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Recently I developed a software in the nuclear energy domain, which was completely new to me. I hope you'll find some advice helpful:

  • Learn the Basics. You need to know the basics. Visualize the entities, their attributes and relationships, and actions. You'll see a big picture and some logic soon.
  • Make a Glossary. Professionals use terms and abbreviations extensively. You need to understand these and use as the elements of the information architecture.
  • Respect Users. Explain your role to them, so they will see the value. Accommodate meeting time and duration in advance. Be organized and polite.
  • Ask Focused Questions and Make Notes. Don't afraid to ask questions. Still these should be concrete and focused. People have limited time, and they don't like to answer twice. So make notes, it also will help you not to lose anything.
  • Review and Summarize your materials. The picture will be quite clear soon.
  • Notify your boss on extra time you need to research the domain.
  • 1
    In addition. While designing the functions, respect the jargons being used. Do not oversimplify. Know that the system will have a learning curve and a professional user will already be familiar with terms that you can use. The content becomes somewhat domain specific at this point. – Harshal May 9 '16 at 7:03
  • This covers it. When I started to work on financial software, I had not just to learn the vocabulary but also understand the business. Only this way you are able to make something that is really helpful. – jazZRo May 9 '16 at 9:55
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From my experience, my advice is that if you want to remain in the aeronautics domain, to learn about the domain e.g. attend some fast-track courses, spend sometime with the experts etc. This will make you even more effective and invaluable to your team.

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This question comes up quite often. The bottom line is if your are designing for someone, you must understand who that someone is, why they will be using this software, and what are their goals. In many cases that will involve learning some aspects of the domain.

I design complex enterprise software used by banks, and learning about the domain was critical. The good thing about complex software is the longevity of software projects, so you can take your time to shape their software over successive software releases, e.g start off by running simple usability heuristics (Expert review) and as you learn the domain then start to reshape their solution. On one project it took me over 4 years to finally move their software in a new direction.

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