Upon making an acquaintance…
THEM: So, what do you do?
ME: I develop software.
ME: iPhone apps.
THEM: Oh! I’ve got this great idea…
ME: [listens patiently]
THEM: So, you’re a programmer?
THEM: So, you’re a designer?
THEM: What do you do then?
ME: A lot, actually.
It’s difficult to succinctly communicate what it is I do, I wear many hats. My role goes far beyond what would traditionally be described as product management, though I do manage the development process. I’m not a programmer, though I do work in Xcode and even tweak isolated bits of code. I’m not a designer, though I do spend quite a bit of time in Photoshop. I work on marketing, writing, networking, tech support, business development, brainstorming, quality assurance, usability testing, user interface drafting, etc.
Trying to describe what I do has, over time, helped me better understand it and focus on getting better. Focus doesn’t seem an apt word in the context of the many hats I wear, but I do have focus, I just haven’t had a great way to describe what it is I focus on. After a compelling conversation about it on Twitter, it finally dawned on me—I’m an app producer.
At some point in junior high school I decided I wanted to be a record producer. I enjoyed performing and composing music, but what really fascinated me was the process of capturing that talent and creativity. Capture. As if music is some wild animal roaming the wilderness, and the recording studio is just an elaborate trapping mechanism.
After reading MIX Magazine for years, obtaining a degree in Sound Recording Technology, interning at a big studio in Nashville, and even spending a couple years as a freelance recording engineer, I still essentially viewed the studio as an elaborate system for capturing the talent and creativity of musicians. Then I got the opportunity to work on an album with a great producer. It changed my life.
Over the course of a few weeks I saw the producer craft the album. It’s a sort of meta-creativity, working iteratively with talented musicians to create something that’s greater than the sum of the parts.
There’s a reason George Martin was sometimes called “the fifth Beatle”, and why the Red Hot Chili Peppers have worked with Rick Rubin on every single studio album since the break through Blood Sugar Sex Magik. A great producer sees the forest for the trees and thoughtfully guides the recording process.
That’s what I do, except with apps. I was pretty bad at it when I founded App Cubby back in 2008, but it’s my art and I’m constantly striving to be a better app producer.