The Art of Software

by Andy Lientz

When I was in school spending a lot of time writing code, I decided to try my hand at creative writing. I thought it would be a good counterpoint to the work I was doing developing image protection mechanisms for wireless signals. I was wrong.

What I found was that I couldn’t write prose after spending so much time coding. There just wasn’t anything there for me to put down on paper. Writing code sapped me of my creative energy leaving nothing to put down in words.

I came to the realization that writing code and fiction were expressions of creativity. They both tap into the same place where ideas originate. Developing software has a creative value that isn’t always appreciated. Solving problems for customers through software is a creative process that results in delighting the customer.

To celebrate this creative aspect of developing software, we commission artwork for each of our product releases. Every year, our engineering team comes up with a theme for our releases. Last year the theme was “Things That Are Big” and this year it’s “Things That Are Fast”.

I thought I’d share a few pieces of the artwork from releases over the past year that I feel had a significant impact on our customers. I’ll share a bit about the challenge we were trying to solve, our creative solution to the problem, and how that delighted customers.

Hydroplane Release: In-Line Formula Help

Artwork from the Hydroplane Release. Weber, C. (2017)

In our Hydroplane release, we delighted customers by solving a common frustration. Many of our customers use formulas in their sheets, but most don't use them often enough to have the formula syntax memorized. In the past, they'd have to jump to a help article to figure out how to write the formula they needed. This created a disconnected experience where they'd have to leave the app to get the information they needed to keep working.

The team came up with a creative solution to this during our annual Smartsheet “Hack the Sheet” hackathon. The teams were able to focus their creative problem solving on user experience, making Smartsheet work better for customers. One of the teams developed formula help in a cell to guide users through writing any given formula. Their solution? The in-line formula help automatically displays as a customer begins writing. The solution implemented by our team here is not so much a ground-breaking technology as a creative solution to a customer need.

Greenland Release: Card View

Artwork from the Greenland Release. Weber, C. (2016)

One of our big releases last year launched our Card View feature, which makes it easy for customers to manage workload and resources with lanes of cards that enable them to visually track the flow of work. We heard our customers clamoring for a more visually-oriented presentation of Smartsheet for a while, so this was a big breakthrough for us and for our customers.

We wanted a solution that would work for multiple teams working in the same sheet, who may prefer different views to manage their work, without putting the burden on them to manipulate their data. We also wanted to solve the problem for agile teams of how to track and manage their work within Smartsheet. Our solution delighted customers by making Smartsheet more accessible to more visually inclined users, and giving agile teams the tools they need to effectively manage their work.

Creativity in Community

To further celebrate creativity, we’ll have a booth at the Bellevue Arts Fair featuring Carissa Weber, the artist who creates the paintings for each of our releases. She’ll be giving out limited edition prints of our release paintings to the community. Come stop by to say hello, have a look, and take home your very own Smartsheet print!