That said, he admits, "I understand the value to the company from a holistic point of view." He notes that product managers sometimes get software-related requests from customers that may not be as simple as they sound, and they now better understand the effort involved in building and maintaining them.
CTO Antoine Hage expands upon that point: Previously, he says, a business person might promise a programming change to a customer, thinking it would be easy to update a feature. "Now they understand the challenges, so when they're selling a solution, they know how much time a new feature might take. [And] they can answer questions immediately without having to bring in a technical salesperson."
Interestingly, the programming requirement hasn't limited hiring efforts. In its initial interviews, FreeCause highlights the ongoing cross-company programming requirement, and none of the six non-technical people it's hired in the last few months has balked at the idea, says Hage.
Offloading engineering tasks
One goal in implementing the program was to see how many tasks the company could offload from its engineering staff. As Jaconi explains, "In any company, engineers complain that not only does the business side not understand what they do, but they're overloaded with mundane tasks that never become a priority." That frustrates both sides.
According to Hage, the company used to allocate about 30% of the engineering staff's time to fulfilling requests from the business side for new features in the company's software. Offloading even 20% of that time to let engineers focus on high-level tasks delivers a huge benefit, he says -- especially in a technology company, where engineering represents a high percentage of costs.
Data analyst Corinne Salchunas: "Working with my coding mentor ... we were able to improve clickthroughs at least sixfold."
Data analyst Corinne Salchunas is one employee who has taken up the challenge. Salchunas is responsible for analyzing the effectiveness of the company's loyalty management software. With a degree in economics, she had not done any programming in school and none at FreeCause beyond Excel macros and limited database queries.
"One of our features notifies people when they can earn points on a particular site, but I noticed that users weren't clicking on these notifications very frequently," says Salchunas. "I realized that we weren't notifying users clearly enough. Working with my coding mentor, I came up with some new versions of the notifications, including having the pop-ups appear sooner, and between the messaging and the timing, we were able to improve clickthroughs at least sixfold."