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The Space Pen: A Path for Better Software

In our increasingly competitive business environment, it’s easy to get caught up in the most pressing demands at hand and forget about more thoughtful strategic planning.  In software development, the rush to produce reactionary feature requests leads to a more brittle product. In cases such as these, the software becomes gradually more difficult to maintain and as well as more problematic when extending new functionality (aka technical debt).
So, how do we create better software solutions? At TazWorks, we have learned that taking time to understand our user’s problems and the context behind them enables us to create a strategic plan for our software that best meets their needs as well as the needs of our user community at large.
Tyler, our user experience developer, once told me the following urban legend that resounded deeply with my past business experience. It illustrates what happens when we forget to ask the end-users the right questions and ultimately, fail to understand the problem we are trying to solve.
“During the space race back in the 1960’s, NASA was faced with a major problem. The astronauts needed a pen that would write in the vacuum of space. NASA instructed their engineers to design a pen that could write in space and went to work.  At an engineering cost of $13.5 million they developed the ‘Astronaut Pen.’ Some of you may remember. It enjoyed minor success on the commercial market. The Russians were faced with the same dilemma, so they used a pencil.”
Although this is mythological, the narrative on how the Russians saved valuable time and resources by using an uncomplicated solution already available makes the value in this principle meaningful and easy to understand.
TazWorks embraces this principle as we strive to build Simple. Powerful.™ software for background screening. By documenting and researching user stories, we know we’re solving the right problem and quite possibly, providing solutions that are already developed.
TazWorks’ approach is to build software with such an incredible value proposition that every presentation ends in an easy sale. To that end, we strategically direct our development resources to modernize our software in one major area of focus at a time.
Fact check this urban legend for yourself to learn that NASA did briefly purchase space pens from the profitable private company that invented them. Even more intriguing is the fact that NASA does not like to take pencils into space because they are flammable making this fantastic legend a fairy tale.

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