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The road behind

Recently I was returning from a family trip to Barcelona. I kissed my mom goodbye, she was flying out a couple hours before me.
- Hm, I don’t see my flight on the departures board, - I was on my way to Montju├»c park when she called.

I sat on a bench near the Magic fountain and started to check the airline website. Soon enough we figured my mom didn’t notice the email from the airline about the changed time of her flight. She missed her flight and there were no other connections to her destination that day. I asked her not to worry and went to book her a flight the next day, a hotel and a few activities to kill time before travel. It took me about fifteen minutes and nothing else but my mobile phone.

I was walking back to Placa de Espanya thinking about how things have changed and how our lives are much more convenient thanks to technology. It's a cliche but one really has almost everything today on the palm of their hands. And it wasn't like that even a decade ago. The first time I’ve been to Barcelona was in 2006. To miss a flight back then would have been a disaster. I wouldn’t know what to do. I wouldn’t be able to Google it. The money was mostly cash and to have them transferred was such a pain. Finding a hotel meant going to a travel agency. Flights were much more expensive and far less frequent.

- It’s fantastic! - my mom said when we reunited.
Indeed, it is pretty damn fantastic today. All the hard work countless product teams have done in connectivity, search engines, payments, mobile devices... All this effort made our lives much more convenient to live. And perhaps we don’t look back enough to appreciate the road behind us.

It’s not in the nature of a product manager to look behind. We always look for new problems to solve, new products to build and new markets to conquer. Yet, sometimes, it’s nice to acknowledge and maybe even celebrate a little all the ways how our products are solving customers problems and making their (and our) lives better.

Something else happened on this trip. Our suitcases were stolen on the first day of the journey. In there were all our cloths, several devices including chargers and cables. I had a phone with 75% battery and my wallet. Surprisingly that didn’t ruin our entire trip. Twenty-four hours later we were again on our way, in a new rental car with a new set of cloth in the trunk. Again, all that thanks to a rectangular piece of plastic manufactured in China powered by amazing software product people all around the world produced.

- And you always told me it’s a bad thing I am glued to my phone, - I was laughing remembering how my mom criticized me for overusing my phone.
Surely, overusing is bad but perhaps something else is even worse - over-relying. I imagined if my phone got stolen in the same situation. Now that would be “fun”. Can't call police or road assistance, blocked from my payment methods, email, messengers, booking services, insurance...
Take two-factor authentication that is so popular nowadays. It’s a convenient and secure way to login to various services, but it quickly turns into a nightmare experience if you don’t have your phone.

There are so many things still to do. Simple things, like an airline checking if their customers actually opened an email about flight time changes. And more complex things, like how a person can access their services in an emergency when their phone is unavailable. And maybe even some controversial things, like helping our customers to build resilience and skills to solve their problems without our products when such need emerge.

The next day, my mom went to Sagrada Familia, using the ticket she bought with her phone. She used Google Translate to ask hotel staff to leave her bag with them. She figured out a better way to get to the airport and was even complaining that the airline she was flying with didn’t provide mobile check-in. Now it was my time to be impressed.

So I think we all deserve a little pat on the back for all the hard work and every, however little, contribution everyone made to make our modern lives much more convenient to live. Let's acknowledge the road behind before coming back to our endless backlogs, meetings and difficult product decisions.

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