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I was sent sent a large wall of text from a user of the website I maintain at my job. They are clearly upset for having to deal with a horribly outdated web application that has not seen any serious updates in over 6+ years. No refactoring has been done, the code quality is terrible, the security unchecked, policy compliances ignored, in addition to being ugly and frankly embarrassing. Keep in mind this is a small business but the website is used by hundreds daily. I'm one of two programmers there, and I've been working there for two years. This person says they are about my age (22) and understand technology (but can't use proper grammar).

The complaint mentioned awkward pages and actions on the website, but they don't even have a clue as to the depth of the flaws in this website. Now, I would love to honestly tell them that there's a lot wrong with this company and that this application was built when we were in high school. And that while it's not my fault that the website is terrible, I'm the one in position to fix it. But on the other hand, I could just say nothing and ignore it.

Would doing this publicly have any advantage to future employees (showing integrity) or would it just be a completely pointless mistake? Odds are, even if I respond only that one person will ever read it. Regardless, I'm probably just going to ignore it and continue starting my project to refactor the website.

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Just reply with "what?" or "thanks" –  whatsisname Feb 9 '11 at 5:38
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Question - is it your decision to make? It sounds like a very large investment of time & development effort to address these issues. Will the time & money invested be worth it? –  Peter L Feb 9 '11 at 5:55
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I would respond by asking what motivated them to send in the complaint. If they are a regular user and need you to make their life earlier, take them seriously. If it was just to show how smart they are, ignore it. –  NickC Feb 9 '11 at 6:06
    
"I Understand technology"? This is what I think the user meant to say: "I think I know what I'm talking about and I'm going to throw big words at you to make myself look clever." –  badgerr Feb 9 '11 at 9:18
    
"Now, I would love to honestly tell them that there's a lot wrong with this company... But on the other hand, I could just say nothing and ignore it." Why are these the only two choices? Why isn't there any other alternative? –  S.Lott Feb 9 '11 at 11:48
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5 Answers

I'd suggest that unless you've been told not to do so previously, forward the complaint to your manager. Perhaps that will spark some interest in investing company time in improving the site. I wouldnt respond to the user with promises that you're working on an update as that will only box you in if you arent actually doing so. Simply thank them for their feedback, answer any specific questions that have answers, and tell them you've forwarded their feedback on to your supervisors.

If you have weekly meetings with fellow workers and its appropriate, you can also bring the email up then as well.

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And that while it's not my fault that the website is terrible, I'm the one in position to fix it.

That may be so. But do you have the authority to decide to spend lots of your work time to fix it?

  • If you don't have the authority, raise the issue with someone who does.

  • Otherwise, you need to make a judgement whether the guy's complaints are valid, and whether it is in the company's interest for you (or your subordinates) to spend the time fixing it.

What you say to the guy should depend on what you decide to do (duh!), but totally ignoring him would be rude ... IMO. He has taken the time to let you know about what he thinks. At the very least, you should thank him for that ... even if you think he is misguided, his email is difficult to read, or if he makes his points in an abrasive and tactless way.

(And for God's sake, his poor grammar should be irrelevant. Some folks cannot write good English to save their lives, but that doesn't make their opinions worthless.)

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I would go with GrandmasterB and moz with a twist. Thank the user for the feedback and take it to your manager. But here's a catch. Spend some time and come up with an estimated effort taken to revamp the site. Come up with a plan saying it'll take x number of months with x number of developers and would cost approximately x number of dollars. This way, you're doing a lot of ground work for your manager and making it easy for him to decide/take it to the higher management. Involve any senior developers within the team and take their advice.

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Whatever you do, don't start talking bad about your company products publicly. Even if the email is just to one person, it could easily be forwarded multiple times and eventually end in a paper somewhere making you look really stupid. Also, admitting that the faults he has found is just the tip of the iceberg is like saying "There are major security holes here, find them if you can. I dare you!"

If the mail was truly helpful give a thankful and polite but professional mail back thanking for the input. Then, as others have pointed out, let your manager know that others have noticed the issues with the website and that fixing it should be prioritized.

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From the sound of it the best response would be a private "we have plans and are working on rebuilding the site. Thank you for your description of some of the faults, we have added them to our list and they will be addressed. The new site should be live in ...".

I'd make a public post when you're ready that lays out the rebuild plan and timeline. But only when I was confident of the timeline - there's few things worse than a two year old post saying "the new site will be live in one month!"

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A professional answer, but too formulaic. People receive e-mails like that all the time from big business. When people get e-mail like that, all they see is a message that says, "PISS OFF!" even if that is not the intent. –  ShrimpCrackers Feb 9 '11 at 5:32
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