Interview with James Dobrofsky – Senior Product Manager at Soda PDF
Soda PDF version 12 is finally here!
What better way to celebrate this milestone achievement by the best PDF editing software on the market than by interviewing James Dobrofsky, Product Owner of our latest software release?
As you will soon discover from this interview, Dobrofsky is very proud of Soda PDF’s latest software version, specifically because it puts the user at the center of their PDF experience, something that this man has made his main priority and focus ever since joining the Soda PDF team a few years ago.
Soda PDF 12 At A Glance
We are proud to announce our latest and greatest version of our software is a complete revamp of our user interface, based on the countless number of loyal clients who shared their feedback with us regarding our software.
The result is a faster and easier to use version of everyone’s favorite PDF software. Not only is this new user interface pretty to look at, but we are confident our users will enjoy a new and improved Microsoft Office to PDF converter. Plus, we have also made changes to our E-Sign Manager, making it easier for individuals and businesses alike to send and track electronic signatures for their PDFs.
For more on these new improvements, let’s hear from Mr. Dobrofsky himself:
Our EXCLUSIVE Interview with James Dobrofsky
The following is a condensed transcript of an interview that was recorded on July 6th, 2020, between Sean Garland (Soda PDF Blog contributor) and James Dobrofsky (Product Owner at Soda PDF).
Question: Welcome James Dobrofsky and thank you for taking the time for this interview. First, if you could please introduce yourself.
James Dobrofsky: I am James Dobrofsky, the Senior Product Manager for Avanquest Software Publishing Group.
Q: How long have you been involved with Soda PDF?
JD: 5 years.
Q: Have you always been working with Soda PDF?
JD: No, I have spent over 10 years in project management, specifically in mobile and so coming to PDF and desktop software was new to me.
Q: Why did you decide to revamp the Soda PDF product and user experience with this latest release (version 12)?
Best way of putting it is that (Soda PDF 12) is a step that comes from the original move to subscription that started back with Soda 9.
With Soda 9 we made an eco-system with Soda PDF Online and Service Pages and so really it was creating an eco-system and user management, but the app didn’t really change much other than adding E-Sign.
The final step in this move to subscription was having the software match our business model. By moving from perpetual to subscription, we needed to take a critical look at the UX (user experience) and ensure we are providing amazing workflows and experiences. We really wanted to put the user at the center (of the PDF experience). So what 12 does is it actually modifies the UX to reflect that.
Q: Based on the user experience, what new features or services that are included with Soda 12 that users can expect?
The goal of Soda 12 wasn’t to generate new features. The goal of Soda 12 was ultimately to reimagine and improve the user experience.
We’ve made hundreds of small improvements that represent a drastic change and a shift towards a better user experience overall.
The big draw for this is the modernization of the PDF workflow and we have completely revamped E-Sign and E-Sign has been drastically improved.
For the new features, the biggest change is the modernization of the PDF workflow and what that represents. What that represents is hundreds of smaller improvements to our features, too many to go through with you. Change is everywhere within the app. As well, we have completely improved the Pages module where it now has a new user interface that borrows a lot from page preview and allows you to manually choose pages and modify them according to page features.
We combined Create and Convert into only Convert. We also have other functionality with the changes to Pages. Pages has a brand-new workflow and is probably the biggest change in Soda 12. With the old Soda 11, Pages was just another module that offered page related features. Our Pages module now, combines page preview with page editing workflows. What that means is, you make your page selection from a page preview type user interface and then modify those pages
As well, we have improved our signing ceremony, which is what users experience when they are being asked to sign a document. E-Sign has been completely re-worked and we have a much more simplified user experience and interface. We moved away from when we had two workflows for E-Sign: Quick Send and Advanced Send. Now we have modified that to be the signed document flow whereas you want to get your signature on the document along with a send for signature workflow, meaning you want other users as well as yourself to also be able to sign your document or to just have them sign your document. Send for signature will still allow you to go through that workflow.
Q: What drew you to desktop software and in particularly, what drew you to Soda PDF?
JD: I don’t think anyone chooses to work in the PDF space per say, in some sense, PDF is a commodity at this point. The format is about 30 years old! It’s not the new and sexy thing, I came across PDF by happenstance by this job and thought it looked interesting and 5 years after the fact, I am pleasantly surprised with being in this space.
(PDF software) is a source format on the web. I didn’t realize how fulfilling it could be working with such a prolific and important format for businesses and students.
Q: What’s the most eye-opening thing that you realized about working in the PDF space?
JD: That there was a 1,000-page spec supporting PDFs and how it (the format) should be used. The spec is supported by an ISO group, so that is a part of it. ISO groups are groups that are formed to manage these technologies that are in the commons, so there’s no real owner, and so that’s why ISO groups are there to help manage those situations.
Q: It is fair to say that you’ve worked on a lot of different versions of Soda PDF?
JD: Yes, I have. I joined Lulu Software right when Soda 8 was launching. Soda 8 was our last perpetual only product and so I was brought in specifically to move Soda PDF into subscription (model). My big first product was Soda PDF 9 and with that we built up the user management from scratch in order to support the subscription model, and that’s when we also created Soda E-Sign and at that same time Soda PDF Online. All of that was part of the Soda PDF 9 launch and yeah, I spent about a year-and-a-half working towards that.
Q: Since you’ve been working on this product since Soda 8, I’m wondering if you can talk more about the software you’ve personally helped implement. Can you tell me more about how you were able to implement, for example, E-Sign as well as online access and why?
JD: No, those are more organizational decisions and even Soda PDF Online wasn’t my “baby” per say, that was before I came on board. The main change here is moving from the old legacy perpetual paradigm that uses license keys to activate products and the onus or focus was really on bringing in new features and improvements to the software so that you can resell it every year.
The move to subscription turns that all around. The move is more about rather than having the software in the middle of your value proposition, you have the user in the middle of your value proposition. At that point, it’s not just a matter of trying to resell the software every year. The tweak is really focusing on the user experience and workflows and making sure that these users who are already your clients are as happy as possible with this software and workflows so that the software renews. If I was to describe the whole change (that Mr. Dobrofsky has personally overseen) it would be from that perspective (user experience).
Q: With workers needing to work remotely and away from the office these days, how can Soda PDF 12 help them stay connected?
Soda PDF is still the only player to offer all relevant PDF editing functionality on desktop and online. All of these improvements will be available online and we still do the best job in offering the full amount of editing features and offer them in a flexible way; if you want to use desktop or online from any operating system, we’re the best software for your document needs.
Q: With all that being said, we’ve talked about the eco-system and putting the user at the center of their PDF experience, it definitely sounds like Soda 12 can do that, and so what are you most proud of regarding the Soda 12 launch and revamp if you will?
JD: It’s hard because in one sense you’re asking me to choose who my favorite child is!
It’s this modernization of the PDF workflow so to speak. We went module by module, feature by feature, screen by screen, improving the user experience. That effort started in December and has gone on until now. So it’s the scope of the changes to this software and the results of them that I am probably most proud of.
I find that just using basic features in Soda 12 is pleasurable. It makes me smile. And to say that using PDF was fun I don’t think that is a phrase that has been said an awful lot of times, but with Soda 12 I am finding it a lot of fun.
Another new feature that I will add is that legacy and existing users will have a Product Tutorial to help users acclimate themselves as well as show new users some of the first PDF tasks that they will try.
We tried to offer the more popular features as more prominent and we’ve created for Edit this submenu that appears when you click on an element on the page that makes these popular features more explicit and offers a more enhanced and better user experience.
Users can now configure their panels and their quick access areas at the top of the application. We offer the ability in a very limited way for users to customize their existing menus.
Q: Putting the user at the center of their PDF experience has been something Soda PDF has become renowned for, so how does Soda 12 further this eco-system for its users?
JD: PDF is kind of a clunky format. When you look at a lot of these PDF editors, they still show vestiges from when the format was created by Adobe. For example, Select, Edit and View modes. (PDF) is an old format and because its ubiquitous and people use it everywhere, the UX didn’t evolve much.
Because it’s a really old format, most of it, it’s hard to see a difference between PDF editors now and PDF editors from 20 years ago. That being said, Adobe has changed their UX but many would say it’s for the worse.
PDF is an aged format, there is old functionality and as I said there is a 1,000-page spec. There is not a lot of full-blown PDF editors out there and the UX hasn’t evolved much. So what Soda PDF 12 tries to achieve with this build is to try and move beyond these restraints and try not to get too attached to what it was before. We tried to if we were to build it today how would we do it and to take a novel approach to implement its features.
There is so much functionality in PDF editors so as I said there are barriers that stop traditional PDF editors from evolving. So it took us about six months to go through all of the functionality because of how many features there are and how deep we went.
Q: By taking this novel approach, what have you noticed is the biggest change regarding how people work with PDFs in the five years that you have overseen this product?
JD: Today, the popularization of E-Sign is probably one of the biggest changes. And I would say E-Sign as a PDF flow is one, and two would be collaboration. There’s a lot more expectations around collaboration around PDFs. Third would be the creation of all these single task web apps for users who need to do something quick and dirty. From an industry point-of-view, these would be the three big changes.
We did significantly improve E-Sign in Soda 12. We’ve simplified these flows and what I meant by novel is that we didn’t just want to add a new skin to our product. We really wanted to create better workflows and that meant critically looking at how the software was stitched together and how people use it. So the goal was to come up with a software and a better user experience that works for new users and or for power users and so we approached it that way.
Q: Simple yet as powerful as ever, Soda PDF 12 sounds like a very exciting product and a great milestone for Avanquest. James, I thank you for your time. Any closing remarks?
JD: Literally, there are hundreds of improvements to our features and I look forward to users experiencing and enjoying how we have modernized PDF workflows with a simpler yet efficient user interface.
Get a taste for Soda 12
Try the new & improved Soda PDF v12 for yourself! Check out the release notes of our latest version, or get started today with a FREE download of our Desktop application, or try one of our PDF tools directly from your web browser.
Whether you’re looking to edit, convert, create, merge, split, secure or sign your documents, our powerful and easy-to-use tools were made with you in mind. Get a taste for Soda PDF 12 and see how we can help you accomplish any and all of your document goals in just a few clicks!