Random ruminations as I figure out and deal with life, grad school, being an engineer and a product manger; learn more about technology, marketing, economics, news, writing short stories and other stuff that distracts me from doing whatever I'm supposed to be doing....
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Would you ship it if it had your name on it?
Painters and sculptors sign their art. Writers have their names on the jacket of their books. Journalists get bylines.
Their name is forever tied to the what they worked on. Some of this is the narcism that we all have and the desire to mark ownership we all crave, but I remember reading that it started as a way to take responsibility. You put your name on what you worked on so that people would know that it was your brilliance, and your errors and faults, that were on display.
A question that I'm now teaching myself to ask and wish more people shipping software would ask themselves is "Would I ship it if it had my name on it?" Not just my company's or my products, but mine.
Releasing products, especially in a fast-moving industry and in a launch-and-iterate culture is often about what you leave out, and what you will get to later.
You have a vision to begin with or at least a plan, but then as deadlines approach or other evil things happen, you decide what features you won't complete, what you can leave out, what bugs aren't likely to affect too many users or are minor in their impact. This I understand and completely support, but you also start to think about "what really isn't that bad", visual blemishes that you think you'll get to later, things that users may not miss etc. and tell your self that you'll get to these later.
The tragedy is that you often never do; you get to some important things but given the pressures of shipping something new, if you didn't fix it the first time, its likely you'll never get to fixing it ever.
Its hard for people to take ownership of a product, any product. Its hard to make the 100 minor improvements that together make the product suddenly pop. Its harder still if people around you don't remind you to do it or don't share a fanatical sense about this. A culture of "just ship it" is dangerous and surprisingly common.
I think a test you have to ask yourself before you release anything is "Is this beautiful enough for me to put my name on it?"
Every once in a while, I'm reminded that humans can be completely lacking in humanity.
My wife had the following experience yesterday on her ride back home. She got on the train and found a seat. The train was unusually crowded and it looked a lot of people had to stand for a long ride. An elderly Asian gentleman carrying a few things in both hands, was looking for spot, started to complain smilingly about the train being so full and stood in the aisle at the back of the carriage some seats away from her.
She expected someone closer to gentleman in the aisle (lots of younger people on the train) to give him their seat.
No one did.
The train started, and it was clear the man was having a lot of trouble standing up. Then at the next stop there was actually an announcement saying the train was full so please give up your seats to people who needed them.
Still nobody moved.
My wife got up walked to the end of the train and asked the gentleman to go over to her seat. She still couldn…
I've been really enjoying the Freakonomics podcast of late. This episode and the lesson we should take a away from it, was a stark reminder of one of the most important things we should be doing - but often don't - in building products or making any decisions: measuring the impact of absolutely everything we do, including the things that seem obviously good.
I recommend listening to the podcast if you have the time, but here's the summary. Stephen Dubner describes the Cambridge Sommerville Youth Study. The impact of social intervention programs in general is hard to measure and so they seldom are. This was the first attempt at measuring the impact over a long period of time.
It's a great story and there are a few good take-aways, but here's the main one: troubled or at-risk youth that received mentoring (good mentoring!) had worse life outcomes across every dimension than the kids that were left alone. Despite the recipients saying that the mentoring was incredibl…