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Ben Halpern
Ben Halpern

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The Longterm Benefits of Effective Product Development

I was reading the description of an upcoming project for our marketing team which started with this phrase...

Usual campaign stuff -- templates, banner, sidebar

This may seem innocuous, but everything we're now describing as "the usual stuff" used to be highly specialized hardcoded hacks that used to take entire engineering cycles to work on. Now it's just part of the product and can be lumped in as the baseline work. These days it is a task our marketing team can pull off. A year ago it was a big last-minute software project every time.

Since you're on DEV, you should have some familiarity with what we're talking about. DEV is built on Forem (which was extracted from DEV) and includes functionality for running "campaigns" which is a highly flexible utilization of the site to launch specialized functionality without having to write new code into the core codebase. We use this for contests and partnerships. It's functionality we use consistently, but not too long ago this was a productivity pipe dream.

xkcd automation

This xkcd comic makes reference to the presumed futility of efforts to automate a certain type of task. It is so often the case that hard software projects not to result in actual value creation that it is worth celebrating when it does.

The work to "generalize" this functionality, make it re-usable for us and everyone who runs Forem, is an effort in longterm value creation that is easy to talk about abstractly, but seeing it in action as though taken for granted within our own team is still special. It's not necessarily easy to derive actual productivity gains from the software we write. There are always tradeoffs. I've worked on a lot of projects which presume to offer actual business value or productivity wins but fail to provide that in practice. It's satisfying to take notice of the times when it does work out.

A year ago this was a big project with unknown payoff. Now it's just the "usual stuff".

Shout out to @ridhwana and @lightalloy who did most of the work on this project.

Top comments (4)

goyder profile image
goyder • Edited

I like to think of this idea as “technical interest” - the positive inverse of technical debt.

downey profile image
Tim Downey

Technical investments that earn interest... 🤔

I like that framing!

paulasantamaria profile image
Paula Santamaría • Edited

Reading this was refreshing. Too often, I hear stories about the problems and failures that come from over-engineering while trying to improve productivity, especially when it comes to automation. It's nice to hear that it can be done right and create actual business value and improve productivity.
Congrats to the Forem team 🙌

kspeakman profile image
Kasey Speakman

I think the 2nd comic could be taken positively as well. It could describe a number of popular services and libraries today. AWS and React come to mind. I imagine those started as "just automations" to speed up existing internal processes but became their own products requiring full-time work.