Inside Out

Notes on seeking wisdom and crafting software

Whom do you serve?

Getting better at anything is usually backed by a virtuous loop. The loop generates actionable feedback for us. We try, we fail, we reflect and try again. Faster feedback is always better. Objective ones even more so.

Take this idea to the life of a dev. We participate in the feedback loop in our code editors. It generates actionable insights on poor coding practices or defective code via compiler warnings. Gradually this builds the muscle memory to avoid making mistakes. Objective of this loop is to make the code runnable.

Same idea of the loop applies to business too with the objective to provide affordable/quality service. We must iterate with the end user. We must seek their feedback, reflect upon it and strive to do better. This continuously generates great value for the ecosystem.

We have one big blocker. We lose our way and create the wrong feedback loop. It doesn’t generate value.

In a recent post on Google’s culture, Praveen Seshadri puts this nicely.

But very few Googlers come into work thinking they serve a customer or user. They usually serve some process (“I’m responsible for reviewing privacy design”) or some technology (“I keep the CI/CD system working”). They serve their manager or their VP. They serve other employees. They will even serve some general Google technical or religious beliefs (“I am a code readability expert”, “I maintain the SWE ladder description document”). This is a closed world where almost everyone is working only for other Googlers, and the feedback loop is based on what your colleagues and managers think of your work. Working extra hard or extra smart doesn’t create any fundamental new value in such a world. In fact, in a bizarre way, it is the opposite.

From personal experience, I cannot stress this enough. In the corporate world, we use this jargon called optics. We care about how the actions are perceived by the stakeholders. This short circuits the feedback loop immensely; in a not-so-good way. See, our focus changed from the end user to the nearest individual in the value chain. We serve the self-interests of the few.

There’s just one question to answer. Whom do you serve? The process, the steps, the self-created cobweb; or the end user.