People don't care how your product is built

This is originally from my application to the Recurse Center 1 week mini retreat. The question that I’m answering is: What is the most fascinating thing you’ve learned in the past month?

People don’t care how a product is built. People don’t care what languages and frameworks are used to build a product. They care about two things: what the product does for them (logic) and how the product makes them feel (emotion).

As a classically trained engineer, I’ve been conditioned to believe the opposite. I’ve been taught that I need to optimize for minimal memory usage and maximum processing efficiency. In fact, I’ve spent hundreds of hours across school and career performing this exercise over and over again.

And what I’ve learned is it’s mostly poop. It sets out with a false assumption that people want what we’re building. And that’s wrong 90% of the time. We don’t know if people want what we’re building because people don’t know if they want what we’re building. People don’t know what they’re going to eat for lunch tomorrow.

It’s been a long journey but I’m slowly getting better at (1) observing how people behave, (2) listening to what people say, and (3) building bare minimum software that solves a problem and also makes people feel good.

Once these points are hit, I then think about engineering the ideal solution.

Edit 04/09

I’ve had some time to let this marinate and discuss it with colleagues. Here’s my updated thinking: it is situational. If you’re short on resources or unsure about whether what you build will have product market fit on day 1, I think that calls for a lean approach like the one I described above. Here, it makes sense to collect technical debt in exchange for speed. If, however, the opposite of the above is true (high resources & sure of PMF on day 1), then it makes sense to think more thoughtfully about the design and architecture of the product.

What I’m trying to surface with this piece is that while classically trained engineers excel in the latter environment (they were bred for it, afterall), they often stumble in the former because they fail to shed ingrained habits that priortize engineering perfection over speed. This impacts how quickly (if, at all) you accomplish the most important feat in all of this which is to establish product market fit.

Written on November 16, 2017