How a process called "Dog-fooding" inspires me everyday!

I’m a huge fan of a process known as “Dogfooding.” I wanted to share it with you.

This is by no means a new concept. It began to take flight with the 1970’s Alpo Dog Food commercials, featuring the founder of Alpo doing a commercial in which he showed that he fed his own dog with his own product. It is reminiscent of the Hair Club for Men (“I’m not only the president, I’m a client!”). The legends say that in 1988 a corporate email went out to Microsoft employees saying that Microsoft, as a company, needed to start “eating [their] own dog food.” Meaning, they needed to start using their own products more. If they wouldn’t use their own products, how could they expect to sell them?

I’ve always been fascinated by this phrase. I love it. If you make something, you should love it so much that you want to use it. You should trust it enough to make your business run on it. Microsoft creates their own platforms, and uses them. Occasionally they get busted using a Linux web server somewhere, or they get a little good will by contributing to Linux development, but all in all, they build their own tools, and use them. Typically they use those tools to build newer tools! If you work for Ford, you should probably drive a Ford car!

If there is something out there that you would rather use than your own product, how can you make your product better? Before there was Microsoft Word, there was Microsoft Works. Before that, one of the biggest names, for the longest time, was IBM’s Lotus Notes. Lotus Notes was one of the best word processors and really defined what all future word processors would be and how they would look and behave. Microsoft knew they had to take cues from IBM, and make their product better.

I like to constantly think about if I were my own customer, would I like this? “This” being any number of scenarios, of course. I remember a few years ago, I was attending a wedding. Prior to the ceremony, a few of my former co-workers and I from a job I had once held got together for a few drinks. We chatted, and talked about where we were working at the time of the wedding – many of us had moved on to newer jobs, and have of course moved since. He asked me about a service the company I was employed at was offering, and I told him the features I liked and some of the things I didn’t like about the product – he then asked if we used it internally? “No,” I responded, “it doesn’t give us the flexibility we need.”

He shook his head and replied, “you’ve got to eat your own dog food.” I nodded, but I surprised myself with a response I had never even considered: “not everyone needs the flexibility.” And there it was. I, a firm believer in dog-fooding, realized that while it is good in theory, it cannot be implemented in practice. But was that it? Did I just destroy the preached-practice of eating your own dog food?

Although I agree a company should be so invested in their own products and services that they should be willing to use them, it is important to remember the scale of your product or service’s target audience. If your product is designed for a small company, but you’re a large corporation, you’re probably going to need something bigger to suit your needs. I would bet that the people who started companies like TurboTax are probably intelligent and knowledgeable CPA who probably don’t use the TurboTax software to file their own taxes. But that should be their fuel to keep developing and improving! Maybe you aren’t your own target audience for your current product. But your next product could revolutionize your industry!

When it comes to software development, your work is never done. If you think that what you have is great the way it is, then you should be proud of what you have – but you should think about ways you can make the next big leap. When it comes to owning and running a business, no matter what it is, you should always find that drive to continue making the experience better for your client, make a higher profit, or even make your business the kind of place talent wants to work. Yes, they are broad statements, but your mind doesn’t always need to be dreaming up new ideas, just improving on old ones. Even if it’s a banana stand.

How to move away from x86 and into the future

I recently read an interesting take on Why Intel can’t kill x86. Even video game console manufacturers are encountering the same issues. The solution I’m about to propose must have been proposed a hundred times over, but I think now is a good time to revisit it. Virtualization and emulation. Let me explain. Continue reading “How to move away from x86 and into the future”

Kickstarter, don't fail me now

I have only backed a few things on Kickstarter, so far. All of them geeky. Not only was one of them Ouya, but another upcoming gaming “console” has reached funding, this time in the form of the Gamestick.

Although their fundraising goals were not as ambitious, and they were not overfunded by 800%, Gamestick still shows promise. It is a device that plugs into your television via HDMI port, is powered by the HDMI port, and plays games via a wireless controller where the HDMI stick rests when not in use. While I don’t genuinely believe that either of these new consoles is going to disrupt the current marketplace, I am excited to see that they are ushering in a new era of gaming. Ultra portable, far more independent, and not tied to any old traditional methods.

Although we may not remember either Gamestick or Ouya in ten years (or perhaps they will surprise us all and come to dominate the market), I will be proud to have these first consoles of a new generation. I keep thinking that this should be tomorrow’s gaming post, but really I just want to talk about the future. I’m very excited that this is happening while I’m here to witness it. I don’t know if inexpensive consoles, with annual hardware refreshes is really the future. I also don’t know if indie development is really going to take off in a way that supplants and replaces the current need for high budget studios. But even if both of these consoles end up on the shelf next to my Virtual Boy, as a rare collectible in geek history, I’m going to be very proud to know that I was there, and an active supporter of something new.

Why not let Bitcoin cure cancer?

Bitcoin keeps making headlines as this mysterious currency that nobody understands. And from what I’ve seen, people swap BTC back and forth paying each other in their virtual currency, but there are very few ways to cash it in in the real world. But I don’t care about that. What I care about, is all of the wasted energy and processing power.

To earn “Bitcoins” you must mine them from software. And not in a cute, fun “Minecraft” video game sort of way – in a processor intensive and electricity hungry CPU crunching method. A small application sits, and runs, and tries to mine bitcoins. They say that the calculations being done are essential to the peer-to-peer backbone that makes up Bitcoin. Then comes a company like Butterfly labs, who puts out a small box that is designed for literally nothing more than mining Bitcoins. They’ve gone so far as to build a $30,000 server with a custom processor.

Meanwhile, what of Folding@home? Stanford University, for years, has used distributed computing to help simulate protein folding experiments that could someday be used to fight cancer, alzheimer’s, or other diseases. BOINC & Rosetta@Home has similar goals, looking in to HIV and Malaria research.

When the Sony PlayStation 3 launched a Folding@home app, I was excited to see idle CPU power being put to good use. But Bitcoin is making people with Powerhouse PC’s decide to focus solely on greed. Virtual greed, at that. Maybe I’ll be sorry I didn’t stay on the Bitcoin bandwagon someday, but right now, I just wish people were more aware of projects like these. I once took part in the SETI@Home project, processing thousands of hours of recorded space audio, hoping for a repeating signal or a hello from E.T. – but none ever came. I was still impressed with the idea that they could just pass the work out to millions of home computers and let them crunch the numbers.

I had heard of Folding@home after SETI, and decided to put my CPU cycles to a better use. For a while I worked with Rosetta@home, but found it more clunky, to me, than the Stanford project. I liked the idea that Rosetta@home was a registered not for profit, and I was all about seeing HIV eradicated. But more I have seen cancer attack people I love, and am now concentrating CPU cycles behind the Folding@home Cancer project. It even adds gamification features, like stat-tracking, and community driven leaderboard.

Please, do the world a favor, use distributed computing for the right reasons.