03/11/2020

What the future is about?

GUEST POST

Hello World, Andrés here. It’s a pleasure to meet you.

When Alvaro invited me to write the first post for Lidr, at first, I felt very flattered and, a few moments later, a little overwhelmed. I mean, if you have one opportunity to say something to the leaders of tomorrow, what would you tell them? How would you inspire a group of brilliant people that are called to define our society’s future?

I spent a few days thinking about what to say, a bit lost because many topics seemed not essential enough when we are talking about our role as engineers in our society’s future. But a few days ago, an idea came to my mind. Someone in a meeting said something about the “Social Dilemma,” the Netflix film in which ex-Facebook team members share Facebook’s story and how it became the perfect tool to manipulate the masses. Uhm… that seemed important enough.

I’m not going to give my opinion about the Film, I mean, like everything in life, things are not always what they look like. But I can talk about my own and my colleague’s experience, and many things in the Film are pretty similar.

Let ‘s rewind a bit.

If we go ten years into the past, our role as software engineers was significantly related to coding. Most people were freaking with Scrum, XP, and other things (many people still are), and for a while, it seemed to be the final solution, the specific tool to measure ourselves to be faster, safer, and better as engineering teams. But for us, the challenge was in the coding part, we were so in love with the technical solution, the performance, and the maintainability. We cared a lot about patterns and architecture, but not so much about the impact. I mean, that was “product team stuff,” so, “who cares”? 

We tried to find “modern companies”. Those who included things like “We are looking for a Node.js engineer…” in 2009, thinking that technology, by itself, was the challenging part of the problem.

Time kept passing, and even in many of those fortunate projects with freedom enough to invest time and resources to build great technology, something felt wrong. Most of what we crafted seemed useless. Consulting companies were crafting products for their clients without wondering about whether or not the impact of what they were building was worth it or not. And startups were not doing much better, with a mortality of 90% and products that solved problems that nobody had. Many people felt very frustrated.

We learned from our older brothers, and we started trying different approaches that people in the Valley were talking about. We started trying with multidisciplinary Squads, started talking about the outcome vs the output, or the continuous discovery to reduce uncertainty, making small iteration instead of big features. And for a few teams, it seemed to work. Impossible roadmaps became OKRs and the software engineer’s role started their transformation from “the executor of the sprint”, to a crucial part in the evolution of products. From being that person who no one understands, to being the main character not only in the technical decision but in the growth of the company by itself. And I believe that this is where we are today.

And this is what it’s all about; some companies are ahead, others behind, but every day, more and more engineers are involved in solving customers’ problems from a holistic point of view. So by extension, we are involved not only in the technical solutions but in the evolution of the structure of companies.

That’s a huge responsibility, so, going back to the beginning, what do we tell them?

Well, I think we can learn a lot from past mistakes, and we have a great mirror to look in. Going back to the “social dilemma”, now we talk a lot about metrics, optimizing outcome, and making changes in the behavior, which’s essential. Still, it’s our responsibility to avoid some mistakes that they had. Understanding the customer pains to evolve your product and solve customer pains means something different from obsessing yourself with optimizing the metrics.

In the social dilemma, they talk about how Facebook created the perfect tool to manipulate people, bring a powerful addiction to society, change the world, and make it a worse place to live. 

But I don’t believe in gigantic machiavellian plans to rule the world. I prefer to think that many smart people utterly obsessed with “having the greatest engagement ever,” with many intelligent engineers utterly obsessed with “creating the best technology ever,” with several smart people utterly obsessed with “creating the outstanding company ever”… crated, in fact, one of the greatest, leading technology,  machines of manipulation, most of them even without realizing about it.

For me, that’s what the future is about; it’s not only about focusing on creating great companies and products, it’s not only about the scalability of our tech or how we will use AI, it’s about how our daily desitions shape the future. And as long as we forget about the etic behind what we do, we will keep opening the dangerous dor of crafting a worse future.

So dear engineer, our daily work is hard. Engineering by itself is not something easy. I understand that, but we have a huge responsibility towards society… the problem you are solving today could make a huge change in people’s lives, so we can’t ignore that. We can not be just “coders” anymore. Some years ago, concepts like riders or community managers didn’t even exist. The decision to create Uber or Cabify some years ago revolutionize a whole sector a few years after. 

We have a once in history time opportunity; we are still few working on product companies, including the Ethics or not in the equation of decision making for our daily decisions, even if it’s not the optimal business solution, is up to us. Consider the solution that we are adopting for a behavior makes this world a better place or worse is on us, particularly in our leaders. 

That’s why I accept helping with Lidr because I can’t imagine a better way to invest my time than assisting others in making this a better world.

Let’s gather to make an exciting better world… see you soon buddy!

About the author

Andrés Rodrigues started in the tech world whit his father (an old school programmer from the Fortran era). Since those days, he keeps working in the Product and Engineering world, currently as Head of Engineering at Jeff. He likes to spend his free time helping others to build stuff, climbing, and skiing.