Building Products vs. Building Platforms

August 23, 2022

In my day job, I build a platform: that is, software that lets other people build things. The tools we build are used by people both inside and outside the company to make some pretty neat stuff.

Since we’re co-workers, though, the internal folks using our platform get the privilege of talking directly to me and my team on a regular basis. As a result, I deal with a lot of teams on that are in this kind of situation:

  • They have some product they want to build using our tech.

  • In order to build this product, they need some additional features from the platform.

The people that do this tend to be great product developers that know their intended audience well, and can build something really compelling. They have a keen sense of what they’re looking for, and are very talented.

But the trouble is, there’s a subtle but important mindset shift that’s needed when switching between product development and platform development.

This article was originally written as advice for them, and I’m now giving it to you as well.

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“Saudade” Isn't Mysterious

March 12, 2022

Portuguese doesn’t really get a lot of recognition in North America. If people even remember that it exists, it’s usually filed in the mental category of “that language that’s kinda like Spanish”.

But there’s one word in Portuguese that doesn’t have a counterpart in English or Spanish: saudade, the feeling of missing someone or something.

In North America, this gets a lot of credit for being a particularly poetic or mysterious word for a specific or unusual feeling, akin to the invented word sonder. Here’s the first paragraph of the English Wikipedia page for “saudade”:

Saudade is a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for something or someone that one cares for and/or loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never be had again. It is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places, or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, and well-being, which now trigger the senses and make one experience the pain of separation from those joyous sensations. Saudade describes a feeling both happy and sad, and could be approximated by the English expression ‘bitter sweet’.

That’s a really heavy description. And while I don’t entirely disagree with it, I think it’s overstated. Like I said above, “saudade” is just the feeling of missing someone or something. The catch is that, due to some grammatical quirks, it ends up looking more mysterious than it actually is.

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How to Survive When the Air Itself Hates You

July 25, 2021

Around a year ago, I woke up to find that the sky was tinted orange.

A picture of my balcony door, an eerie yellow glow emanating from just behind the curtain.

As terrifying as this image looks, it was even worse in person. It was hard to capture just how orange this was, because the auto white balance in my camera kept “correcting” it.

This was around September. We’d been dealing with bad air quality on-and-off for a few weeks by then, because the CZU Lightning Complex Fires were burning in some of the nearby hills, leaving us choking whenever the wind blew the smoke our way.

But this day was different. Instead of being low-hanging smoke from nearby fires—which tended to leave the sky a hazy grey—this was high-altitude smoke from fires burning all the way up in in Oregon and Washington. As a result, the air quality was counterintuitively less bad than it had been on the worst days of the past month.

But then the ash fell.

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Segmented Identity as Necessary for Daily Life

January 17, 2021

A picture of the 'dodecahedron' character from the book 'The Phantom Tollbooth'. Like his namesake, he has many faces.

This is going to be a bit of a long post. I’m going to take a deep dive into a view of identity that, depending on your background, might either seem unconventional or completely obvious. I’m going to talk about how this view relates to privacy, consider how it interacts with technology, and explore the values that underpin what we build.

But first, let’s talk about a scenario that’s probably been rare for most people this past year: meeting someone new.

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