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Eating your own dog food

One of the quickest ways to improve your product or service is to use it yourself. Not just try it out, but live your life with it – make use of it in your own business to the point where you are critically dependent on your own stuff.

Why? Because if you do, your engineers and marketing people will be the first ones exposed to mistakes or fiascos that could be devastating to your customers.

I've been a firm believer in the mantra of "Eat your own dog food before offering it to your customers" for years. At Cisco, the engineers and associated marketing folks sat behind alpha level software – new releases of the Cisco IOS were tested internally long before they saw the light of (public) day. Not surprisingly, the features that we depended on for our day to day business were always in the best shape and seldom caused problems. The features we used least (or didn't have internally) were always the problem children as they saw extensive lab testing, not real world exposure.

I was reminded of this manta over the weekend as I grappled with the failure of iTunes to sync my iPhone with my Outlook calendar. This problem dawned on me late last week as I was trying to schedule a meeting with a friend and realized that there were serious numbers of missing appointments on my calendar.

A search session over the weekend revealed that I wasn't the only one having the problem – I tried all the "fixes" that were described on the Apple support notes and those on numerous blogs. Then the penny dropped… iTunes had upgraded itself (yes, I know I had to click the button to do it – I'm culpable too) a couple of weeks ago from 7.5 to 7.6.

Regressing back to 7.5 (including restoring my old iTunes library from January 18th – the day of the "upgrade") fixed my problem and now I'm happily syncing again – not only that but the sync takes a couple of minutes instead of half an hour!

I have to believe that Apple's engineers are good ones and that they both care and test their product… But I'll bet there are few folks over at Apple that live behind a PC running Windows where their life depends on Outlook AND have an iPhone. If they did, my experience with non-syncing iPhone calendars would have been caught before 7.6 made it out into the wild.

So, the morale of the story is clear – make sure you eat your own dog food. Your customers will thank you and you will be amazed at what you find (and fix!) first!

Comments

Uday Subbarayan

Hi Stu,
As always, very good post.

One another additional comment is that development environment for engineers should be diverse.

For example there should be a mix of windows, mac, linux ,etc,if the product is going to shipped to various platforms.

Native development helps to identify the problem in the root itself and i always consider "porting sw" is a 2nd class citizen.

-Uday.

Glenn Gow

Stu, you make some good points and I’d like to add one.

I think it’s especially important that companies eat the competitors’ dog food too! Most of our clients are involved in crowded markets where customers have a multitude of choice. And yet, I see technology companies using ONLY their own products internally.

Does HP use Sun servers with Solaris? Does Apple use Nokia phones? Does Cisco use Juniper switches? Does Oracle use SAP? Does Microsoft use web-based office productivity software?

Imagine if they did. Imagine what the marketing and engineering people would learn. They would learn the good, the bad and the ugly, not just about their competitors’ products, but more importantly, they’d learn the good , the bad and the ugly about their own products when they contrast them to competitive offerings.

Too many companies “drink their own cool-aid” and/or eat their own dog food so much that they actually believe they understand their products from a customer’s perspective inside an incredibly competitive world.

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STU PHILLIPS
MENLO PARK, CALIFORNIA

Intense Brit, lived in Silicon Valley since 1984. Avid pilot, like digital photography, ham radio and a bunch of other stuff. Official Geek.

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