This morning I had the opportunity to chat with software engineers and data scientists at the AI Dev World Conference on a topic I just happen to be v...
One of the most gratifying (and often frustrating) features of life in a software startup is the “everyone owns everything” philosophy. Borne of necessity as much as the inherent curiosity and industriousness we all share, this spirit of knowledge-sharing is a cultural value we honor at Pinpoint. In fact, we set a goal to enhance our knowledge-sharing across the company in 2020.
From this aim came the idea of a book club as a platform for our team to explore and exchange ideas. We realized this activity could have several desired outcomes that contribute to our cultural goals, including:
So, we assembled a diverse group across our sales, marketing, engineering, product, and data science departments, and began brainstorming what material to include.
Each book we read this year will help us think about our business differently, brainstorm solutions, or improve an aspect of how we work. Our first selection is already challenging our thinking around key product features. Let’s dig into our inaugural book review on The Tyranny of Metrics.
Not long after launching our product, we received feedback from engineering leaders who loved our aggregate metrics summarizing engineering performance, progress, and projections. Engineers, on the other hand, were skeptical. We heard concerns from some about the “Big Brother” effect, as they worried that metrics may fail to account for complexity, lack meaning, or even encourage undesirable behavior.
As engineers building a product for engineers, we were quick to assure users that the tools and dashboards in the Pinpoint app are built to help them work transparently and efficiently, but we wanted to dig deeper into this issue all the same.
A key demand we strive to meet is balancing the business need for understanding engineering performance while acknowledging the complexity of the work and the needs of engineers. The Tyranny of Metrics, from J.Z. Muller, would facilitate a discussion on how to tell good metrics from bad, and when to apply them.
Author and historian Muller applies a sociological lens to metrics and demonstrates how our appetite for data can quickly become problematic, even mirroring an addiction. While metrics can offer extraordinary benefits when they’re used properly, he asserts, they can also be designed poorly, interpreted manipulatively, gamed and corrupted by those with something to gain, and ultimately can become toxic to the cause they were designed to support.
While the book is not written for or about engineers, we identified several takeaways that can help us build better software. As we read, we asked ourselves, “How can we create a product that doesn’t suffer from the tyranny of metrics, but can instead help engineers become more informed and efficient, help managers become better coaches and leaders, and help executives become more empathetic and fluent in our language?”
Here are just a few of the concepts that resonated with our team:
What Nick found most interesting:
How widespread the misapplication of metrics is and the ingenuity people show in subverting them. From police underreporting and misclassifying crimes to surgeons only taking on the cases most likely to success, the abuse of metrics reaches across any place metrics are being used.
Despite all this, the author made it clear that there was still a place for metrics to be judiciously applied.
These challenges are exactly the issues we think about as we continue to expand and improve Pinpoint. The Tyranny of Metrics has helped us further shape these fundamental principles of our approach to building software and metrics for engineering:
How Nick plans to apply this insight:
Thinking more carefully about when we choose to use metrics. There were such a range of interesting examples of abusing metrics, it has helped me to imagine ways in which the work I'm doing might be manipulated. We've always had the goal to make software development better for developers, so the things I learned will help me to think about the best ways to do that.
Sr. Director, Marketing
This morning I had the opportunity to chat with software engineers and data scientists at the AI Dev World Conference on...