What on Earth Are We Doing Here?
Ramblings About Products, People and Purpose
This is going to be a little bit more personal than usual. Bear with me. You see, I’ve just turned 40, which is considered to be the beginning of middle-age. So I did a little bit of soul-searching and wanted to share some of it. It might be helpful for you.
I first joined this company in 2001. Sixteen years ago. So I’ve spent almost 40% of my life thinking about its place in the world. Let me try to summarize why I’m still here.
My Personal Story
I’ll start by going back even further than 2001. All the way back to when I was a kid. Back to my grandfather’s days. He was a teacher, an engineer, and an inventor. Thirty years ago, he created an electric car, and he said electric cars would be the future. He was also the owner of an electrical cable factory and used to rave about optical fiber. He said it would also be the future, that it would connect everything and everyone. He died in 1989, one year before the first web browser was built.
During my childhood days, when I was not spending time with my grandfather, I was playing with LEGO bricks and with computers. Being hands-on led me to drop out of university and start working on my own.
I used to say that I was a self-taught developer, but that was a lie. You’re never really self-taught, there’s always something that teaches you. In my case it was a ZX Spectrum computer. It had 48 Kb of RAM and a programming language on its keyboard.
So after about two years of working in different companies, I applied to a job in a little startup that didn’t even have a website. I did not know anything about it. The CEO interviewed me, and asked me about UML, Unified Modeling Language, those diagrams that are used to explain object-oriented languages. I enthusiastically said that it was all wrong, that code and diagrams should be the same, that everything should be visual.
I wanted to work on something like this even before I knew what “this” was. Now, as I said, OutSystems is a big part of my life, and that got me thinking: “why the hell do I like it so much?”
So let me share my personal view.
What We Are
It first hit me in 2003, when my first wife died. The guys showed up at the funeral. You could say that it’s common human decency, and you’d be right. But this company has proved it over and over again. It shows up for everyone. The company cares for its employees and for society. We are decent people.
And crazy people. Freedom and creativity mean a lot to me, so I love working in a company where I can always ask why and also why not, and try out ideas that might seem stupid. A lot of my ideas made it into the product and now they don’t feel as stupid anymore.
Something that helps creativity is that life here is a roller coaster. For example, I was the first product manager and I messed up. I was paralyzed. But I was given another opportunity. And you’ll always be given more opportunities here, if you work passionately and are not afraid of change.
Speaking about opportunities, here we have the rare opportunity to work with pretty advanced stuff. Where else can you work on an IDE? Where else can you work on a compiler? Where else can you work on a programming language? This is freaking cool hard work.
And it’s also hard because we’re working on a platform that supports hundreds of products and thousands of projects, and our decisions affect them all. So we have higher-level problems that are hard to solve. But we solve them. We create an amazing thing that improves the daily lives of millions of people.
If we can do that, it’s because of this team. Besides being decent human beings, they are also full of energy, and are really smart. I tend to think aloud, so it’s cool to have someone on the other side who understands my confusing broken sentences, completes them, and builds on them with even better ideas.
And it’s not just work: it’s fun also.
There’s a cool vibe here; people have a sense of humor. There’s a snooker table and a ping-pong table. Sometimes there’s even free beer. Nothing beats free beer, right?
Maybe just one thing: unconditional love. The unconditional love from our customers; some even tattoo our company logo on their arms. A tattoo is forever, man!
So just to recap, here are some of the things that make me like to work here.
You know what? I love all these, but this is not what drives me. So what’s the thing that drives me?
Let me try to explain this to you with a little challenge: imagine that I had to choose between working with this team on a completely different product, or working with a different team on the OutSystems Platform. What would I choose?
I love these guys, but I’d continue to work with the platform with a group of complete strangers. Sorry, guys.
What We Do
So why is this? Why do I love this product, or better yet, the problem that we’re addressing, so much? To answer that, let’s ask a question companies can ask to understand their mission in the world. Let’s ask “What do we want our users to become?” I’m going to focus on daily direct users: developers. I’m not going to focus on IT managers or the users of the end applications. Daily direct users. So it’s a simplification. As is this.
Allow me share my simplistic personal view of what we do:
OutSystems makes development faster for existing developers. And makes it possible for everyone else.
Let’s address each of these two sentences.
OutSystems Makes Development Faster for Existing Developers
So, we turn developers into faster developers. And that’s something that we really get: development is very, very, slow.
Change is just too hard. Think about the project you’re working on now. Wouldn’t you like it to be a little bit faster? Think about all the previous projects you’ve worked on before…
So we have this in our hearts; that’s why we love to work on something that fixes this problem. And we’re doing that.
So this is the history of a developer I know.
The first four lines represent his life before he started using the OutSystems platform. And the last line is after using OutSystems. You can see the difference, right?
And this is the duration of some projects we do with the platform.
It’s completely different from everything else.
So yes, we make development faster, and you can bet we’re damn proud of it.
OutSystems Makes it Possible for Everyone Else
Now the second part. We help people become developers, which means we turn non-developers into developers. So, what do these non-developers have?
They have these amazing computers that allow them to do a lot of obsolete things. Basically, computers are like those Swiss Army knives that allow you to do anything. And, in a couple of years, almost everyone in the world will have one.
But if you look closely, most people still use computers as a more efficient way to write a little bit of text, and for a little bit of math. As for smartphones, you can spend the entire day dumbly following the news, following the lives of others, as if it was a soap opera, while you are bombarded by ads.
Does it remind you of anything?
But we developers know that this could be different; we know the real power of computers. We know that the real Swiss Army knife is the programming language. But we’re still in the dark ages of programming languages. I have a friend that always comes to me with ideas for new apps. Some sound stupid, some sound brilliant, but I always feel like a monk, before the printed press, only I can read and write.
And that tells us that when we make the power of programming languages available to anyone, when anyone can unleash their creativity, humanity will give a huge step forward.
But is it possible that I’m just being carried away by the fact that I’ve learned to program by myself? Am I seeing the world through the narrow lenses of my own experience? I did some research, and it turns out that according to Stack Overflow most people do learn languages by themselves.
And opportunities will appear everywhere. You see, the world is turning digital; there’s just not enough developers in the world to make this happen.
That’s why there are companies like IT Up that convert groups of people of different backgrounds into OutSystems developers in three months. I don’t know Joana Morais, who is quoted here, but I’ve met Ana Rita Seita. She was a chemical engineer last year, and now she’s a developer. When I met her she was working on a project called “Trusted Advisor,” that actually helps other developers create better apps. And there’s this other company, Truewind, that does the same. I’ve met Nuno Lopes. Last year he was an economist, and now he’s a developer. Here he was working on the demo team, creating amazing demos for our future customers.
We improve the lives of existing developers by making it faster. But this is completely different. We’re completely transforming the lives of these people. So we’re starting to prove that this is also possible. Still, allowing anyone in the world to use the superpowers of programming languages might sound like a crazy dream.
But you know what? Let it sound like a crazy dream! I hope I sound just as crazy as my grandfather, when he talked about optical fiber or electric cars.
So I guess what keeps me here is this sense that I’m working on something bigger than myself. That I’m changing the world in some way, that I am helping craft its future.
And I hope that we at OutSystems continue to have the courage and the determination to make this dream come true.
(Adapted from an OutSystems internal talk)