By Alfie Tham and Sam Bobo
The Origin Story
Picture it… It’s Friday evening, and TribalScale’s weekly social has been in full swing for at least two hours. People are chatting, playing ping pong or video games (Mario Kart anyone?), and munching on snacks. A group huddled around a table is enthusiastically bouncing around ideas, geeking out on technology, design, and product.
Conversations about ideas like these happen all the time — not surprising with the diversity of background and thought, and curious minds that we have at TribalScale. However, like all ideas, they can disappear in a moment’s notice if the opportunity to turn them into a reality isn’t seized — but what if we give these ideas a little push, make them official, and turn them into something with impact?
What happened was exactly that! We dusted off an old slide that captures some of the essence and put together what LabOS is today.
TribalScale’s Open Source Lab, LabOS for short, is a new space for Engineers, Product Managers, and Designers to contribute tools, components, and tutorials back to the greater software development community to bolster innovation and accelerate the engineering of new ideas. LabOS seeks to build a community of passionate technologists looking to rapidly experiment in a safe space and push the boundaries of technology — with the help and support of the broader community, these ideas could flourish and drive change. TribalScale, through LabOS, aims to continuously catalyze the evolution of the future through our contributions to the open-source community
One of the motivations for LabOS is to test out new concepts. As noted, ideas pop up in and around the TribalScale office all the time as ideas and perspectives collide. However, ideas are short-lived if not nurtured. It seemed like a waste to let cool ideas fall into an abyss. Therefore, LabOS aims to take those ideas a step further to distill, expand, combine, and test them.
For instance, one of the initiatives, TriBorg, was to experiment with two things: an applied-AI concept (the product), and the idea of Architecting for Collaboration. However, we’ll come back to this later and you’ll see how it all comes together.
The second motivation is to create open-source code that can save others hours of programming so more time can be dedicated to engineering a concept or application. As TribalScale builds digital products, our engineers use a lot of open-source tools, frameworks and packages, however there are times when our engineers need to build bespoke tools to achieve a certain goal. Generally, we’ve realized that a number of these custom tools could be polished to be generic and reusable enough that they could be useful for other developers out there. The world could benefit from our learnings in the form of a nicely packaged piece of code, available through Open Source Software (“OSS”), to help accelerate application development, among other things.
During one such engagement, for example, our engineers were tasked with building an email to phone two-factor authentication (“2FA”) flow into a mobile application’s back-end using Google’s Firebase platform, involving a lengthy integration of multiple SDK methods. At the conclusion of the engagement, the team reflected in a retrospective and realized that there must be a more efficient way of building the 2FA. A project was started to create an open-source wrapper that streamlines the development effort of 2FA on Firebase. Our team later discovered that code for this was requested in the community without viable solutions.
The world’s leading corporations often commit capital (human, financial, or otherwise) to innovation. Ultimately, companies invest in research and development initiate and/or heighten their differentiation in the market, to get ahead of competitors, and improve upon their existing offerings. Such an initiative often comes from high-executive command as a corporate innovation strategy can offer immense opportunity, especially as startups are increasingly outperforming their corporate competitors. However, it is rare to find such an initiative among startups or scaleups…
The aforementioned motivation of reusability enhances our differentiation in the market as a global innovation firm. Reusable components and tools, among those already available as OSS, enhance our ability to accelerate time-to-value for our clients in delivering quality, robust, digital products for them in an accelerated timeframe. We can then pass these benefits onto the broader developer community and contribute back to the projects that aided our work initially.
LabOS is one of the first coordinated and ground-up innovation efforts found in a startup or scaleup. LabOS can be compared to the R&D arm or innovation lab of many consulting firms and large tech companies, but we’re implementing this strategy now, at an early stage in our company’s life. And by cementing learning, exploration, and open-source into our work and processes, they will each become integral to our culture, compounding our values of meritocracy, transparency, and empowerment.
Integrated With Our Values
LabOS is an accidental manifestation of what can be in part explained by TribalScale’s core values: transparency, meritocracy, and empowerment. Coincidentally, these are a subset of values held by the Open Source Software (OSS) community at large. Given this alignment in values, and as we at TribalScale strive to give back, LabOS is almost an intuitive next step.
When source code is published, each individual line of code is completely transparent, and the repository is open for developers to utilize and contribute back into. Any code commit, any ticket opened, any change is publically available and accessible. Inside of LabOS, product teams utilize AgileXP and Test Driven Development to build open-source software, and they openly manage the project directly inside of the Github repository to ensure only the highest quality code is shipped. This transparency fosters accountability for those participating and allows anyone to peer into the software to assess its merits.
Which brings us to meritocracy. With OSS and platforms, developers have the opportunity to showcase their skills and expertise in an open, public setting — all of which is tied to their name. And through this, that developer’s talents may be recognized by the community, whether that’s being known as a thought leader or subject matter expert in their own right, both at TribalScale and thereafter. LabOS provides developers with a platform to improve upon and elevate their skills, channel their thoughts and know-how to benefit themselves, and to grow as individual practitioners.
Finally, empowerment. OSS acts as building blocks for engineers to create more complex and innovative products and tools quickly and efficiently. From the examples of others, and drawing on TribalScale’s experience building top-tier products, engineers can learn from the code and can be inspired to give back as well, gaining new skills in the process. LabOS strives to be this force of empowerment within TribalScale, while encouraging other engineers to join the community.
LabOS In Practice: An Example
To encourage innovation, the goals of LabOS were defined but execution details have been intentionally left open-ended. Thus, each project may be structured differently.
As an example, Project TriBorg was structured to experiment with 2 ideas. The first idea is a product concept — an applied-AI concept of a persona that distills insights from their conversations with people.
The second experimental idea is one of Architecting for Collaboration. Architecting for Collaboration is about adapting the architecture of a system for effective collaboration. When architecting most products, considerations of maintainability and team operations are very important for the long-term success of a product. In the years of working with, building, and growing teams to create products, there has always been a temptation of experimenting with different ways to collaborate, or to find a way of reducing barriers to collaboration.
The idea of Architecting for Collaboration is then to bump this up a notch and extend this to a project that is open-source in nature. We decided to extend the concept of microservices and experiment with sort of a semi-natural selection of services: survival of the most-used services.
Not going to get into the technical details of TriBorg in this post, but to give you an idea, here is an excerpt from the TriBorg Wiki:
“Each of these main components can (and perhaps should) be built in many different ways. As long as they respect the pre-defined / agreed upon APIs, the components in their different permutations should be able to talk to each other.
Experimentation is highly encouraged. Have an idea for a different interface? Build it. An idea for a better chat system? Try it. Idea for a different way to slice the data? Go for it. Thoughts about whole new component to add to the system? Make it happen.”
As long as the interfaces are defined and respected, we could experiment with building multiple parallel but unique versions of a particular microservice or frontend. The community can then frequently review and comment on which versions to keep, combine, or stop.
How to Get Involved
Are you interested in getting involved with LabOS?
Pair With Us! Start by visiting our GitHub repository to view the list of LabOS projects we’re working on. Interested in contributing? Our projects always need new ideas and passionate people looking to advance technology. Open an issue and assign yourself to it or simply create a branch and start building! When you are ready, submit a pull request and our project moderators will review the code and merge it when it's ready. Not an engineer? No problem! Help market the project, contribute to docs, even write tickets for new features! All contributions are welcome!
Join Our Tribe! We’re creating a new era of innovation and we’re looking for the go-getters that dream big and want to build the future. If this sounds like you, then come work for one of the fastest-growing teams in tech. You will get the opportunity to work with organizations looking to shape their digital footprint either through product delivery or through our transformation offering. Additionally, Tribe members can submit and work on projects for LabOS and contribute back to the community. Read more on our careers website.
Sam is passionate about empowering people to innovate, understand, and transform the world utilizing ground-breaking technology. Over the course of his career, he has consulted CEOs and CTOs from product design through implementation to revenue maximization. He seamlessly melds business acumen, technological know-how, and creative vision to identify, prioritize, and resolve his client’s most daunting problems to ensure their competitive edge in the marketplace. At TribalScale, Sam teaches Product Management to clients via one-to-one mentorship in the Transformation practice.
Alfie is an engineer at TribalScale working to build digital products, and grow product teams. He is excited about the space where technology, business, and design intersect, and bringing these elements together to create great products, teams, and companies. His roles in product organizations are typically in the areas of conceptual design, system architecture, and full-stack engineering.