The Lion's Rear

Empathy on The Margins - Margins by Can Duruk



past coworker from Uber now talking about how to approach product management as an act of Empathy towards your stakeholders.

The only definition that I’ve found to make sense is having empathy for the stakeholders of your product. That’s it. Yes, you need to build the thing, own the lifecycle, argue with people, keep numbers, ship things. But they all should derive their purpose because you have empathy for those who are affected by your product. Not just users, not just consumers. But the entire set of stakeholders.

the entire set of stakeholders is everyone who is affected by your product.

throwing money at the problem -> throwing code at the problem

where does the value created by software go?

Now, where do the spoils go? In capitalism, they go to The Capital. In softwareism, it goes to The Software. I mean, Uber is not very good at capturing those externalities (and sharing it with others), but that’s a different problem for now.

The Software, an entity that can expand to fill a problemspace like a gas.

Can recounts an experience making the Correct product decision, yet at the end of the day, that correct thing which was made with all the producedures and everyone agreed on, still proved to be the wrong answer because there were stakeholders left unconsidered.

Even if you decide to make the same call, make it with full understanding and empathy towards all parties:

It’s one thing to decide on something, and it’s another to understand how it affects other people, and figure out a way forward that’s better for everyone. It’s the right thing to do, not just because we are all humans living in a society where our actions affect others, but it’s also good business.

That part, I understand. But in our well-meaning attempts to roll up thousands of lives in a single data point on a Graphite dashboard or a Kafka log, it’s easy to lose sight of what is at stake. I had never been responsible for the lives of hundreds like an air traffic controller is, but it wasn’t too far off. And this kind of empathy, you do not learn in your Data Structures and Algorithms class.

Can's right to question whether these things can even be learned in a class, this is cold hard reality, "But there’s also the human connection that you need to not just establish, but also maintain and strengthen over time. And that only happens with repeated, active, practiced, intentional empathy." [ref: It's About Cultivating Resilient Connections]

However, when we make decisions about what software does, how it does, and why it exists in the first place, we need to have more guiding principles. There’s nothing wrong about making money or bringing about efficiencies. Yet, to create long-term, sustainable value, we need to keep everyone’s interests aligned. And the only way to do so is to have empathy, the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes. That is where, for a good PM, where every decision should follow from.