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Some memories around the founding of dev.to

ben profile image Ben Halpern ・4 min read

This is in response to this post:

I'm not exactly a linear thinker, so it's hard for me to boil subjects like this down into a concise format. That's why I haven't written as much on this topic.

But in place of the perfect article that properly tells the narrative, here is a total brain dump. You can stop reading now if you don't want a non-typo-checked list of random thoughts in random orders. Also, this mostly addresses the time period when it really was just me. That is no longer the case. I have a couple great co-founders and we have an awesome little team.

  • I needed a personal project where I got full creative agency to solve problems I cared about.
  • I thought I had some good perspectives on what sucked about software development and its ecosystem and culture. Early on I addressed this mostly through satire, but I never thought that was the best I could do. Additionally, comedy is a distressing artform, especially in this era of un-credited republication.
  • I conceived of the project while my startup company was in somewhat of an endless death march towards relevancy. We could only focus on short-sighted goals, and while we were growing, I needed the opposite project in my life. I explicitly told myself I'd work on this even if it took ten years to become important to the world. This let me be patient and clever early on.
  • Things didn't totally work out with it being the kind of personal project I could garden over a decade. It was growing in scope and also getting big faster than I had anticipated. One thing lead to another and we found some funding to go full-time on it. It is now a startup. It's not that "peaceful ten year side project" anymore, but it is much more longterm-focused than the other projects I'd been involved with.
  • Among the things I felt sucked that I could try to address over time:
    • Software is about spreading ideas and working together and the current ecosystem is all over the place.
    • "Outsiders" in software are treated poorly. I wanted to help make the culture less "insiders only", and help connect folks that might otherwise not come together.
    • Many website were pretty sucky. Blogs got outdated and Medium was cool but hardly seemed like something directly addressing software developers in the long run. We are just an edge case there and on most platforms, but we fucking make the computers, the web, and everything in between, we can do a lot better for ourselves.
    • And many many more sucky things. But PS, it's also an awesome industry and I love it so much. That's what makes these problems worth trying to solve.

Coffee break ☕️

  • The web has so much yet-to-be-tapped potential in its most basic format of delivering a page with words on it. I wanted to make a website that would load quickly on most devices and network conditions. I thought that if we could care a lot about this most basic use-case, we could augment a lot of people's work which might otherwise be strewn across the web and get outdated quickly. We can take on the load of maintaining a good website for a lot of folks. And we could just do it "right". You can't pitch a VC on the idea of "good website people will like", but I had a feeling it could work.
  • I had made so many different versions of communities, platforms, etc. The general type of thing dev.to was. This was my attempt at doing one that would last.
  • I was working with Node at the time and wanted to get back to some Rails work. A site like dev.to is the perfect project.
  • One piece of advice I heard about a decade ago when I was first seriously getting into entrepreneurialism was that it's a good idea to start with the basic boring barely-more-than-a-clone of other things and then build from there. Everybody is expecting the "pitch for the future" right at the beginning. Frankly it's silly. I always had a vision of the future, but I mostly wanted the future come to me. By just diving in and building anything, we've learned along the way.
  • I believe this thing could be a thousand times bigger than it is today and address all sorts of worldly concerns. I'm pretty confident we'll get there but it seemed silly to try and describe what that might look like. We have principles about how things might be, and all we can really do is promise to act on those principles when we encounter circumstances we didn't predict.
  • Reddit, Hacker News, Twitter, and basically all social platforms are hazardous wastelands with a few nice parts poking out the top. You have very little recourse against the whims of the platforms and they have shown they don't care all that much about harassment or protecting their most vulnerable citizens. We can't address every possible issue, but I didn't want to sit back and not try. I figured a project which fundamentally cared about these things from day one was an innovation in and of itself.
  • There are plenty of folks who do care a lot about this stuff and we have absolutely tapped them for support and guidance. I felt like where I could fit in is combining values with a growth strategy and engineering. Basically I'm a generalist with some good specific experience, and I knew I could be helpful. We all want to work on things that are important in ways we can be most helpful.

Well that was my brain dump 🧠💩

Here's a much more concise post with some advice based on what has worked:

In the upcoming year or so we plan to grow and really follow through on things that we think we could be great at, but are still just ideas.

Posted on by:

ben profile

Ben Halpern

@ben

A Canadian software developer who thinks he’s funny. He/Him.

Discussion

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"...it's a good idea to start with the basic boring barely-more-than-a-clone of other things and then build from there.."

I LOVE this quote.

 

I really wish I could track down the place I originally heard that. My paraphrasing of it is pretty weak, honestly.

But this was like 10 years ago in college, and it was just a random entrepreneurship panel.

Ah the things that shape us...

 

Thank you for that! Super inspiring... got some wheels turning in my head. As I read what you described I thought of my own profession - Architecture - and how we are so isolated from each other. Architects live in their own little world and are very competitive. Sharing is almost non-existent... maybe it is inherent to the profession, but maybe it is something we could change in the long run...

hmmmm.

 

We are just an edge case there and on most platforms, but we fucking make the computers, the web, and everything in between, we can do a lot better for ourselves.

👌👌👌