He said “Ok, we don’t need that feature anymore, you can delete it.”
I had just built the feature two months ago. I spent nearly 2 months building it. I had poured all of my heart into building this feature. It was a masterpiece.
Or so I thought …
Wait … now I’m supposed to delete it? What?
To be honest, I didn’t know at the time.
.. but I do know one thing though, it pissed me off. It felt like a gut punch.
This happened around 2011 when I was working for Groupon.
After thinking about it for an hour or so I decided to approach the product owner who told me to delete the feature and ask him why. It went something like this:
“Why would we delete this perfectly good feature? The feature great, there are no bugs, it was really technically challenging and I implemented in a way that was very elegant. It seems silly to throw it away, we just shipped it less than a month ago. Why would we do that?”
The product manager looked at me, lifted his chin and then dropped it down towards his chest like he understood the problem, slowly nodding in partial agreement, lips tightly pressed together …
He then explained to me that the feature that I had built was a new experiment that Groupon wanted to try. We tried, it, the customers did not respond to it as well as another flow.
In short, we had two features that did the same thing and mine was not the best for the business.
It was then I realized that I was emotionally attached to my work, and I should not have been.
How did we know my feature didn’t do well?
We A/B tested the two features against each other.
Again, my feature didn’t do that well in regards to conversions vs a similar feature that did the same thing.
Not because my code was bad.
Not because my code was wrong.
Not because anything I had done.
We thought the customers would prefer this new experience.
We were wrong.
Therefore, my feature was no longer needed.
I eventually deleted the code. However, I do keep a repository of code snippets around (I use Quiver) just in case I want to do something like that again. In the end though, the code was deleted from the app.
Recognizing that you are not your creations …
Once I understood that I was too emotionally attached to my creation it ended up being a defining moment of my career.
It was then I understood that I should remove emotional attachment to the things I create.
In this case, the code was a tool.
We use tools to build (and repair) things.
The thing I built did not perform its job. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t good, it just wasn’t as profitable as another very similar thing we had already built.
In software, things change. They have to.
We make assumptions about what we think the users will want, but the only real way to know for sure is to test them. We do that with A/B testing frameworks, watching conversions, funnel drop off rates, watching revenue, sign ups, etc. Its all metrics.
Remember … “What Gets Measured, Gets Managed” ….
A Mindset Shift
One thing that helped me move on from this emotional attachment is to realize everything we’re creating (especially in software) is temporary. Sure, you might create a cabinet or some art or something in the physical world, but even that is temporary.
If, for example, you are fond of a specific ceramic cup, remind yourself that it is only ceramic cups in general of which you are fond. Then, if it breaks, you will not be disturbed. – Epictetus
In other words, the thing we’re grown an attachment to might can be gone at any second. If we assume its temporary, then we enjoy it right now, for what it is.
The same thing is happening with my code.
The same thing can happen to your creation, your art, your design, your writing, etc. It can leave or vanish at any time.
Very similarly, the same thing happened when Viktor Frankl had his manuscript taken from him when he entered the Auschwitz concentration camp in World War II.
It was his life work … all taken from him. He let go of that attachment, focused on what was in front of him, and then made that his purpose at the time. Later, after he was free, he ended up re-writing the book which eventually became “A Mans Search for Meaning” (I highly recommend reading it).
Where am I going with this?
Now, when I create something I don’t get attached to it.
In fact, I find solace in deleting more that I create.
Why do I find enjoyment in deleting over creating?
Because it means that I’m simplifying.
Think about it …
Remember the last time you cleaned your desk?
Remember how good that felt? Look at all the open desk space in front of you.
You probably felt like you could breath, you could stretch out. Nothing was encumbering you anymore. No more distractions. No more “stuff” everywhere.
What you did was delete the stuff from your desk. Sure, you may have just put it back where it belonged, organized, etc, but you get the point.
Creation can be and should be very enthralling and captivating for you. In fact, I find great joy in creating.
However, when I’m done I let it go.
I’m happy about what I created, but then done with it and onto the next thing.
It is what it is.
Once you can let go of your emotional attachments to your creations that you’ll find you’re free of anything that happens to them … and that is a freeing feeling unlike any other.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations