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© 2019 by Clair Whitmer

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Custody Fight

I suffered two significant disappointments this week.


First: the final episode of Season 8 of Game of Thrones. The Internet already broke itself over this one so I'll just echo the collective "Really?" and move on.


The second was more personal. I heard on the rumor mill that the current executives of my former employer are shutting down "my" website to save money on the hosting bill.


Sadly, the Internet will not cry out in despair if this rumor proves true. But I will.


Three years of my life; my proverbial blood, sweat and tears; and, as product lead, what feels like some good portion of my professional credibility: turned off, wiped out, game over. How dare they? They didn't even call to ask my opinion. I don't think they even want to save it.


When I heard this, I felt, at first, sick to my stomach; then nausea gave way to blind rage. Remember the look on Daenerys' face when Missandei's head hit the ground? Well, not like that: I won't be setting anything aflame. But I do feel betrayed and outraged.

The Maker Share tagline: I didn't know it was foreshadowing

I know this a childish reaction.


As my rumor-bearing work friend gently pointed out, I don't work there anymore and it is "their" product: I merely got paid to build it, like a nerdy mercenary armed with post-its.


The Dragons are My Children


For three years, if I had not been this devoted, this proprietary, this protective about Maker Share, would it have ever launched at all? Don't mistake this for a rhetorical question because, in fact, I know the answer and it is: "no, way, never!" It only exists because I loved my user stories.


This is not to take credit for the original idea. Maker Share was conceived as the brainchild of my former boss, Make: CEO Dale Dougherty, who wanted what he called an "innovation platform".


To my knowledge, he never really could completely explain to anybody what he meant by that, but it was a sufficiently inspirational elevator pitch for Intel to commit to a three-year strategic partnership and to pony up a big enough chunk of change in the first year to get us to launch in May 2017. (I will defer to discretion on the exact number but let's say it was the last 7-figure sum I got to handle on the job at Make:.)


We launched with a relatively straightforward user-generated portfolio site: profile + project posts + a very limited "contest" mechanism that didn't work well enough to be popular but worked too well for the sales team to let me kill it later when the hull sprung a leak and I wanted to jettison all extra weight.


But Maker Share filled a need for Make:, a brand that had failed in 10 years of existence to capture rich data -- any useable data at all really -- about the members of its unquestionably worldwide and intensely loyal community. It also filled a niche for the maker community, which had Instructables, Hackster and Hackaday to share projects, but didn't have a platform that spotlighted the makers themselves.


Granted, I didn't see this clearly at the beginning but I would later recognize and defend those initial instincts by dubbing this the "Makers First" strategy.


I am most proud of our decision to emphasize story-telling elements over step-by-step instructions; I still enjoy browsing the Maker cards to read members' Maker Mottos and smile to think about the "a-ha moment" and the "uh-oh moment" data field labels we built into the project creation template.


It turned out, however, that I'd made a critical error: I allowed our Egyptian development team to talk me into an Angular front-end sitting on top of a Drupal backend. As Drupal was Intel's idea and I wasn't convinced about its merits either, a headless version felt like a compromise that allowed for a future shift of direction when I came up with a better plan.


I knew I was in trouble shortly after committing to the launch date when the team lead told me he was having trouble finding Angular engineers in Cairo. Well, of course.


A year later, when Intel eventually and -- it now seems -- inevitably changed its hive-mind and pulled out of the strategic partnership, I would be left holding that bag with no development budget to fix it. I never did pay down this technical debt.


If it had built it cleaner, maybe it wouldn't have reached this juncture. Then again -- for reasons having nothing to do with my technical debt and everything to do with Make:'s regular old debts -- I still wouldn't have had any user acquisition budget. So we'll never know, will we?

I once worked with a guy that liked to say "I'm married to my product."

At the time, I felt very superior about not saying anything like that because, I told myself, I had a life.


But now, facing the unconfirmed but likely death of Maker Share, I feel bereft.


Is it the death of my hopes for that community? Is it disgruntled grapes over Make: recently laying me off? Or is it just my OCD showing?


I submit to you that I am sad because I loved my product and it hurts that my ex-bosses don't love it too, or at least not enough to keep it alive.


Maybe, at real companies, normal product managers do just get paid and do the work and don't need to anthropomorphize the platforms. But, in my memory, I walked into the fire and emerged with -- not a dragon certainly -- but a scrawny chicken, a scrawny, clucking chicken with so much potential, my potential, if I had only been allowed to spend it as I chose.


I don't think this story is so exceptional in this industry; I suspect many product managers have felt this way, both the Mother Bear part while building their products and the Sad Keanu part when they get axed. That guy who was married to his product, for example? He ended up divorced.


What kind of profession encourages this?


Maybe the kind that requires "empathy" as the starting point for all creative endeavor; the product design process demands that you empathize with your users' needs, but I've never heard it explained how far we're supposed to literally take it. It would be typical of me if I went too far.


I have no answer: I am kind of hoping that you do and will share it in the comments.


But, for now, I'm avoiding the thought that I wasted three years by quoting my own tagline to myself: "Make What You Love. Share What You Make." I loved it, I made it (in collaboration with a team I also loved), and I shared it with 11K+ people in the maker community.


I just wish I'd made it better for them and with more invincible Daily Active Use and I'll be very sorry on the day it gets shot in the throat and plunges to its death.


#makershare #makers #productmanagement