Monday, March 20, 2006

anticipation: the first day of beta

I work at one of those old-fashioned companies where a beta program has a start and an end date. And tomorrow - if all the stars align - is the start date of our latest beta. Huzzah.

So it is with some degree of anticipation and even a little anxiety that I write this tonight. Submitting a new product, freshly-tested and packaged, to the probing inspection of the masses. . .well, it's not for the faint of heart. But it's necessary, so we roll out the carpet.

There's an odd vibe that rustles through the dev team the day before beta. I used to walk around and ask "ready?" to each of the team members, but then I started to get threatening notes, and that was the end of that. Then I used to ask the dev leads "how do you feel about the beta?" To which they'd reply "how do you feel about the requirements?"

So this time all I did was say thank you, and that seemed to strike the right tone. Because in the weeks leading up to beta, as everyone holds their breath through system test, the dev team puts in crazy hours. We all know that once the beta hits that everything will go kablooey, but for a few brief days, there's a sense of quiet.

Like all things, you find a balance after a while.

So the website looks good, the enrollment process is clean, we've got the community set up, binaries loaded up, even a few good questions queued up for beta candidates. We go into beta knowing we've got stable code, but we don't know what the gorilla testing will reveal. To paraphrase Von Molke, "No beta survives first contact with the user."

And that's OK.

Populating your beta with the first wave of candidates feels a little like inviting your mother-in-law over. You're glad she's there, but you really, really hope that you remembered to clean the oven. There's always something you missed, something that makes you slap your head and flip furiously through the PRD and go "crap! how the &*$^&@ did I miss that?"

Because at the end of it all, it's a PM failure, not a coding failure, when you miss a use case, a scenario, a required platform, whatever. I know some of those will happen.

And that's OK too.

Thanks in advance to all of you who decide to come over and check out the new hotness. I'm looking forward to hearing what you think about our new baby.

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