Hanging Out in the Software Hallway

Photograph of a hallway and elevator bank of a floor in a hotel, with dark blue carpet and off-white walls.

This is the last thing you see before you deploy to production.

Over the last decade or so, a surprising amount of online conversation has centered around “liminal” locations—transitional places like hallways, or mall courtyards. There’s a subreddit dedicated to “liminal space,” and in The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino has described the odd joy of listening to a YouTube channel that remixes music to sound like it’s in an empty mall.

The texture and sound of such places seems like unlikely meme fodder, but when you think about it, we all spend a significant amount of our lives en route—moving between stores at the shopping center, stopping at the rest area on our way to Thanksgiving at the in-laws, hanging out in some carpeted corner of an airport, buying food like Combos. No one is going to cover liminal spaces on the news, so it’s perfect internet discussion fodder.

Software—such as ours—also has a liminal state. In an ideal software world, you launch a product and then you iteratively improve it, day by day, week to week, releasing new code and features as you go. Things change gradually. You never go into that long carpeted hallway. There’s only one version of the software, and you’re always making it better.

But a lot of times you end up exploring some new path, or building a lot of stuff that is interdependent, and it doesn’t make sense to launch it until it’s all finished and knitted together. You thought you were iterating—but suddenly you have two separate versions of the software. The users are in one room, waiting for new features. The product development team is working in another, cooking up new stuff. User requests keep coming in, but you can’t prioritize them over the new stuff, because otherwise the new stuff will be more delayed. And the co-founder newsletter writer? He spends a few months in the hallway between the two. Poor guy. Hope he’s okay.

Why am I telling you this? Well, no one ever writes about the liminal space between software versions, and I like pointing to things and going “how come no one ever writes about that?” But also…in a week or two…knocking wood…asking the universe for blessings…we’ll be able to show, not tell. We’ll all be back in the same room together, users and product team, able to react, and that’s really exciting. Really!

So that’s where we are. We’re just about to get out of the hallway. We’re not going to take anything away from Aboard (well, we’re killing chat, but you knew that). It’s useful new stuff—and one really wild feature we’ve never seen before anywhere. I’ve been using the staging version more often lately and I keep forgetting it’s our own product—it’s just started to feel normal to use.

I’m glad to leave behind the carpeting and that one distant window and finally get across the hall. (Until it’s time for a new version…)