Tip of the Iceberg: In Praise of Internal Apps

Dave Copeland
- Washington, DC

Working on a public-facing website can be a ton of fun. You get to show your work off to friends & family, see it get used by a ton of people, and feel the pride of working on what the world thinks of as your company’s “product”. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Powering that public-facing website or application is usually a ton of code that makes the company go. So-called “internal apps” are vital for actually operating a business. If you think about it, most software out there is likely some form of “line-of-business” application. For every www, there’s got to be something to handle customer service, accounting, fulfillment, operations, etc.

In the past, working behind the scenes on these problems often meant some awful integration with an enterprise system that never quite fit with how the company worked. Now, with modern browsers, advanced software frameworks, and flexible cloud-based deployment, it’s usually simpler and cheaper to hand-craft these solutions in-house.

And, it’s often just as fun and rewarding to work on these apps.

First, you don’t have to worry about platform compatibility issues. At Stitch Fix, we target only WebKit browsers, and can move very fast by ignoring Internet Explorer and Firefox entirely.

Second, a line-of-business app is often designed to solve a specific business problem, meaning that your work on such an app has a direct correlation to the success of the business. My team has shipped many features for our warehouse operations staff and have seen operating efficiencies increase steadily as a result. It’s an awesome feeling!

Finally, when building line-of-business apps, you get a direct connection to the users. You’re building an application to help people do their job better, faster, or both. You can actually see the effect your work has on real people.

Every two months, my team visits one of our warehouses to talk with users and actually perform the work our software facilitates. It’s not only illuminating, but a great chance to connect with the users to understand what problems they are facing and how we can solve them.

To me, this is the most rewarding part about working on internal apps.

So don’t shy away from working on internal applications. These applications make the public-facing side of your company work, and no successful company can do without them.

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