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A developer’s inside look at where Slack started — and where it’s headed

Presented by OutSystems

In 2020, Slack nearly doubled its paying customer base over the previous year, thanks to the pandemic, and was recently acquired by Salesforce for over $27 billion. But according to Justin Hardin, senior software engineer at Slack, the product originally started as a gaming platform that failed to take off.

“They unfortunately ran out of money and had to lay people off, so they pivoted by asking, ‘Which piece of our product works?’ And that was the chat aspect,” Hardin says on the latest episode of Decoded, OutSystems’ podcast for the next generation of developers.

But the app’s friendly human tone was inspired by its gaming roots.

“They kept the writer on who was creating the dialogues for the games, and instead had her do the dialogues for the product,” he says. “That’s how you have this enterprise chat platform with help messages and onboarding that’s in a more conversational tone, which helped define the product experience.”

Listen to the conversation with Justin Hardin right here.

Building a global experience

Since Slack’s early pivot, Hardin says that Slack has been very intentional in the way it has expanded internationally. In addition to creating server caches around the world to reduce latency, Slack localizes completely when entering new markets. The product team, marketing team, enterprise team, app store team, and others all localize the entire Slack experience to ensure it’s relevant to every user, no matter where they are.

“We localize not just the language itself, but also the imagery and graphics to make sure it’s contextual to the countries we’re in,” he says. “We make sure the blog isn’t only localized, but empower marketers from each country to create their own articles targeted at their specific market.”

Hardin believes this reflects the fact that technology is becoming less centered around Silicon Valley.

“Slack is a very American-based company, but that’s not how the world is going to see tech moving on in the future,” he explains. “Tech should be a global entity, not just a Silicon Valley thing. In a post-pandemic world, the whole notion of Silicon Valley should exist on the internet. It shouldn’t be a specific place.”

Winning with consistency

Thanks to its commitment to creating an intuitive UI and human experience, Slack originally found success among developer teams at companies. This led to adoption at businesses ranging from small startups to Amazon, and then spread through other functions like marketing, sales, and finance. To ensure Slack is relevant and useful to all types of users, Hardin says their team focuses on providing a consistent experience above all else.

“How can we make our front end through the product and the marketing site consistent? How can we have a design system? How can we utilize components?” he says. “That’s where I see Slack as being kind of an innovator in this space: how can you bring consistency? Some of it is through getting everyone on the same page, but other times it’s through how you create toolings that allow developers to not think about this.”

With more people than ever using Slack as they work from home, Hardin says this consistency, along with rigorous testing, is what has helped the company scale to meet growing demand. The result is a product that people love so much and has been so successful that it’s news when the product has an issue.

“When things don’t go well, we’re trending on Twitter.”

Check out this week’s Decoded podcast to learn much more about how Justin Hardin started his career in software development, his work at Slack, and his work as the co-founder of Climatebase.org, a platform for climate action, education, and impact.  

Listen now, and subscribe to future episodes today.

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