Standardization Beats Customization

I’ve spent my entire career at startups, building & launching new web products. Over the years I have built software on a long list of database technologies–SQL and NoSQL alike–MySQL, PostgreSQL, MongoDB, Firebase & DynamoDB to name a few. Despite decades of technical innovations and the promise of new database products, I find myself wondering: How come I end up where I started? Simply put, because SQL has become the standard interface for storage, and standardization always beats customization.

At my first startup, a tech-enabled real estate company called Castle, I chose Firebase for the storage, and that scar still burns today. Firebase had so many bells and whistles (auth included! real-time updates!) that I looked past the fundamentals. The reality was that our data was, like most, highly relational. On top of that, we didn’t ever really need the realtime functionality and in hindsight it definitely hurt more than it helped.

Herd mentality is strong among developer communities, and for good reason–there’s strength in numbers and safety among the herd. Once a standard solidifies, the ecosystem of supporting tools explodes. Frontend developers who didn’t jump onto Angular when it was released were rewarded a few years later when React overtook Angular to become the new standard, and that type of stuff happens all the time!

Technology is an industry that evolves so rapidly that it often self-selects for individuals who are excited to try the Next Big Thing. However, with the industry moving so quickly the Next Big Thing is frequently dead or dying in just a few years. Yes, some innovations do see mass adoption and become the new standard, and yes, exploration is necessary to continue pushing the boundaries. But if you work in the applied side of software engineering, as most developers do, then your best bet for your budget & timeline is to go with the tried and true.

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