A developer’s inside look at where Slack started — and where its 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 apps 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. Thats how you have this enterprise chat platform with help messages and onboarding thats 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 Slacks 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 its 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 its contextual to the countries were in, he says. We make sure the blog isnt 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 thats 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 shouldnt 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. Thats 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 its 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 its news when the product has an issue.

When things dont go well, were trending on Twitter.

Check out this weeks 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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