December 27, 2022

A plea for administration

Growing up, my mom tried to empower and enable whatever wizardry she thought I had with computers. I do okay these days and I wish she was around to see it. I still don’t think much of myself in this regard, and I’d much rather be a neurochemical engineer, but that’s a different subject.

For a period of time I worked in restaurants. 15 of them to be exact, though not at one time. I was on waitstaff, and that means yes, someone with autism worked in the service industry. How that panned out is pretty clear though and I’m much happier.

Anyway, there was one restaurant in particular that I worked at which had a specific ethos that I carry with me, and it was all about empowering front-line workers.

You see, this restaurant had 6 floors that guests could occupy and maybe seat a total of 500 patrons. It was a very massive restaurant. Bad shit happens all the time in restaurants: drinks get screwed up, food is wrong, food is slow to come out of the kitchen, whatever. At your typical restaurant, employees aren’t trusted with managerial powers: comps, gift cards, discounts, coupons. Those are for managers-only.

That wasn’t the case with this restaurant. All waitstaff was given these abilities because it was just not feasible to have a salaried manager on every floor — not to mention it improverd the guest experience. There were checks and balances of course — it’s not like there wasn’t an audit trail. But the people who were working with the guest were ultimately responsible for the guest.

How does this translate?

I ran a platform that invested in customer service from day one. Part of that was giving tools to those who were customer-facing. They could reset the password of guests, give them trials, see debugging info, approve orders, stuff like that. I trusted these people — after all, I worked with them and I trust the people I work with! — so why not give them the ability to take shit off my plate (as the owner/operator), and make the customer experience better?

That was my project, with my expectations, and with my ideologies. I’ve since moved on and moved from working for myself to working for somebody. There’s a pattern that I observed that has made me think about my experience in the aforementioned restaurant, and as a founder, frequently.

There isn’t an investment in tools.

There is “login as admin, go debug, make a ticket for a developer that has the error message and error log from error reporting tool.” or a bare bones dashboard built with Grafana. Then a developer needs to go and diagnose, and look at data from production REPL sometimes, and relay the message back to customer service who ultimately tells the customer.

There are no-code tools like Retool that are trying to make some of these workflows easier. I still prefer ActiveAdmin and lately Trestle. What I don’t prefer is treating admin like an extension of whatever stack you’re trying to push on your customers — admin should be quick and dirty and just enough, it shouldn’t require a complete investment. Most of it is CRUD anyway.