Name: Kyle Adams
Designation: Agent 0033
Double Agent Role: Senior Software Consultant
Special Skills: I fight for the users! Tron reference aside, I look for little changes that have a big impact, whether it be on developer experience or on user experience.
Aliases: LinkedIn, GitHub, Twitter, WWW
Location: Indianapolis, IN
Favorite Emoji: 🤖
This is interesting because it’s something I’m very proud of, but it’s also something that’s only been used at one company. Though the scope is limited, the company still uses it on a website that has millions of visitors a day.
We were at a conference a number of years back, and they were having lightning talks. David Cramer got up and demoed Gargoyle, a feature flipper they were using at Disqus at the time. I leaned over to my team lead and said, “That is what we need.” Fast forward a bit, and I had the chance to port it to our tech stack, improve the user interface, and release my version as Switchboard.
Having a feature flipper meant we could release with more confidence. If something negatively impacted the site, we could turn it off with a moment’s notice. We also used it for A/B and user testing. Finally, it was very performant: on any particular page, you might have several different switches, all of which needed to be decided very quickly: yes or no? Am I going to show this or not? You don’t want to slow the rendering of the page down. With that kind of scale, microseconds can make a difference between whether someone stays on your site or closes the window and moves on.
Maybe I missed my opportunity to become a big tech billionaire because nowadays, you’ve got sites like LaunchDarkly that have commoditized that into a platform or a service offering. But at that point in time, things like LaunchDarkly weren’t around, so I was pretty proud of my little feature flipper.
Seeing people again, which is an odd thing to say for a remote company, right? Going to conferences, venturing into checking out a new co-working space nearby. And, maybe at some point even doing a Test Double retreat in person.
Well, that’s actually my next challenge. The way that my family does the NCAA tournament is not how any of the online places do it. We pick one round at a time, so that if you mess up, then you’ve got a chance to recover in the next round. If you don’t know anything about basketball, it’s less intimidating having to just pick one round of time. Doing it with pen and paper, we have an intense scramble that first weekend when they do two rounds in one weekend. I’ve always thought it would be cool to have an app that would text you: “Now you need to pick the next round, get your picks in now.” So that’s my next challenge: tackle the NCAA tournament.
I didn’t expect this coming in, because this was the first time I’d ever done consulting. When you work for product companies, I find that you generally might work two to four years. In that time you learn the tech stack, all the ins and outs, the dark corners and the challenges. You learn the business domain and you get to a point there at the end where you kind of run out of things to learn.
What I really like about Test Double is that with consulting, every six months to a year, I’ve got a new client with a new set of problems to solve, a new tech stack to learn, and new challenges to face. I like that evergreen opportunities for learning and growth are baked into the job. That’s true for a lot of consulting positions, but what’s different about Test Double: I see horror stories all the time from other people in the consulting world about either toxic clients or toxic work environments. It’s so nice that—even though we may have difficult, challenging client engagements—I can always count on my fellow Test Double agents to have my back and be supportive.
It has maintained a kind of small company mentality even while increasingly getting closer and closer to medium company size. There are a number of consulting firms on the smaller side that are great places to work with great people. So I think Test Double being in that realm was maybe not unique, and when I started, it was a smaller group. But it’s a unique thing to be in a company with aspirations for expanding our sphere of influence, having resources available to tackle some of the really big problems out there in the software world, and still maintaining a lot of the benefits of those smaller companies.
I’ve been thinking a lot about—this is going to be funny—being a Luddite. The blog post I’m writing at the time of this recording started out with a title of “Ode to Manual Labor.” I was thinking specifically of Wendell Berry, and the essay he wrote in 1988, Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer. He lays out criteria that he uses for evaluating technology. The blog post is about what lessons we as technologists can learn from Berry, and how he assesses technology.
With programmers, we always want to automate processes. It’s our go-to thing when we start doing something over and over again. I think we might benefit from slowing down and appreciating the value that doing a task manually over and over again has in terms of creating a deep understanding of the task. That deep understanding can be leveraged when we get to the point where we actually automate it, when we know the ins and outs of the process and the problem domain much more intimately than if we just kind of skipped over the hard drudgery of engaging in repetitive work. So appreciating low-tech solutions has been on my mind recently.
A couple years ago, I worked for a company that was based in London. One of the fantastic perks of that was a lot of travel to Europe. We would get together once a quarter and spend a week working together before going back to our remote locations. Where we did that work varied quite a bit. The first time after I was hired, it was in Las Vegas. But it was also in a number of European locations. It was my first time traveling overseas and I fell in love with traveling.
As we figure out what the new normal is in the post-pandemic world, that’s one of the things I’m looking forward to resuming: getting to do some international travel again. I appreciate so much how being exposed to other cultures and other perspectives broadens your worldview. I know a lot of that’s very cliche, but it’s a cliche in this case because it’s true.
I don’t know if exciting is the right word for this, but my son just turned 15, so we’re looking at driver’s ed. I would say more generally, my kids are 15 and and 12, and seeing them go through their teen years and really evolve into the adults that they will be. Not only that, but sharing pieces of my adult life or even my teen life with them. You know, a 6 year old is not going to appreciate the cultural implications of grunge and Nirvana, but I can talk through that with my teenage son now. That’s been one of the fun things about kids in general is going back and revisiting each stage of my childhood. Like getting to play with LEGO again. I had to remind myself, “Okay, we bought this LEGO set for them, not for me.” I sometimes need to step back and let them do their thing.
My reading tends to be for turning my brain off. So you’re not going to find the intellectual heavy weights on my reading list. Part of why I love sci-fi and fantasy is there can be some very well written books exploring philosophical themes, and intellectual sci-fi and fantasy for sure. But it still comes wrapped in an entertaining package. There’s definitely an element of escapism there, going into these other worlds. I’ve read Brandon Sanderson’s original Mistborn series. I’ve been sad because I haven’t made it to the library to get the next three books in the series. I’ve been meaning to get that taken care of so I’m set up for my summer reading.
For someone who works remotely, it made me realize how much I need in-person human contact, and how much I kind of depended on it. It wasn’t a lot, but it was just enough to make up for the lack of in-person contact that you’d have in a “normal” office space. My interactions with friends on the weekend and at Test Double retreats and whatnot. I dearly missed it when it was gone. I’m still a huge proponent of remote working. I love the flexibility it provides, but the pandemic taught me to appreciate community.
###What’s something interesting about you that’s not on your resume or LinkedIn?
I can hum “Row, row, row your boat” while I’m whistling in harmony to my humming. And that’s my random personal talent. Sometime I’ll have to put on a little concert.
This interview is based on a recorded conversation with Kyle Adams and Cathy Colliver. It may or may not self-destruct.