Stop Eating Dog Food – Start Drinking Champagne!

Photo by Walter Nissen (Wnissen). (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I first encountered the term ‘Dogfooding’ or ‘to eat your own dog food’ last year at the 2016 Tableau conference in Austin, TX. I was attending a session on how Tableau use their own product to visualise their HR data. The presenter uttered the line ‘We firmly believe in eating our own dog food’. The meaning was immediately clear to me – if it’s not good enough for internal usage, it’s hard to make the case that others should invest in the product. Literally: if it’s not good enough for me, it’s not good enough for my dog.

Great … I get the idea fully & clearly … Unfortunately, I also have a strong smell-memory of dog food that’s triggered every time I hear the term. I’m not joking! As I’m writing this the air is heavy with the imagined scent of tinned dog food … it’s not pleasant!

Once the Tableau presentation ended I was free of the term – while it may have some currency in the US, it seems to be largely absent from the UK tech vocabulary. I was free!

Free, that is until October 2017 when I attended the Open Data Camp 5 unConference in Belfast. There the redoubtable Eoin McFadden ran an excellent session on how an initial investment of £130,000 to a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) project identified approximately £350,000 of uncollected rates in the Belfast area. The basic idea was to leverage a variety of pre-existing datasets (some open, some closed) within a variety of government departments. These datasets were used by a machine learning algorithm that applied ‘fuzzy logic’ to identify properties likely to be in use. The two key open datasets used for the project were the Food Standards Agency’s Food Hygiene Rating Schemes data and Companies House data. You can read more about the project here (go on, I'll wait!), but the essential point was that the datasets that identified £350,000 of revenue already existed and just had to be used in the right way. Yep! Government departments using their own data! … dog food here … dog food there … dog food being mentioned every couple of minutes. It was a brilliant session on a really cool implementation, but part of me was stuck there with my brain going into overload imagining the smell of dog food. Because it was such a good session, it got mentioned fairly frequently over the weekend … and every time the words ‘dog food’ were mentioned I was again enveloped in a minor waft of olfactory horror.

I mustn’t have been alone in my dislike of the term as by the final session there were audible groans from the audience as the term was used. There were even a couple of grumblings that, perhaps, a better term could be employed instead. It was at this point, a voice rang out and said ‘drink your own champagne!’. My first reaction was ‘Brilliant! This is so much better!’ … Admittedly my second reaction was somewhat less charitable ‘Where the Devil were you when I needed this phrase?’ I also presumed (wrongly) that this was an off-the-cuff response. I have since found out through a bit of research (read: Googleing & asking my French-speaking Mother-in-Law) that not only is there a genuine French proverb that covers this (‘Buvez votre propre champagne’), but that it is used in the ‘Dogfooding’ sense both within French and Anglophone tech worlds.

My plea is simple – we have two terms for the same thing. One is pretty unappealing and makes the idea of using your own product/data seem repugnant and unpleasant - this is demonstrably not a good thing! The other is one of the acknowledged pleasures of life and (unless you’re putting away a couple of bottles a day) is pleasant and positive, and represents one of the finest achievements of humanity. I believe the choice is simple and logical – let’s lift up our glasses and drink the champagne! I’ll not be in line for any more dog food …

My Mother-in-Law also suggests ‘Goûtez à votre propre tambouille’ which can either be translated as ‘Taste your own treasure’ or, more prosaically, ‘Eat your own grub!’ ... but I'm still going with the bubbly!


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