The practice of engineers using their own product consistently to see how well it works and where improvements can be made.
Software engineers are hungry for expertise. Dogs are hungry for dog food. And software engineers at many companies are hungry for “dog food”.
In the world of technology, dogfooding means consistently using a product you’ve built, just as a user might, to find out what works and what needs fixing.
The term had a mainstream moment last month when The Verge reported on an internal memo from a vice president at Meta, Facebook’s parent company.
“For many of us, we don’t spend that much time in Horizon, and our dogfooding dashboards show this pretty clearly,” wrote the vice president, Vishal Shah, referring to the company’s metaverse app and how important it was for employees to test Meta’s. own technology. (Meta did not respond to requests for comment.)
The term is ubiquitous in both formal and informal technical settings. “It’s such a norm in the Valley,” said Rebecca Hinds, the head of the Work Innovation Lab at Asana. Recently, she said, her colleagues received a memo about dogfooding and their shared responsibility in it.
But as a metaphor it’s a bit confusing. Are the engineers dogs? Or people who eat dog food? Pet owners feed their dogs?
The roots of the term are disputed. Some suggest that dogfooding was inspired by commercials from the 1970s and 1980s in which actor Lorne Greene sang Alpo’s praises as he fed it to dogs.
Others cite a story about a Kal Kan executive who ate the brand’s dog food at shareholder meetings. (A spokeswoman for Mars, which formerly owned the Kal Kan brand, confirmed the story was true.) Paul Maritz, a former manager at Microsoft, is credited with popularization of the term in 1988.
One tech titan who has often used his own product is Elon Musk, who took over Twitter last month and made sweeping changes (all while tweeting incessantly). But is he dogfooding?
“You just have to use your own product without a feedback loop to the developers — I don’t see that as dogfooding,” said Warren Harrison, a recently retired professor of computer science at Portland State University. If, on the other hand, Mr. Musk gives quick feedback to the product team while posting, that could count as dogfooding, Mr. Harrison said.
Mrs. Hinds said some bristle at the unappealing connotations of consuming something fit for another species and has suggested tastier alternatives.
But, she said, these views cannot capture the essence of the task at hand.
“‘Drinking your own champagne’ or ‘ice cream’ implies a sense of perfection,” she said. “I don’t think that’s as strong a reason for change as ‘eating your own dog food’.”