208. Build vs. Buy

June 1, 2021

All developers will understand the difficulty that comes along with deciding whether to build or to buy. In today’s episode, we discuss why it’s so important to think about this decision before you make it; there are so many factors to take into consideration and you don’t want to act hastily. Co-hosts Michael and Dave discuss the pros and cons of building and buying, tiers that exist within the build or buy spectrum, and something that they would never build. They share a question that you should always ask yourself before diving in, and some red flags to look out for. If you’re in the market to buy, this episode is also full of examples of great places you can do so! 

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Why Dave decided to buy his wedding website rather than build it.
  • Elements that make Stride’s new website so great.
  • What Stride still needs to work on in terms of its branding.
  • A question to ask yourself before deciding whether to build or buy.
  • Tiers that exist within the buy versus build spectrum.
  • One of the ways Michael makes use of GCP. 
  • The scramble that happened when Yahoo Answers announced they were shutting down.
  • Types of businesses that will benefit from having their own servers.
  • Authentication; why Michael has decided he will never build this.
  • A building project that Michael might like to take on one day. 

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If you are a software developer or technology leader looking to stay on top of the latest news in the software development world, or just want to learn actionable tactics to improve your day-to-day job performance, this podcast is for you.

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Transcript for Episode 208. Buy vs. Build

[INTRODUCTION]

[0:00:01.9] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developer’s podcast, living large in New York. I’m your host, Michael Nunez. Our co-host today:

[0:00:09.3] DA: Dave Anderson. 

[0:00:11.0] MN: We’re asking you to think twice before you build that thing.

[0:00:15.6] DA: Or before you buy it.

[0:00:17.6] MN: Before you build it and before you buy it, you should think twice.

[0:00:20.5] DA: At least twice.

[0:00:21.9] MN: At least twice. Give it some thought. Today, we’ll talk about certain instances where one may, as a developer, we have that itch bro, like, “Oh I could build this thing, let’s do it, let’s just go.”

[0:00:34.2] DA: Yeah, right. I’m getting married and I had an inkling, like, “Yeah, let me build my wedding website, this will be an expression of my craft and my love.”

[0:00:47.5] MN: All in one.

[0:00:48.8] DA: All in one, yup and it’s going to be great.

[0:00:52.0] MN: We’ll talk about instances like that and, you know, when to buy it and when to build it and I want to continue on that example, Dave, I don’t mean to poke.

[0:01:01.6] DA: Yeah, you know, that’s the short story, I bought it.

[0:01:05.0] MN: That’s it, you thought twice and you were like, “Nope, I’m going to buy the thing.” Tell me about it, what made you want to go and purchase? Did you think twice or you were you just like, “Nah, don’t want to waste the time, I’ll buy it.”

[0:01:16.3] DA: Well, initially I had a friend of mine who made his own wedding website and it was like very – it was a very humble website, static content, just colors, you know, some nice words, some links, really all you need. But then when you start getting into it and you're like, “Oh, well like, you know, we have like, colors that we want and like, there’s a design of the invitation and maybe it wants to match.” Maybe you want some pictures and maybe someone non-technical wants to get in there and edit it, they don’t want to go in and write some HTML or React or Vue JS.

[0:01:57.3] MN: Oh boy, yeah. That was my – I mean, I’m married and if I was trying to plan a wedding, I would also buy. Like you mentioned before, I don’t think, the headache of using a statically typed website for my wedding is one less headache I have to think about when planning for a wedding. I think that would have been it.

[0:02:21.2] DA: Yeah, that’s true, I don’t know what that type of the address is.

[0:02:26.0] MN: Yeah.

[0:02:27.6] DA: Or how the form validation works.

[0:02:30.0] MN: That’s fine, just throw whatever in there, drop Bobby tables if you want. I don’t want to build it and have to worry about Bobby tables.

[0:02:38.3] DA: Yeah, I mean I think the kind of allegory of buying the wedding website versus building it like kind of extends to a lot of things, like my domain is not design. I’m not a designer. I’m not a wedding person. I’ve not ever built a website for a wedding so I don’t know what features I might want and when I bought it, it had a lot of features and I was like, “I don’t need these features, why am I paying the money for this?” Now, two years into planning a wedding.

[0:03:14.1] MN: Yeah, thanks COVID.

[0:03:16.2] DA: Yeah COVID, thanks. You know, I’m going to use all those features and I’m so happy I didn’t code them. I mean, it’s not perfect, they’re a little bit janky in some ways and I feel like, “If I was doing this, it would be like real good,” but it is good enough.

[0:03:35.9] MN: The thing is that if it’s good enough or you really find it to be an issue, you can write a ticket and send it to them for some feedback but you don’t have to write the ticket and then implement it, right? That would be much more time consuming if you had to sit there and implement this bug fix that you happen to find with your keen developer eye, you know?

[0:03:57.9] DA: Yeah, I think this is like the general problem that kind of comes up again and again with software. For our company, we have a marketing website for Stride. I’m sure some companies, some consultancies are like, “Yeah, we are going to do something Bespoke,” but you know, we use a CMS, we use HubSpot because it has a lot of analytics and other things built into it that we don’t need to worry about. Like the marketing people can deal with that and they can manage the content and all that good stuff. It just kind of comes out of the box.

[0:04:36.7] MN: Yeah, imagine if we were to hand roll that ourselves and anytime marketing has a question that we have to go in and make those changes, it’s really easy to buy that piece of software and show that the marketers can just update it however they see fit. 

[inaudible 0:04:51].com, that website is brand new, looks clean. Shout out to the marketers who thought of that and fixed it all up. Dave, I don’t know if you had a hand in it but it looks great, it looks awesome, I really enjoy that website now.

[0:05:03.5] DA: I wish I could say I did but I just enjoy looking at all those sweet links.

[0:05:09.3] MN: There you go.

[0:05:11.3] DA: All that good blog content.

[0:05:13.4] MN: Yeah, then the podcast website too looks nice, I really like it, it looks clean. We gotta update our logo though, we’re a little behind, don’t mind us, COVID got us all a little slow. Cut us some slack if you will.

[0:05:27.9] DA: I didn’t eat breakfast today.

[0:05:30.6] MN: Yeah, please tell Dave to eat breakfast, he needs to eat it and feel good.

[0:05:35.1] DA: Yeah, oh my god, why did I eat a brownie? Anyway.

[0:05:39.2] MN: You’re an adult, you can do what you want. If you want to build that thing, Dave, you can build it. We’re telling people why they should or should not build.

[0:05:47.0] DA: Yeah, like on a similar note as like marketing, there are other kinds of really bespoke software that are really robust like you know, your CRM, your Salesforce, or Freshsales, or what have you, or your ERP, your enterprise resource planning software like SAP or NetSuite or whatever. You could certainly buy that but I think you have to question, “What is the business that I feel like I’m in that I have the most stake in?”

[0:06:26.1] MN: Right.

[0:06:28.9] DA: Maybe you're really opinionated about how you manage your relationships or how you manage your warehouse inventory and your finances, but probably you’re not really that different than everybody else and you could put something in place and get away with it quickly. Those are also very painful, sometimes painful software to implement because it’s very custom.

[0:06:53.9] MN: Yes, I think if you were to buy that piece of software and to test it to see if it fits your organization then you can continue using it. It’s worse if you were to build something and then you realize that the thing you built doesn’t really keep up to speed with your need of that particular software in the first place.

Kind of goes back to that episode with stuff with [Eddie Marelo 0:07:14.6] where we talked about buying the blog versus creating one yourself and that’s like the idea where you build the blog off a third-party site and if you feel like you got enough traction to move it to your own hosted server then by all means, you should do that.

[0:07:30.4] DA: Right, oh man, don’t tell that stuff to me, I just want to build my own blog but I should just buy it.

[0:07:38.7] MN: Yeah, I think server hosting is another one where they use your machine and AWS or Google Cloud platform or your own machine, that’s an idea. I personally feel like AWS, it makes it so cheap, right? Especially what LAM does, you can, like the first two million calls are free and you could get like EC2 instances that are very cheap for you to test things out. I think it’s really cool to do that but to start full scale, to have your server running on GCP might be a thing you want to question as to whether you should start that or not. 

[0:08:15.6] DA: Right and probably the hosting of your service, your software is not the main point. You want to – there is an opportunity cost associated with spending time on setting up your hosting. You know, the buy versus build thing may even have many tiers to it, like where on one side of the tier, you are buying physical servers and you are installing racks of servers into the room, or you’re going with GCP, or AWS in the middle. Or in the other side, you’re going with Heroku and you run one command line and then you’re flying. 

[0:09:04.2] MN: Right, I mean if you’re buying and you start your process with the racks of server that is a concern and you should definitely double question that. I will say though that I have a server hosting on GCP right now. I definitely bought before I built myself. I play the game called Valheim. This is not a sponsor, I wish it was. The game is very, very fun. I’m playing Valheim right now and GCP offered three months free for any of the services up to $300 or something like that. 

I was like, “Hey, why don’t I have a Valheim server with my friends and get that running?” I use a GCP, thank you very much. It was really easy to do it, I followed the YouTube link to get that up and running and I’m playing with my boys. 

[0:09:49.8] DA: Do you have an affiliate link? 

[0:09:51.2] MN: No, I don’t. I wish I did though but I am playing with my boys now and we got our own server and the idea is that anyone can get on it at any time, right? You are playing with your friends but you don’t want to be like, “Hey bro, could you turn on the computer bro so that I could play a little bit?” No, just put that on the Google Cloud bro. 

[0:10:06.5] DA: Right. 

[0:10:07.8] MN: I definitely did that, so when the three months expires that’s when I’m going to have to scramble and figure it out whether I’m actually going to buy or what I’m going to build my own thing but I got three months. 

[0:10:15.9] DA: Right, maybe you can see what the tradeoffs are. 

[0:10:19.3] MN: It’s like 40 bucks a month I think for that EC2, that machine I think, or like T1, I forget what it is but I don’t want to pay 40 dollars a month for it but it is free right now, so I’m doing that. 

[0:10:29.4] DA: Well, you got to charge your buddies a service fee. 

[0:10:33.2] MN: We’ll have to figure that out. 

[0:10:34.8] DA: Yeah, I didn’t realize that that was why I’ve seen so many suggestions to spin up GCP server instances. Like Yahoo Answers was going down and before scrambling to download all of the answers before it went down, they’re like, “Yo, just put this docker container into GCP. It’s free and you can spend up like this many instances,” and blah-blah like, oh my god that seems kind of crazy. 

[0:11:01.9] MN: Yeah, I mean Google was offering three months, might as well cash it in. I don’t have an affiliate link for that either. I wish I did. 

[0:11:08.1] DA: Dang. 

[0:11:09.0] MN: Google is out there trying to give up the service for people to give it a try to buy. 

[0:11:14.6] DA: I could have made a Valheim server and downloaded all the Yahoo Answers.

[0:11:19.6] MN: Yo, you gotta get them answers bro. It’s the greatest answers on the Internet were there.

[0:11:24.7] DA: Yeah but, you know, if setting up your own server farm is going to give you a competitive edge, like if your business is storage and servers, like if you are Dropbox, then sure, yeah, you’re going to have more control over the outcomes by having your own servers and probably a lot less cost. 

[0:11:49.7] MN: If there was one thing that I’m probably never going to build ever, it’s probably authentication. I feel like there has been individuals who have thought this down to a science and I should just consider using other authentication services for any of the applications that I decide to build. I mean, who am I to think that I can write better authentication than individuals who have thought and planned this out, right? 

Dave, what do you think about that? Do you think you will ever find a reason or a time where it’s like, “Ah, [inaudible 0:12:27], more like Dave-off, am I right?” Do you have any thoughts on that? 

[0:12:31.1] DA: Yeah, I can do it. Yeah, that’s a great idea. Why not? I’m going for it. 

[0:12:35.6] MN: Dave-off baby. 

[0:12:37.8] DA: Shooting for the stars. 

[0:12:39.2] MN: There you go. 

[0:12:41.8] DA: No, I’m pretty sure I could do it but I probably would make a mistake and then some guy in Russia would just get me.

[0:12:53.9] MN: Yeah.

[0:12:56.6] DA: I think that I will probably have a better outcome if I use a service, like a SaaS authentication like Auth0 or whatever. I really feel like we’re talking about this buy versus build, we just need to pile up affiliate links like. I feel like every single time I’ve ever mentioned something, I’m like, there’s a lot of money in this, yo, come on, get in here.

Or some of the libraries like we’ve talked about, you know, when you roll your own, doing a third-party software, episode 137 89 according to the tats.

[0:13:35.9] MN: According to the tat.

[0:13:37.9] DA: Yeah, you could use Rails or Jenga and have that authentication be hosted by your own server but just prepared by a library.

[0:13:49.4] MN: Yeah, I mean, I think one has to think about whether, you know, there was a lot of time and energy put into that particular service for then for you to buy it versus wondering if you can make your own spinoff or if your business is much more customized than what the service provides then that would be a good call to do it.

I just think, me personally, I can’t think of – I’m just going to use Auth0 if I have to for multi-factor authentication, I imagine, or any of those other services that are provided. Yeah, I think that – let me see, if I had to think, what is one thing that I would create?

You know what I would create? This just came into mind, I just think that it would be a great puzzle. I don’t know if this is going to be my side project that I’m never going to build on purpose by accident. It’s probably going to be like a credit card authenticator/filler. You know how they have the credit card form that you can build?

I just feel like that’s like a puzzle that I really enjo, that I wouldn’t mind doing. Maybe I’ll build my own one of those, maybe, I don’t know, we’ll see. That’s it for me.

[0:14:56.5] DA: Yeah, I don’t know, I mean, you can learn a lot by building something. There’s definitely that aspect of it, where when you build it, you end up owning it for better and worse in terms of maintaining it and getting to market and all that but.

[0:15:16.5] MN: Right. I would say, again, always think twice before you buy and think twice before you build.

[END OF INTERVIEW]

[0:15:25.1] MN: Follow us now on Twitter @radiofreerabbit so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear? Give us a five star review and help developers just like you find their way into The Rabbit Hole and never miss an episode. Subscribe now however you listen to your favorite podcastW. On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries and my amazing co-host, Dave Anderson and me, your host, Michael Nunez, thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole.

[END]

Links and Resources:

HubSpot

Salesforce

Freshworks [formerly Freshsales]

SAP

NetSuite

AWS

GCP

Auth0

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