The practice in which tech workers use their own product consistently to see how well it works and where improvements can be made.
Software engineers are hungry for excellence. Dogs are hungry for dog food. And software engineers at many companies are hungry to “dogfood.”
In the world of tech, dogfooding means consistently using a product you built, just as a user might, to figure out what works and what needs to be fixed.
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 essential it was for staffers to test Meta’s own technology. (Meta did not respond to requests for comment.)
The term is ubiquitous in both formal and informal tech settings. “It’s such a norm in the Valley,” said Rebecca Hinds, the head of the Work Innovation Lab by Asana. Recently, she said, her colleagues received a note about dogfooding and their shared responsibility in it.
But as a metaphor, it is a bit confusing. Are the engineers dogs? Or humans eating dog food? Pet owners feeding their dogs?
The roots of the term are disputed. Some suggest that dogfooding was inspired by commercials from the 1970s and 1980s in which the actor Lorne Greene sang the praises of Alpo 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 previously owned the Kal Kan brand, confirmed that the story was true.) Paul Maritz, formerly a manager at Microsoft, is credited with popularizing the term in 1988.
One tech titan who has frequently been using his own product is Elon Musk, who took over Twitter last month and made sweeping changes (all while posting tweets incessantly). But is he dogfooding?
“Simply using 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 is providing rapid feedback to the product team as he posts, that could count as dogfooding, Mr. Harrison said.
Ms. Hinds said that some bristle at the unappealing connotations of ingesting something fit for another species and have suggested more savory alternatives.
But, she said, those prospects fail to capture the essence of the task at hand.
“‘Drinking your own champagne’ or ‘ice creaming’ implies a sense of perfection,” she said. “I don’t think it’s as strong of a primer for change as ‘eating your own dog food.’”