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Building software that lasts, JIRA 10th anniversary

10 years passed since the beginning of JIRA - a top project management tool. In Internet time it’s a couple of decades or trends (or a lot of memes in between). What made JIRA stay alive in such a competitive market? Why after so many years it’s still a leader and growing? Everyone can write a bug tracker, not so many can live from it.

I’ve happened to witness the rise of JIRA. I’ve been using it for 7 years. For 5 of them I was actually working at Atlassian. And for 3 of them I was actively developing JIRA.

I think we all want our products to last, so let’s think why JIRA made it so far.

Founders and core values

I think it all started with right founders - Mike and Scott were not only great developers, but they happened to be great folks that had a vision for a company that people will love to work for. They didn’t even think about it back then, they just wanted to create awesome products and have fun.

In the process they’ve set really great values as a core of the company. Values which everyone lives by and which help shape decisions. They also attract great talent and only great talent is allowed to enter the company.

Keep it tight and balanced

Not only developers are focused on their work. But having some limits and boundaries - like the budget, time, number of available people made all make hard decisions. Everything has to be kept tight. There wasn’t any time in the history to add some crazy, time consuming features just to please the customers. It was always a game of win lose and it helped cut the fat. Resources are limited so it’s worth thinking twice what to do next. What will bring the most benefits? What’s crucial?

Also JIRA team was great about making decisions, sometimes hard, and communicating them with customers - open company, no bullshit - also when it comes to admitting mistakes (like security vulnerabilities that were discovered a few years ago).

Create platform not a product

This is crucial. JIRA always was meant to be extended. You could write your own plugins or reports. Now with Marketplace in place, Atlassian SDK and great forums it’s even easier to customize it.

A lot of work was put into making good APIs available, keeping them relatively stable and making sure that they progress in the right direction.

There’s also a lot of events related to JIRA - User Groups, AtlasCamp for developers, Atlas Summit for users - it’s not only a platform for building stuff but also a platform for sharing knowledge, experience and ideas.

Be open

Although JIRA is not open source you can actually see it’s code and build your own customized JIRA version. This is great because customers can understand exactly what’s going on, they can easily extend JIRA. But also it makes developers think about the code as something open and available for others for inspection.

Empower people

20% time and ShipIt are there to help foster the innovation, risk taking and adventure. People are rewarded for taking risks. They are also invited to be more than only developers but also influencers and inspirers.

Make QA part of the process

That’s something unusual among enterprise products that the team that develops features also tests them. QA is built into every step. Software development starts with it and ends with it. There are no separate people that test the stuff, there’s no “over the fence” thinking (I build it, you test it).

Atlassian is known also from it’s maniac support. There are actually support engineers but the path from support to developers is straight. Each dev participates also in bug fixing so it’s obvious for each that you must build good, supportable software otherwise you make your job harder (and job of colleagues).

Follow trends

JIRA is not a trend setter. It’s always late to the party. But that’s actually good because it’s based it on stuff that’s already proved. The trick is not to be too late. Sometimes it’s PITA as we all want to use the newest stuff. But generally for the product it usually paid off to be a little late.

This all mixes really well and sets a good foundation for the future. For now it really paid off and JIRA is still at the top.