Why you should be paying attention to tech stacks

What you can learn from the software tools being used by Silicon Valley's top companies

Marc Andreessen wrote his famous Wall Street Journal essay "Why Software Is Eating the World" in 2011. Today, his prediction—that software companies would take over large parts of the economy as various industries are disrupted by software—has largely come to pass. 

Software has indeed changed the game, with software and online-based services making it possible to build companies with very little infrastructure. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the tech stack—a new term that refers to the suite of software tools that a company uses. 

How important is the tech stack? Important enough that it’s already gone mainstream. The New York Times Magazine featured the rise of the tech stack in a recent issue. Writer John Herrman says:

“Stack,” in technological terms, can mean a few different things, but the most relevant usage grew from the start-up world: A stack is a collection of different pieces of software that are being used together to accomplish a task. A smartphone’s software stack, for instance, could be described as a layered structure: There’s the low-level code that controls the device’s hardware, and then, higher up, its basic operating system, and then, even higher, the software you use to message a friend or play a game. An individual application’s stack might include the programming languages used to build it, the services used to connect it to other apps or the service that hosts it online; a “full stack” developer would be someone proficient at working with each layer of that system, from bottom to top.

Understanding your company’s tech stack

Every company has a tech stack. Even a one-person freelancer writing operation has a stack. Her stack might look like this: Google Docs for drafting and saving articles; Slack for chatting with editors; Wordpress for her portfolio and blog; MailChimp for her weekly newsletter; Skype to conduct interviews with clients. 

The combination of these tools is her tech stack, and by sharing it, she can not only get feedback from other freelance writers and gain insights into new ways to use the tools she’s already chosen, but she can also learn about new tools that she hasn’t tried yet.

“The larger the business, the larger the tech stack,” writes Herrman. "The stack isn’t just a handy concept for visualising how technology works. For many companies, the organising logic of the software stack becomes inseparable from the logic of the business itself.” 

So what’s in your stack? 

A social network for tech stacks

Your tech stack is ever evolving, and it’s helpful to see what tools other companies are using. Many people do this in forums, blogs, or even in private emails between colleagues. But in Silicon Valley, where stack are premium, it is especially important to compare and share tech stacks at scale.

StackShare is a startup where 100,000+ developers, engineers, VPEs, and CTOs from Silicon Valley's top companies, including Airbnb, Instacart, and Spotify, share and discuss their tech stacks. Any engineer, entrepreneur, or CTO can go to StackShare to see exactly what software combinations are powering growth at the fastest-growing companies in the U.S. 

Sharing tech stacks means companies can learn what tools their peers and competitors are using, while job-seekers can discover which tools are most in demand and used at their dream companies. It’s a social network for tech stacks, and has even been dubbed the LinkedIn for developers—a place where companies share, show off, and discuss the tools that make up their tech stacks.

What you can learn from one company’s stellar stack

Companies can save countless hours by learning what tech stacks their peers and competitors are using—instead of wasting resources on solutions that don't work, and reinventing the wheel. 

For example, HotelTonight, the startup that connects users to same-day hotel deals, has shared its entire tech stack on the platform, and even went further when Jatinder Singh, its director of platform engineering went on the StackShare podcast. We discussed a few of the tools that helped HotelTonight to go from minimum viable product to full app launch in two months—and to planning an IPO in only 7 years. 

HotelTonight shows users a personalised selection of 15 hotels each time they open the app. By switching from Ruby and MySQL to Elasticsearch, HotelTonight cut down query time from 1 second to 15 milliseconds. When it was building its tech stack, HotelTonight discovered that the cache tool of the hour was Varnish. But many of its peers worked at Fastly, so HotelTonight adopted it—and cut down its servers by 4x. Most people use Datadog as a simple dashboard, but HotelTonight uses it for unified alerts—from load balances to databases and caches. If anything is out of whack, Datadog alerts HotelTonight's designated person on call.

Stacks for recruiting (and job searching)

StackShare's data also lets you know what tools are the most popular. Founders and CTOs can use this data to choose the most popular tools that will make hiring a breeze, while job seekers can use the data to explore which tools are most in-demand so they can study up and learn the software that is most prevalent in the market. 

Job seekers can use Stack Match, StackShare’s job search tool, to choose what tools they would like to work with, what tools they don’t want to work with, specific roles they’re looking for, and their preferred location. They can also simply browse the stacks of companies they are interested in to get an idea of what kind of tools those companies are using. 

The future of the tech stack

Software is the present and future, and tech stacks are constantly evolving. New tools launch all the time, and as companies adopt new technologies, their stacks will reflect the changing industry. As software gets smarter, more tools will be developed to replace tasks that you do manually, making your tech stack more important with each day. 

The rise of the tech stack raises several interesting questions. In a software-driven world, what is the role of the technology office in leading business change? What does a company's—or a person's—tech stack say about them? How will the stack redefine the way people seek jobs and the way companies recruit?

The most important thing that founders and business owners can do now is get a sense of their current stack, study up on their competitors’ tech stacks, and keep abreast of developments in software and tools. Because software is eating the world, and it’s best to make sure you don't get eaten, too. 

Yonas Beshawred, founder and CEO, StackShare
Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa