Welcome to API’s June Series on Technology Stewardship. In this series, Stephen Jefferson, Senior Applications Engineer, shares stories and practices for taking care of the infrastructure throughout our technology to help you think about critical foundation-level aspects that need to support and stabilize long-term goals in your organization.

As an engineer, one of my biggest challenges is maintaining the balance of building anew while stabilizing what already exists. Our continual fascination with innovating new things often skews attention away from stewardship, defined as “the careful and responsible management of something.” Yet both are necessary.

In the past decade, many sectors have had similar tendencies to narrowly focus on innovation, an approach that’s now largely questioned. You might recall Facebook’s early motto “Move fast and break things” was later updated to include “…with stable infrastructure.” More recently, innovation labs and districts are reimagining their approach by better prioritizing resilience, security and safety for companies and entire municipalities.

The long-term success of innovation depends on our willingness to look for this inflection point where more stability is needed. When coaching newsrooms, I’m often asked for guidance on innovative projects that have already experienced instability, such as unexpected staffing changes, skillset limitations or software mishaps. These events hint that they’ve reached this inflection point.

Similarly, when I joined API, the product team had just undergone a substantial transition with all new engineers. We quickly encountered an inflection point with the inherited products after learning how past development primarily included incremental improvements without reflecting on the product as a whole. The infrastructure was no longer compatible with present-day standards, requiring a migration over the next two years to renew its foundational components. We also had to reposition our engineering culture with new principles and practices to better hold us accountable for long-term stability. Today, we feel more confident with innovation because of this intentional stewardship.

These stories of abrupt pivots during innovation are also stories of misconceptions about product development. Along with the challenge of balancing stewardship in our day-to-day work, we may want to reassess who or what we are stewards of and how we can do it well.

This month, I’ll share ways to support conversations for balancing innovation and stability in your news organization. My goal will be to help surface essential considerations about this often overlooked topic and provide guidance to include them in your technology decisions. I hope we can learn from each other’s experiences about being stewards and encourage you to start conversations across your team or network.

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