Airtable Should Do This

I Was a Judge

I was not a judge in the legal sense. Anyone who knows me, even just a little, would realize this would be a bad idea. Rather, I was asked to judge teams working on new features.

Behind the curtain, deep inside the organization, Coda has a long-standing ritual - internal hackathons . Yesterday was hackathon number 20. As evidenced by the hackathon teams demonstrations, they have been doing this for a long time and they’re very comfortable with the process.

Any employee with an idea to make Coda better or serve their customers in more productive ways, is free to form a hackathon team, build a prototype, and demonstrate the improvement to leadership and actual customers. I was invited to be a hackathon judge and it was an eye-opening experience.

I’m not certain Airtable isn’t doing this, but I see no evidence that the truly talented supporters of this product are being invited to be part of the development process. Coda literally asks its customers to place their hands on the tiller to subtly adjust the compass heading of the product.


I though Airtable did this? Isn’t that how we got things like the ability to clear all notifications with a single click?

You’re one of the most knowledgeable Airtable developers. Have you ever been invited into a conversation with their development team to review and rank 50 new features, openly comment on them, and verbally discuss them in a forum with the people responsible for bringing these features to life?

I get the sense it is not happening at Airtable, nor is it a ritual.


Ah yes. I think Airtable had an internal hackathon. I don’t think that Airtable had external judges.

That’s great! Now they need to make it a ritual every 28 days. Making it a ritual is crucial because it trains the team (and new hires) to embrace continuous improvement as a core practice. It makes it easier for workers to say something if they see something. It encourages all workers to eat their own dog food. And it provides a structured framework for ideation.

Having one or vastly intermittent internal hackathons is simply a distraction to “business as usual”, the festering ignorance that the workers have concerning their dog food. @ScottWorld has written extensively about this debilitating condition at Airtable.

If Airtable’s leadership did this and then invited the most prolific users to help them decide which ideas are good and which are urgent or important, it would change just about everything concerning their product and feature direction.

The CEO and founder of Coda is present at every one of these. He does not preside over the event. Rather, he welcomes everyone at the beginning, makes introductions to each team, and then quietly blends into the backdrop as a judge right along side the customers and other Coda leadership participants.

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Airtable is such a disappointment in so many ways. As soon as I have free time, I’m adding Coda to my arsenal of consulting services. I’m not anchoring my entire boat to The Titanic.

On the horizon of no/low-code platforms that solve information technology objectives, I like to divide these objectives into two categories. It’s probably an oversimplified look at the space, but it serves as a useful exercise.

  1. Data-centric solutions
  2. Text-centric solutions

Airtable (and others) play squarely in the data-centric class, whereas Coda (and others) play in the text-centric category. Neither is perfect at both, but some are better at both than others.

Airtable is text-challenged. However, Coda is not data-challenged. It’s just not as proficient at database management as Airtable is, and it is very skilled with text capture, creation, management, and reporting. Notion is as well.

If your consulting practice is biased toward database management, you will rarely see demand for text-centric solutions, and vice-versa. If you haven’t encountered demand for a blending of text and data, you need to recognize this before being distracted by Coda.

Do it! I love working in Coda. But be warned, it has its fair share of bugs and quirks too.

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Not just text-challenged. Also media-challenged.

As much as I’ve been enjoying Coda, I keep running into walls for building custom logic. Adding custom logic in Airtable is so easy with scripting. Coda action formulas are great, but I find myself having to use “hidden” functions. I haven’t yet figured out how to perform CRUD operations or get access to schema in a Coda pack. Any easy resources for that?

Have you acquainted yourself with Packs?

Coda has a complete NodeJS script runner integrated into the product. It’s like if Airtable had custom functions based on JavaScript.

Not yet. I did the Hello World tutorial. I built a very simple pack that create formulas that accept a couple of parameters, process the inputs, and return a result.

But I haven’t done anything that requires working with authentication. I also haven’t figured out how to edit data in an existing table with a pack. (On the other hand, I really like actions in the Coda formula language. Super powerful stuff.)

I also wasn’t able to figure out how to let the someone in “play mode” of a doc pick which field to use as the input of a formula or a pack. (Basically, an equivalent of input.fieldAsync() in Airtable)

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Two methods:

  • Pack → Coda API
  • Pack → Coda Webhook

Yeah. That’s what I was going to try next when I have the time.

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