It’s important to remember that investment isn’t a completely altruistic act. While investors clearly want to encourage innovation, a primary motivation is to see a return on that investment. At the end of the day, they’re gambling that your idea will make them money.

This can make investing in true innovation tricky. True innovations are those rare game-changing technologies that revolutionize an industry. They’re notoriously difficult to spot. How often have you heard that people thought Apple would fail when they released the first iPhone or didn’t believe in Facebook when it first went public? True innovation rarely looks revolutionary to begin with. So how do investors spot which ideas are worth the effort?

We spoke with Jason Warner, managing director at Redpoint Ventures, to understand the reasoning behind investments and why investors are so picky.

1. Typical SaaS companies are easy to invest in, but true innovation doesn’t follow the same model

When developers start searching for investment, it can often be discouraging. While investors might not understand the intricacies of every technology company they invest in, they can at least spot the trends. They know and understand how a Software-as-a-service (SaaS) company grows.

If a company is growing, it has a very familiar pattern. And so investors can be quite confident that they’ll see a return. They’re much more willing to take a risk and ‘YOLO’ an investment.

“SaaS companies are really well understood in terms of how they grow,” explained Jason. “There is no real investor challenge to understand that if a company is growing 2x and its enterprise sales look good then … [investors] can just “yolo” invest into them. Because they understand what these companies look like … It’s all just Excel spreadsheets.” -On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 40:29

2. Investors often wait until the first round of funding, but developers need seed funding

If you’re developing a revolutionary piece of technology, then it’s likely that you need investment to get you off the ground. However, it’s difficult for investors to sort the good from the bad. How do they know you’ll be successful, without a few years of revenue behind you? It’s a catch 22 situation. You need the investment to get those first few years, but the investors need to see a few years before they’re willing to invest.

Look at how Netflix completely surprised the world. Nobody predicted that it would change how we watch video (most of all Blockbuster, who fatefully ignored the potential). This is a trend that harks back decades. Online shopping, personal computers, the television, even electric light bulbs were all disregarded when they were first conceived.

These industry-changing innovations need investment much earlier than typical SaaS companies. And spotting what works is more of an art than a science.

“[Investors] miss the fundamentals. They can see the ones that are the trends,” Jason said. “It should [then] become obvious in the next round or the round after that from other investors … oh yeah, that is a great company.” -On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 41:18

3. Developers need to seek out companies like Redpoint for seed investment

If you have a truly new idea, you’ll need to find an alternative to the usual investors. A company like Redpoint, which focuses on giving seed funding, is much more likely to take the time and actually investigate whether your technology will be a success.

It will take longer, of course. And it might not be the full amount you need to get your business started. But it’ll be what you need to begin building a proof of concept, get those first few years under your belt and start pitching to other investors.

“[If you’re] talking to a Redpoint investor, you should be flattered,” Jason explained. “What we’re thinking is that you are a majorly important company in the future. You have the potential to land … If Redpoint invests in you, we want it to basically mean that we think of you as a new primitive on the Internet or in whatever sector that you are in. And other people are going to build upon you.” -On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 41:35

Listen to the full conversation

If you’d like to learn more about what Jason thinks and how to secure yourself an investment, catch the podcast on our website.

Starved for top-level software engineering content? Need some good tips on how to manage your team? This article is inspired by Dev Interrupted - the go-to podcast for engineering leaders.

Dev Interrupted features expert guests from around the world to explore strategy and day-to-day topics ranging from dev team metrics to accelerating delivery. With new guests every week from Google to small startups, the Dev Interrupted Podcast is a fresh look at the world of software engineering and engineering management.

Listen and subscribe on your streaming service of choice today.

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Flow can mean many things but when it comes to workflow it usually refers to that feeling, discussed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, when you enter a state of intense focus and lose yourself in an activity. 

Video games are a great example. They take advantage of this feeling to keep you immersed, which is why it’s so easy for gamers to “lose time” and just get wrapped up. The same feeling usually drives your most productive and best work.

When you manage developers, their workflow should be treasured and valued. That’s why, to improve developer focus, it’s vital to avoid weighing them down with minor interruptions or non-urgent pings. 

“Flow is characterized as this experience where the task that you're doing is perfectly matched to the skills that you have.” -Katie Wilde on the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 7:51

1. Acknowledge that it take 23 minutes for devs just to get into flow

Did you know that it takes 23 minutes to get into a flow state? For some people it takes even longer. That means that for every question, disruption, email, and interruption that you or your coworkers are subjected to, it could be half an hour of productivity down the drain. We talked to Katie Wilde, VP of Engineering at Ambassador Labs, about how she manages workflow

“Say you got a Slack ping, and you're like, “oh, I'll just ask a question.” How long does it take you to find the thread again? What's that total interrupt time? It's 23 minutes…that's been measured.” -on the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 11:11

2. Defrag dev calendars

Some interruptions are unavoidable but many of them aren’t. Planning your calendar in a way that works around the needs and workflows of your team is necessary to maximize everyone's productivity. 

For instance, scheduling meetings on days when weekly meetings already occur can help preserve focus time by not disrupting other working days. 

Devs need to communicate with their managers on what times they have available away from normal workflow and then it’s up to engineering leaders to plan around those schedules. As a dev leader, you have to look at your devs’ calendars, not your own, and react accordingly. 

“If you're a manager, when you're scheduling, don't look at your calendar, and then find a time and then see where you can slot the engineer in…look at the engineer's calendar and see, where can you tack the meeting on that it is after another meeting, or it is maybe at the start of the day, the end of the day… and ask them!” -Katie Wilde on the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 12:31

3. Suck it up - schedule your work around focus time

When managing large numbers of devs, it can seem like a chore to work around many different schedules or attempting to get meetings done only on specific days. We asked Katie what her trick to juggling so many different calendars and meetings was, and she had one thing to say: “Suck it up.”

Devs are the backbone of software production and it’s important to prioritize their productivity whenever possible. To help them stay on task and be able to really focus on their work, they need to have meetings planned around their day - not yours.

Providing consistency for your devs - meeting them when they are ready, available, and focused - helps them maintain a flow state and maximize productivity. But more than that, it’s the right thing to do. Devs want to build cool stuff, not have their days ruined by their own calendars.   

Katie says it best:

“That might mean that, as the manager, you have a little bit weirder hours. I hate to say this, but kind of suck it up… There's no way to get around that.”-on the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 13:23

Watch the full interview-

If you would like to hear more about how managers can work around a developers schedule and other great insight from Katie Wilde, check out the full podcast on your favorite podcasting application, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, YouTube

Starved for top-level software engineering content? Need some good tips on how to manage your team? This article is inspired by Dev Interrupted - the go-to podcast for engineering leaders.

Dev Interrupted features expert guests from around the world to explore strategy and day-to-day topics ranging from dev team metrics to accelerating delivery. With new guests every week from Google to small startups, the Dev Interrupted Podcast is a fresh look at the world of software engineering and engineering management.

Listen and subscribe on your streaming service of choice today.

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Hiring neurodiverse developers can be challenging, particularly for smaller companies that are less experienced at hiring. This isn’t because you need an entirely new process or that neurodiverse people are inherently trickier to interview. It’s that small flaws in your hiring process get exacerbated. Obstacles that cause neurotypical people to stumble, become outright blockers to a neurodiverse person.

So we asked Matt Nigh, data engineering manager at UW Medicine, to give his tips on how to make sure your hiring process suits everybody.

“I think there are companies that other organizations could mimic,” Matt explained. “I would look at Google as one of probably the best that I’ve experienced.”-On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 25:50

1. Interview processes should be conversational

If you use a lot of formal language, jargon and needlessly complicated words, you’ll make it much harder for your interviewee to understand what you want them to do. It also makes the interview artificial and cold, which can lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety in your interviewee. This is true for everybody, but for a neurodiverse developer, it can be much more potent.

 

“The most inclusive interview process I ever experienced was at Google,” Matt said. “And the reason I felt they had such an inclusive process is that it was wildly conversational. They were incredibly good at explaining what they were asking and what they were looking for. And to me, it was an incredibly friendly process.” -On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 24:10

2. Neurodiverse developers prefer straightforward and clear instructions 

When giving instructions, particularly in practical tests, it’s important to make sure that you’re being clear and straightforward. Leaving ambiguity can cause problems, especially for neurodiverse developers. That ambiguity can distract away from the actual task at hand. The clearer your instructions, the better you’ll test a developer’s actual skills.

 

“I would say the reason I failed the system design interview was (and this is an example of what autism will do during an interview) it was the first system design interview I ever had. And I spent half the time trying to understand the language that the individual was using, rather than solving the problem, trying to make sure we’re just on the same page with what we were saying,” Matt said. -On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 24:40

3. Neurodiverse developers need diverse recruiters, and stick around for longer once hired

Everyone has their own biases. While we should all strive to overcome those, it’s not always possible. The best way to avoid those problems is to make sure your interview team is diverse. Some coping mechanisms and strategies can seem strange to a neurotypical recruiter at first.

For example, someone with ADHD might ask you to repeat points or be typing as you speak. While it could initially look like they’re answering emails or not paying attention to you, it’s more likely that they’re taking notes to make sure they follow your instructions properly. The more diverse your recruiters, the fewer false assumptions you’ll make.

“Most recruiters are used to looking at neurotypical applicants, and they essentially have mental flags that come up with certain things, certain questions or anything like that,” Matt said. “Companies should ask: Do I have inclusive recruiters? So say, for example, at Google, they had incredibly inclusive recruiters. I was recruited by a deaf individual, for example. So this person very clearly understands me and anything that was going on.”-On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 25:13

4. Neurodiverse developers could be more productive, and worth changing your processes

A program at Hewlett Packard Enterprise hired over 30 neurodiverse people in software testing roles at Australia’s Department of Human Services. The initial results from the program seem to suggest that those testing teams are 30% more productive than others, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review, called neurodiversity as a competitive advantage.

 

It would seem that, while a neurodiverse person might struggle in some areas—like the social anxiety brought on by an interview—they could exceed in others, such as pattern recognition.

Watch the full interview

If you’d like to hear more from Matt on neurodiversity in software development, you can watch the full podcast on our channel.

Starved for top-level software engineering content? Need some good tips on how to manage your team? This article is inspired by Dev Interrupted - the go-to podcast for engineering leaders.

Dev Interrupted features expert guests from around the world to explore strategy and day-to-day topics ranging from dev team metrics to accelerating delivery. With new guests every week from Google to small startups, the Dev Interrupted Podcast is a fresh look at the world of software engineering and engineering management.

Listen and subscribe on your streaming service of choice today.

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Over the last ten years, technology has become more sophisticated. Faster. Smaller. More powerful. But it isn’t just our technology that’s evolving at a rapid pace. Our culture, attitudes and politics are all changing, too.

So what could the next ten years look like? How might businesses change to keep up with technology? We spoke with Jason Warner, managing director at Redpoint Ventures, to get his thoughts on the matter.

“Ten years is an interestingly long, but also short time horizon,” Jason explained. “It’s likely we’ll see a complete company cycle, maybe two macroeconomic cycles.” -On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 10:29

1. Organizations will invest more in compliance and security

There have been a lot of large changes in recent years. People are working from home. Political tensions are high. And almost every device collects data about us. In all these cases, security is important. Securing our businesses, our national secrets, and our private lives.

It all leads to an inevitable conclusion. Jason believes that chief compliance officers will become commonplace, even in small companies. Protecting data is going to become a primary concern, for governments, businesses and people. Because, as the world gets more digital, we’re going to see more and more cyber attacks.

“Trends that I see happening are an increased awareness and investment in things like compliance and security. I think that if companies don’t have a chief compliance officer now, they likely will in the future,” Jason said. “I think it’s interesting when you see the geopolitical environment of how we might have to invest in more sophisticated tooling for national security. But more than that, it’s like understanding that we’re no longer a single micro-geo unit called the United States.” - On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 11:03

2. Companies will focus on loyalty and subscriptions over one-off sales

The standard business model is outdated. In the past, technology companies sold software, they gave customers the software and that was the end of the transaction. But now, it’s more about building communities and regular interaction with your customers. It’s about subscriptions, regular payments or even donation models, seen on popular platforms like Twitch. Software isn’t a product any more. It’s a service.

But almost every company these days is a technology company. Just look at what’s happened to the taxi industry. The model has completely changed, simply because the technology has evolved. The old model won’t completely disappear, but we’ll see more and more industries move into a subscription model as new technology takes over.

“Selling is about adoption first and selling second. Someone’s got to reach for you first,” Jason explained. “Then, they’re going to find a value problem, then they’re going to want to give you money if they’re finding utility out of you.” On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 11:21

3. Hardware is, and always will be, just as important as software

With every new innovation, we place more demands on the hardware we’re using. The more advanced our software becomes, the more powerful our hardware must be. But right now, most  companies rely on international trade to build key components. With tensions rising, it’s likely that we’ll see companies begin to bring these resources closer to home, securing their supply chain in the process.

“There’s interestingly a lot more emphasis on investing in hardware again,” Jason said. “And America in particular owning its hardware manufacturing, which I think is obviously good.” -On the Dev Interrupted Podcast 11:41

Watch the full interview

If you’re interested in what else Jason had to say about the next ten years, and what challenges society faces, you can watch the full podcast on our site.

Starved for top-level software engineering content? Need some good tips on how to manage your team? This article is inspired by Dev Interrupted - the go-to podcast for engineering leaders.

Dev Interrupted features expert guests from around the world to explore strategy and day-to-day topics ranging from dev team metrics to accelerating delivery. With new guests every week from Google to small startups, the Dev Interrupted Podcast is a fresh look at the world of software engineering and engineering management.

Listen and subscribe on your streaming service of choice today.

Chaos Engineering might sound like a buzzword - but take it from someone who used to joke his job title was Chief Chaos Engineer (more on that later) it is much more than buzz or a passing fad - it’s a practice. 

The world can be a scary place and more and more companies are beginning to turn to Chaos Engineering to proactively poke and prod their systems and in doing so are improving their reliability and guarding against unexpected failures in production and unplanned downtime. 

During my career I dealt with my fair share of outages, including one that caught me mid-song during a bout of karaoke and far too many that woke me up at 02:00. As the co-founder and CTO at Gremlin, I do my best to make sure no other engineers have to suffer sleepless nights worrying about their product. 

But the question remains, what is Chaos Engineering and where did it come from?

A Short History

The spiritual predecessor to Chaos Engineering is often called by a much more widely recognized name - disaster recovery. The focus when this practice was introduced is much the same as today: proactively suss out production problems by injecting failure. 

Netflix’s Chaos Monkey is probably the most well publicized Chaos Engineering tool as it arguably kickstarted the adoption of Chaos Engineering outside of large companies, but this has led to the erroneous belief that Netflix invented the practice. In fact, the practice was already widely in use amongst the titans of technology. 

Over a decade ago during my time as a Lead Software Engineer at Amazon, we implemented several crude practices designed to inject failure into our systems. The most rudimentary of which was employed by a man called Jesse Robbins, who earned the nickname “Master of Disaster” by running through data centers pulling out cables. 

Let’s just say the practice has evolved a lot since those early days and your data center cables are much safer these days.

What is Chaos Engineering?

“What Chaos Engineering really is, is the art, if you want to call it that, of introducing controlled chaos.” - 2:16 on the Dev Interrupted podcast

At its core, Chaos Engineering is a disciplined approach of identifying potential failures before they have an opportunity to become customer facing outages. 

It is a practice that lets you safely test your assumption about how your systems will behave under duress by actually exercising resilient mechanisms in a controlled fashion. You literally "break things on purpose" to validate and build resiliency. The end goal of Chaos Engineering is not to inject arbitrary failure into a system, but rather to strategically inject turbulence to enhance the stability and resiliency of your systems.

How Chaotic is Chaos Engineering?

I always tell people that Chaos Engineering is a bit of a misnomer because it’s actually as far from chaotic as you can get. When performed correctly everything is in control of the operator. That mentality is the reason our core product principles at Gremlin are: safety, simplicity and security. True chaos can be daunting and can cause harm. But controlled chaos fosters confidence in the resilience of systems and allows for operators to sleep a little easier knowing they’ve tested their assumptions. After all, the laws of entropy guarantee the world will consistently keep throwing randomness at you and your systems. You shouldn’t have to help with that.

How do I Start?

One of the most common questions I receive is: “I want to get started with Chaos Engineering, where do I begin?” There is no one size fits all answer unfortunately. You could start by validating your observability tooling, ensuring auto-scaling works, testing failover conditions, or one of a myriad of other use cases. The one thing that does apply across all of these use cases is start slow, but do not be slow to start.

What I mean by this is to start testing across just a few nodes versus impacting your entire fleet. We refer to the impacted area as the “blast radius” and we highly recommend starting with a small blast radius (the number of systems impacted) and increasing it over time.

By starting small you allow yourself to gain confidence in both the experiments you are running and your systems. Of course your risk tolerance is also a factor of how large a blast radius your organization will use. 

For instance, a large banking institution with millions of customers has a much lower risk tolerance than a tech startup with a couple hundred customers. In that case, they would want to run experiments in a programmatic way and would need to be very explicit about communicating to the rest of the organization what tests are going to be run and when to avoid any unplanned 2am or 3am disasters. 

Eventually you want to get to the point where all of this is automated, a process we refer to as “continuous chaos.” Starting small with automation could be something as simple as taking out a single node; then taking out five nodes; then ten; and so on. Eventually you automate the process at a level you are comfortable with.  

“Ultimately you want to be able to handle any of this random chaos being thrown at you, because that's what the world is, it's entropy, it's degradation” - 7:35 on the Dev Interrupted podcast

No Tolerance for Downtime

When I founded Gremlin, it was just myself and my co-founder developing the first iteration of the product. The business looked very different then and I jokingly referred to myself as the “Chief Chaos Engineer” responsible for implementing code that was mostly used by enterprise companies. Many of these companies came to us because they had reliance thrust upon them by the US government or they had top-down reliability standards and they wanted a tool to help them shore up their systems. 

As the company began to evolve, so did the customer base. These days it’s not just Fortune 500 companies that care about reliability, it’s everybody. Planned downtime is a relic of days gone by. It is no longer acceptable to espouse planned maintenance windows as part of development lifecycles and customers don’t have the patience for products they rely upon to spend any time unavailable. Companies recognize this dynamic - and it’s not a hard one to miss. 

Seemingly our appetite for technology has gone up exponentially while our ability to stomach downtime has drastically decreased. Customers expect that your product is always working, always running. If your product is down because of outages then there are ten other similar products waiting in the wings to take their money. 

Making Lives Better

Visibility is high these days and companies don’t need the publicity that comes with making any unforced errors, let alone to be subject to errors not of their making. No one wants to be blown up on Twitter because their product isn’t working or because one of their downstream dependencies or their cloud provider had an unexpected outage. 

By preparing for the worst, we can be at our best as an industry and can be prepared when disaster eventually comes knocking. That’s why when an unexpected outage occurs or there is a production failure customers will never even know it happened. 

I often joke that we are the engineers’ engineers because many of us know that feeling of being jolted from a dream at 03:00 by our pagers, groggily wiping our eyes and whipping out the laptop to go dig through a sea of monitoring dashboards and logs. It’s not fun and it’s exactly why I founded Gremlin. Because there is a better way to approach operations than merely sitting back on our haunches and waiting for the next outage. Chaos Engineering not only helps to protect against the randomness of the world, but also teaches people how to build more reliable software. And if enough people build more reliable software, we build a more reliable internet.

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Starved for top-level software engineering content? Need some good tips on how to manage your team? This article is inspired by Dev Interrupted - the go-to podcast for engineering leaders.

Dev Interrupted features expert guests from around the world to explore strategy and day-to-day topics ranging from dev team metrics to accelerating delivery. With new guests every week from Google to small startups, the Dev Interrupted Podcast is a fresh look at the world of software engineering and engineering management.

Listen and subscribe on your streaming service of choice today.

Continuous Delivery isn’t about how fast you can deliver, it’s about the outcome your delivery achieves. Bryan Finster, author of the 5-minute DevOps series and founder of the DevOps Dojo, joined our Dev Interrupted Discord community to answer your questions about outcome-based development, continuous delivery, and why failing small is better than failing fast. 

Bryan is currently a Distinguished Engineer at Defense Unicorns but has also worked for Walmart as a systems analyst and eventually became a staff software engineer for Walmart Labs. He had previously appeared on the Dev Interrupted Podcast to further talk about these subjects as well as the most common pitfalls dev teams find when trying to optimize their delivery process. Listen to the episode here:

This Community AMA took place on January 8, 2021 on the Dev Interrupted Discord.

Necco-LB: 📢📢 Community AMA📢📢   @everyone 

Topic: Outcome-based Development with @BryanF (Bryan Finster)

Bryan, thanks for joining us today!

Bryan Finster: Thanks for having me!

col: Bryan... great quote. "A developer is a business expert who solves problems with code." Thank you. Tremendous concept.

Bryan Finster: Thanks. That's who we are. We aren't Java spewing legos. If we don't understand the business, the code won't.

Rocco Seyboth: YES!! @col Love it. @oriker says "a business decision is made with every line of code"

Bryan: Exactly. How does this change improve the bottom line. Even more, how does it improve the lives of our customers?

Necco-LB: We really enjoyed having you on the podcast to talk about Outcome-based development and what continuous delivery should be trying to achieve. I was hoping you could explain to use what Outcome-based development means?

Bryan: It's just focusing on the outcomes. It's pointless to focus on how we do things if the outcomes are poor. It's also about Hypothesis Driven Development. The act of defining the expected value before we attempt to deliver it and then measuring for that value. Instrumenting the application to see how close we get so we can adjust. I frequently see people just being feature factories, pounding out changes that no one needs. That just costs money and increases support. We should be deliberate about what we do and say "no" when the value isn't obvious.

Cocco: When it comes to delivering value to the customer sooner, what things do you commonly see teams worrying about that they perhaps shouldn't (or not worry about, when they should?)

Bryan: "I can't release this! It's not feature complete!" No, get the incomplete change out there and make sure it doesn't break anything.

Necco-LB: You mentioned during the podcast that Pride is the best metric ever. Can you explain that a little bit?

Bryan: If I own the business problem, own the solution, own how to make it better, own the outcomes and see people getting value from my work, then I have pride in what I do. I want it to be good. I want it to be secure and stable and I want to continuously improve it.

Necco-LB: When you talk about outcome-based development you often talk about the things that need to happen before hands touch the keyboard. What are some of those things?

Bryan: We need to understand the value we are trying to deliver and we need to define how we expect to deliver that value at the detail level. It's not enough to write a vague user story. We need testable outcomes that we agree should deliver that value. Behavior Driven Development is the most effective tool I've found for that. We also need to make sure we aren't trying to deliver ALL of the value at once. What if we are wrong? We usually are, statistically. So, what is the smallest, highest value thing we can deliver to find out? Sometimes the right answer is to stop at that point. Invest in the outcomes, not the plan or the work.

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Read the unedited AMA and join in the discussion in the Dev Interrupted Discord here! With over 2000 members, the Dev Interrupted Discord Community is the best place for Engineering Leaders to engage in daily conversation. Join the community >>

Dev Interrupted Discord, the new faces of engineering leadership

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Cocco: What patterns/trends do you see in teams who can deliver the outcomes they want? (Are there common factors in teams you've seen that move from struggling -> successful?)

Bryan: Yes. Actual continuous delivery and product ownership. They can deliver small changes daily and they have ownership of what those changes are. They have the safety to challenge things without fear and they are not pushed so hard that there is no time to think of better ideas. Software development is a mental activity, not typing.

Necco-LB: You work with a lot of different teams at the DevOps Dojo. What are some of the most common pitfalls preventing a team from optimizing their delivery process?

Bryan: They are given the wrong problems to solve. They are asked to solve stupid problems like "how many changes did you make today?", "How many stories did you complete this sprint?", They don't know how to work as teams because they are incentivized to work in silos. So, requirements are poorly defined, testing suffers, speed suffers. They need to be solving the business problem. What is measured will change. Be careful what and how you measure.

Necco-LB: What are some first steps a team can take if they want to become more outcome focused?

Bryan: Focus on the business problem and get close to the user. Empathize with them and what value they need. This really applies to anything. If you don't respect your customer, you won't need to worry about them for very long.

Necco-LB: What is the role/responsibility of the developer in this outcome-based development model?

Bryan: On a good development team you have engineers and product ownership. Engineers ship working solutions. They know they are working because they tested them, delivered, them and observed that their tests were accurate.

Rocco Seyboth: In 5 Minute DevOps you talk about observing what high performing teams do then modeling other teams to the same process and behavior... how do you reconcile that with the belief that every team is different and should have the flexibility to do things their own way?

Bryan: Actually, I advocate against cookie cutter templating of teams in that post. We should standardize on improving outcomes.

Necco-LB: Friends, that's just about the top of the hour. Bryan has a real job that needs to get done, but feel free to keep the questions coming asynchronously throughout the day - he'll be popping in and out to answer them. Bryan - thank you so much for joining our community today and answering our questions!

Bryan: Just some contact links to leave and I want to thank everyone for the conversation. I love talking about these topics.
https://www.linkedin.com/in/bryan-finster/

https://bdfinst.medium.com/

_____________________

Starved for top-level software engineering content? Need some good tips on how to manage your team? This AMA is based on an episode of Dev Interrupted - the go-to podcast for engineering leaders.

Dev Interrupted features expert guests from around the world to explore strategy and day-to-day topics ranging from dev team metrics to accelerating delivery. With new guests every week from Google to small startups, the Dev Interrupted Podcast is a fresh look at the world of software engineering and engineering management.

Listen and subscribe on your streaming service of choice today.

Presenting a Dev Interrupted Community AMA - Adam Furtado - Chief of Platform at Kessel Run - Answering your questions about scaling Kessel Run

How will the wars of the future be fought, and who is heading these advancements in technology? Back in 2017, the US Air Force created a program called Kessel Run, which aids war fighters in the realms of DevOps, Agile, and UX, and the head of this project was an analyst by the name of Adam Furtado. In February of 2021, we interviewed Adam on the Dev Interrupted Podcast and shortly afterward hosted an AMA on our community Discord server.

Adam is the Chief of Platform at Kessel Run, and his story of how he almost single handedly led the US Air Force from 1970's software delivery methods to modern DevOps is one of the most incredible episodes of Dev Interrupted we've had. Adam talks about translating engineering to military officials and how he had to shift his mindset from application development to creating a system of systems. Listen to the episode here: 

This Community AMA took place on February 26, 2021 on the Dev Interrupted Discord.

Necco-LB: 📢 📢 Community AMA📢📢   @everyone

Topic: Scaling Agile & DevOps

We're getting started in 15-minutes! Adam Furtado joins us to share his experience and expertise in scaling his organization (Kessel Run) from 5 >> 200+ developers!

Necco-LB: Let's get this thing started! @here

Welcome to our little community Adam! I can honestly say your episode of Dev Interrupted this week was one of the most interesting episodes I've produced.

Adam Furtado: Thanks for having me! I'm happy to hear that.  Fighter jets are inherently cool.

Necco-LB: I don't think anyone can argue with that. To start things off, Adam can you give the community some quick context about Kessel Run? How many developers in your organization, what you’re building, etc.

Adam: Sure thing, KR is an Air Force organization proving that government-led software development will lead to better mission outcomes than outsourcing our software to companies that specialize in building airplanes (and using the same processes for their software).   We build applications for warfighters to more efficiently strategize, plan, execute, task and assess the complexities of air campaigns. We have grown to about 1300 people… I’d guess. 400 of those are developers.

luisfernandezbr: Adam. What are the top 5 tech/dev metrics that you consider important to measure on a dev team? (Not product metrics like MAU, MRR).

Adam: I think they change as an organization changes... but for the most part I love the DORA 4... I think when used properly (and together!) it can tell you quite a bit about where you need to invest in your organization.  The relationships between the metrics are what drives the value and I think often get forgotten about.

Necco-LB: Were you looking at different things (metrics or ways of visualizing work) when KR was smaller vs today?

Adam: For sure. I led most of our app development at first and we were/are an XP shop.  Our teams were always very diligent about pulling the next story from the top of the backlog etc., so we never really had a WIP problem.  When I moved over to lead our platform org, they were using a poorly-executed pseudo-scrum model and all of a sudden all of the DeGrandis/Kersten/Kim stuff I have been reading my whole career started to make a ton more sense.  In building internal services, it was amazing to be able to see why work visualization matters and SEE the constraints building up.  I'm so glad that I made the switch to build the empathy needed to be a more effective leader.

Necco-LB: Sounds like a big jump indeed. I have to say I’m wicked curious about how software development is different from within the military vs. the corporate environments most of us know.

Adam: Traditionally, the DoD was a case study in poor waterfall dev.  Years of requirement development by people very removed from the work, leading to a contract being put in place that could only feasibly be won by a big defense contractor, years of development to "deliver" the "finished" software to be tested by separate government test organizations for a year or so and then "fielded" manually by folks traveling around the world putting CDs in machines. We've proven that all that risk avoidance actually INCREASES risk and we've had it backwards all along.  To biggest thing we focused on early was how to reach Continuous Delivery with the heavy GRC requirements that we have in Defense (and rightfully so).  So we worked with a forward-leaning IT leader in the Air Force to create and pilot the first Continuous Authority to Operate in the DoD.  So instead of an approval to deploy to classified systems at the "end", we got our processes approved so everything coming out of our org was approved to go into those production environments.  That’s prob the most unique thing.

luisfernandezbr: How you measure the evolution of your dev teams? And what initiatives and practices you use to grow them (like Dojo's etc)? What content do you recommend about DeGrandis/Kersten/Kim?

Adam: Deploy Frequency, Lead Time, Mean Time to Restore and Change/Fail Rate... Accelerate is the bible on this one (Forsgren, Humble, Kim)... Phoenix and Unicorn Project for Gene Kim's take on how to transform IT to DevOps approaches in big, slow companies... Making Work Visible by Domenica DeGrandis is a fantastic book on understanding what keeps us for being as productive as possible.... Mik Kersten's Project to Product on increasing flow.  There are a ton of others, but that's a good start.

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drdwilcox: Thanks for joining us. During the podcast episode you talked about gaining momentum with some early wins. How did you keep that momentum going?

Adam: We struggled there, to be honest. The early wins were so much easier to "sell" to stakeholders.  "There wasn't an app before... now there is.  So I'm impressed". The first year we were deploying MVPs left and right and were the Belle of the ball.   However in building large scale systems, we started focusing a lot more on our infrastructure, data models, optimization, internally efficiencies... and things that were providing real value- but weren't as visible.  Those things are a lot less interesting to stakeholders. The Government has a very output-centric approach to value.  We have focused on building an outcome-driven organization, so there is always a conflict when discussing what is or isn't valuable.

drdwilcox: I don't think it's just the government, to be honest. I have the same struggles in my private company. Output as defined by Product are sexy, all the other things are not. What was effective for you in getting the stakeholders re-engaged?

Adam: It's still a work in progress, to be honest.  We constantly harp on the risk of NOT transforming in this way.  The 2018 National Defense Strategy hits on this hard and all of our Senior leaders are pushing the same message.  So that has been really helpful.  General Brown, AF Chief of Staff, has done a great job of being clear about where we need to drive, so that allows us a bit of a trump card when we come into contact with someone who is trying to hold back progress.

Necco-LB: That idea of selling to stakeholders is really interesting, especially in the military. What did you have to say or do to convince your higher-up that  the counter-intuitive dev methodologies like releasing more frequently was worth a try?

Adam: We had no support early on.  The incentive process in the military rewards people who follow the rules and work within the system.  We sort of worked quietly off to the side on a project nobody really cared about to prove the value once delivered.  Once we got that delivered… we had MASSIVE dollar savings, so we started to be loud about it.  In fact, we were told not to use the “Kessel Run” moniker by higher ups… we decided to do it anyway and started promoting pretty hard.  By the time our first FastCompany article came out, all those senior leaders changed their tune and now they will say they were supporters all along. I am constantly doing that translation/evangelism work. And in the military, people swap out of positions every year or so generally, so some new person will get dropped in with no idea what’s going on and we need to start over again.  “Nope, the cloud is a real place…” Continuous Delivery has broken every gov process.  The test community doesn’t know what to do or look for… Requirement Managers don’t understand their place.  Configuration Management is just…. Different now.  I don’t need some guy managing a spreadsheet of what versions of software are deployed where.   We are in a weird transition period right now. In a lot of ways those stakeholders are sick of hearing from me.  I'm sure they hear Charlie-Brown-teacher-voice when I try to discuss this stuff at this point.  So we have worked on finding the proper champions in higher up places to do that work for us.  The very top of the Air Force totally gets it.  It's everyone in between who need to keep their head down to keep rising in the ranks.  (Tale as old as time...)

Necco-LB: Geez, what a thing. I can't believe you have the energy to continuously fight these battles within your own organization.

Cartoon of two people "Yeah so - don
Read more about Kessel Run and smuggling DevOps into the Department of Defense

Adam: Someone once told me a story about this dad who brought his family to the beach.  They had this big, pink inflatable bunny that the kids were using in the water.  Every so often the bunny would deflate and the kids would run back up the beach to the dad and he would huff and puff and blow it back up.  Kids would be happy and go back in the water.  An hour later, kids are back again and the dad is blowing it back up.  This person said "that is what innovation in the government is like".  Every once in awhile you need someone or something to "pump up your bunny".   The work I do is so exciting and fulfilling, all the BS that I have to deal with, all the money that government employees are leaving on the table, the bureaucracy ends up being worth it.

Necco-LB: That is a great analogy. Reminds me of how you talked about the mission driven culture at KR on the podcast. Can you talk about why you believe the culture of your organization is so important? And any advice you might have for organizations who are bifurcated?

Adam: Organizational alignment is incredibly important.  One place we have struggled is that we put such an emphasis on teams, that teams built strong individual identities.  They were empowered to solve their problem, but over time became less concerned about other teams' problems.  This was never more evident than working with the ops/platform teams.  The app teams knew what their users needed and all they cared about was meeting their needs.   Meanwhile, we had a whole organization with organizational outcomes that were the priority.  Let to a lack of empathy across teams and the communicate at the seams of teams was challenging. We are still digging ourselves out of that, but one thing we focus on is that mission-driven culture.  All it takes is a day like yesterday, with airstrikes in Syria, to level-set everyone on the seriousness of our work.  The mission aligns the teams towards a common goal and common outcomes.

luisfernandezbr: Adam. Thanks for the great tips. What were the big challenges that you had when increasing the dev team?  Things like knowledge sharing, share learning and maintain quality and excellence. Could you share some tips about this, if it is the case?

Adam: We sucked at all those things.  That mission-driven culture led us down the unenviable path about feeling so much pressure to deliver and support our users, that tech debt mounted and documentation suffered.  We struggled investing in automation in favor of getting short term wins.   The last year we have really rebalanced and ensured that we are providing space for our teams to organize their time better.  None of it was intentional, but regardless of what we said, we (leadership) were giving off the vibe that teams couldn't possibly slow down to invest in tech debt or spend time focusing on automating toil away.  We have had to be super clear that it is EXPECTED that teams work at a sustainable pace, invest in their code bases, invest in their professional growth and personal health and be okay saying "no". We have a lot of military members on our team, so saying "no" to your superiors is always a culture change we have to work on internally.

Necco-LB: Working on technical dept and automation vs. new features is something everyone can relate with for sure. I think we'll let Adam get back to his far more important job at Kessel Run. One last question, if someone here wants to get involved with Kessel Run, where can they go? Should they reach out to you?

Adam: This was fun- thanks for having me.  You can follow me on Twitter at @adamsfurtado or you can reach out directly at afurtado@kr.af.mil.  To follow along with KR, you can follow @kesselrunAF on most social media platform. I'd also like to plug that we are currently hiring for a bunch of roles from product leadership to engineers.  It's an incredible place to work and you can make a real impact.  Please take a look and reach out to me with any questions! Thanks again!

Antonette: Job opportunities at Kessel Run here: https://grnh.se/3201d1713us

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Starved for top-level software engineering content? Need some good tips on how to manage your team? This AMA is based on an episode of Dev Interrupted - the go-to podcast for engineering leaders.

Dev Interrupted features expert guests from around the world to explore strategy and day-to-day topics ranging from dev team metrics to accelerating delivery. With new guests every week from Google to small startups, the Dev Interrupted Podcast is a fresh look at the world of software engineering and engineering management.

Listen and subscribe on your streaming service of choice today.

Dev interrupted Discover our Most Popular Podcasts - with a variety of headshots from former speakers

Grammarly has a simple but ambitious mission: to improve lives by improving communication. Every day, our AI-powered writing assistance helps 30,000 teams and 30 million people communicate clearly and effectively wherever they write.

But behind our technology is a team of engineers. Until recently, our engineers focused exclusively on building a product for consumers. When I came aboard to lead new initiatives as the Director of Engineering for Grammarly Business and Grammarly for Developers (expanding our product to support teams, organizations, and third-party developers), it was clear Grammarly approached full-on hypergrowth.  

Then the pandemic changed everything. Suddenly, we found ourselves transitioning to a remote-first organization amid hypergrowth hiring and onboarding. The company doubled in the past year to over 500 team members, and my teams have grown even faster. 

To be successful, we needed to spearhead initiatives that solved two problems. The first involved people: How could we successfully maintain a culture reflecting Grammarly’s EAGER values in a remote world? The second was technical: What tools and practices would enable our team members to thrive? 

Transitioning to remote

Historically, Grammarly has had an in-person culture. We have four hubs—in Kyiv, San Francisco, Vancouver, and New York. But when I joined in July 2020, everyone was remote. Few assumed it would stay that way, but the “return to normal” kept getting pushed further back. Eventually, Grammarly adopted a remote-first hybrid model

With “remote-first,” Grammarly team members work primarily from home. However, we continue to believe in-person interaction builds trusting relationships and a supportive culture that fosters innovation. So our offices became collaboration hubs where face-to-face meetups will also take place each quarter.  We made this decision based on our progression as a company; because we felt we’d learned how to communicate and collaborate effectively and saw advantages to the remote-first model.

Keeping it personal 

I look forward to meeting people in person at our first team-based meetup next year, but with my quickly growing team split between Kyiv and North America, we need to constantly build and maintain personal connections.

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“I've onboarded fully remotely. I've only met four of my coworkers in person.” - Dev Interrupted podcast at 19:33
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Thus, we’ve tried our best to foster a thoughtful approach to team bonding at Grammarly—which signals that breaks and fun are important, too. 

Some example approaches: 

Our events motivate people to break from work and connect with each other. Activities range from educational to creative and silly, including an Indian cooking class during Diwali, a graffiti workshop, a cocktail class, a Halloween costume competition, and Grammarly’s twelfth-anniversary talent show. This personable approach also translates to how we chose the tools for remote collaboration.

Finding the proper tools

Setting hypergrowth teams up for success requires investing in the right tools and processes. As often as possible, we try to implement asynchronous communication and development best practices. Proper tools that facilitate organizational transparency are critical for alignment in a remote-first company.

Fewer people are required in Zoom calls because we share recordings and notes in open Slack channels. For collaboration and stakeholder alignment, our Engineering teams use Confluence for documentation, Jira for issue tracking, and Figma for collaborative interface design. Architecture and whiteboard sessions occur in Miro, while team retrospectives happen in Parabol

The archival component of these tools is invaluable; new and old team members alike can discover information through Glean, which gives us aggregated search across all our tools and content. 

Embracing the talent diversity potential of remote work 

One of the most exciting opportunities with remote work is in finding hidden talent in overlooked geographies. Silicon Valley gets all the attention, but it’s not the only region with great software engineers. There’s plenty of talent out there just waiting to be found. 

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“Genius is evenly distributed by Zip Code, but opportunity is not” - Mitch Kapor, Kapor Capital

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Finding talent in other locations also leads to more organizational diversity. Whether that diversity is racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, or generational, diverse teams are going to improve your product. I’m a huge believer in diverse teams for two reasons: 

  1. Better problem-solving than homogenous teams: I’ve witnessed this in my career, and it’s been proven with studies. Creativity naturally flows from visible and invisible diversity. Companies embracing differences will achieve better outcomes because the ensuing creative conflict helps you innovate and build better products. 
  2. Stronger empathy for the customer: In Grammarly’s case, building writing assistance for the world’s 1 billion English speakers makes diversity in engineering critical. For example, those speaking English as a second language often visualize the language differently, leading to feature ideas that wouldn’t occur to primary English speakers. 

You need a diverse team to build the right product for a broad audience. We’re excited to use recruiting tools like SeekOut and partner with organizations like Elpha and AfroTech to help us connect with and hire engineers from underrepresented groups. 

Onboarding

But hiring isn’t enough! Many organizations are too focused on hiring, at the cost of onboarding. How we onboard folks and make them feel welcome is critical to their long-term success at Grammarly. 

A small test of our onboarding process is whether new engineers can push code in the first week. If they can, it’s a signal the dev environment is well documented and has minimal friction. The faster people can be productive, the more confident they feel, which ultimately boosts team morale. 

That said, onboarding is about more than pushing code. Engineers are encouraged to meet people and learn the product before they feel pressure to deliver. New engineers have a Getting Started Guide that includes who to meet and links to resources. Managers check in daily to answer questions. They also pair with a non-engineering Culture Buddy plus a mentor from their team so they can get to know all aspects of Grammarly life. 

Thoughtful onboarding during hypergrowth helps new team members build connections, which leads to better team health in the long term. 

Staying Grounded 

My advice to any organization about to engage in hypergrowth is to remain thoughtful. Think about hiring, onboarding, your processes, how you measure success, and how you want your employees to feel when they join your team.

Remember, too, that diversity is more than a checkmark or an abstract goal. Diverse teams will be your strongest asset. They will push creative boundaries—and in doing so will build the best possible product with the best possible outcomes. 

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Want to join us in helping 30,000 teams at thousands of companies succeed through effective communication? We’re currently hiring for roles across the Grammarly Business and Grammarly for Developers teams.

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There is very little formal guidance for new engineering managers. When I first moved from an individual contributor (IC) to an engineering manager (EM), I found myself struggling to find training resources. 

I want to change that - and I hope this article will serve as a small start in that direction. As an engineering leader at Mark43, I do a lot of mentorship and coaching for engineers who aspire to move to engineering management and early-tenure engineering leaders. Here are a couple of initial focus areas that a first time EM can build upon.

 

Focus Area 1: Trust, Collaboration and Communication

As a new engineering manager, your first 90 days are crucial. You quickly realize the need to gain trust while rapidly building relationships and rapport -- not only with your colleagues and your direct reports, but also with all the other discipline stakeholders. As an engineer, you spend 80% of your time with your engineering team, focusing on the engineering aspects of your role. But in a management position, you spend perhaps 50% of your time with your fellow engineers. The other 50% of your time is spent with people who are stakeholders representing cross-functional disciplines such as product, design + UX or the QA department if there is one. 

In addition, there are other teams like people ops, recruiting, platform, customer support, customer success and deployments. Hence, you need to build relationships early on because to achieve collective success your team needs each discipline aligned to a common goal.

 

Focus Area 2: Information collection, compartmentalization and sharing

As an engineering leader, the amount of cross-communication and information that will be made available to you will rise exponentially. Whether that is pre-set routine meetings, ad-hoc situations or some form of change management – there will be a plethora of details that you will hear, will need to act upon or will need to pass around within your team. These new job duties  will become your day-to-day reality as an engineering manager.

To succeed, you should have a structured way to capture all the information that you are going to be exposed to throughout the day. Unlike pre-COVID times when in-person collaboration allowed us to get away with not thinking about some collaborative processes, you now need to be intentional about your remote organizational design to drive collaboration and communication. So for example, if you are in a one-on-one and you hear something of interest, you need to be able to make the connection that maybe this is something that I should bring to the wider group, or this is a follow-up item for me to take action upon later. You need to make sure that you are staying on  top of all your conversations.

 The takeaway here is that becoming an active listener is a crucial skill for an engineering manager. Being a good listener is not enough because the role of an EM is to surface key information both from your team and for your team. 

Being situationally aware is also important. This skill will help your future self when you need to recall something a day or week later. There are so many different people and so many different topics of conversation that occur everyday that it can be difficult to keep everything straight. I recommend keeping some sort of documentation or making an immediate action item list. This simple habit will pay dividends with time. There are lots of different note and action item taking systems - find the one that works for you.

To wrap things up, here is my simple 3-item checklist to improve your first 90 days as an EM:

  1. Observe and adapt vs be rigid and impose
  2. Build connections and gain trust early on
  3. Stay technical but do not spend a lot of time implementing technical solutions

If you keep this checklist in the front of your mind as well as keeping your eyes and your ears open, you will excel at being an EM. A good EM understands that their measure of personal success is their ability to foster team success - and team success is only possible with trust, collaboration and communication. 

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If you want to learn from some of the best engineers and engineering minds in the business, register for INTERACT: the community-driven, digital conference designed by engineering leaders, for engineers leaders. This single day conference will feature 10+ speakers, interactive sessions and a community built by 100’s of engineers and engineers leaders, all for free. 

In our rapidly changing technology landscape, it can be difficult to maintain a competitive advantage. Challenges present themselves daily and staying ahead of your competition can feel daunting. At the INTERACT conference for engineering leaders on September 30th, we’ll be exploring two of the most impactful ways that have emerged for companies to differentiate themselves - streamlining engineering processes and maintaining high developer velocity.

These drivers of success make companies more innovative and productive while enhancing team performance and alignment, and two of the key talks at INTERACT focus on solving these challenges:

Both of these talented individuals will be appearing at INTERACT on September 30th to share why engineering processes and developer velocity are critical to business success.

Let’s take a quick look at what these two will be presenting.

 

A sneak peak at Maria’s viewpoint on streamlining engineering processes

At its core, an organization is nothing more than a collection of moving parts. A combination of people and resources moving towards a common goal. Delivering on your objectives requires alignment at the highest levels - something that becomes increasingly difficult as companies scale.

Growth increases team sizes creating more dependencies and communication channels within an organization. Collaboration and productivity issues can quickly arise in a fast-scaling environment.

It has been observed that adding members to a team drives inefficiency with negligible benefits to team efficacy. This may sound counterintuitive but is a result of the creation of additional communication lines, which increases the chance of organizational misalignment.

The addition of communication lines brought on by organization growth also increases the risk of issues related to transparency as teams can be unintentionally left “in the dark.” This effect is compounded if decision making is done on the fly, especially if multiple people are making decisions independent of each other.

In order to maintain overall business alignment, clarity and structure, the implementation of business processes becomes necessary. By defining these processes, your organization will be able to thrive as it scales, unburdened by its own growth as if it were still a small startup.

In effect, processes allow us to codify our success, providing us with systemic and scalable ways to repeat behaviors that lead to success and avoid past mistakes.

The processes that help scale engineering organizations, the implementation of these processes, the effect of these processes, and the 3 most important processes for scaling, will be shared by Maria during her discussion with me at INTERACT.

 

An excerpt from Henrik’s talk

In early 2020 Microsoft conducted an exhaustive survey of over 400 of the largest companies around the world. The goal was to understand the impact of developer velocity on business performance. A follow up to this survey was then performed in May of 2021 to validate the findings of the original survey.

They found a direct correlation between high development velocity and business impact. The business impact of developer velocity was substantial. Companies with the highest velocity had 4 to 5 times higher profit margins than the companies with the lowest velocity. The companies with high velocity were also more innovative and productive.

The first survey attempted to capture the best overall picture of drivers of velocity. While the second survey sought to identify the impact of Covid on developer velocity and whether or not the shift to remote work impacted the findings of the initial survey.

Companies that were successful in both surveys shared several key similarities. Chief among them were technological updates and organizational practices such as:

Henrik and Dev Interrupted Community Leader Conor Bronsdon will be diving into all of Microsoft’s research findings into developer velocity - and what engineers can learn from these findings - during his presentation at INTERACT.

 

INTERACT: September 30th, 2021

If you want to learn from some of the best engineers and engineering minds in the business, register for INTERACT: the community-driven, digital conference designed by engineering leaders, for engineers leaders. This single day conference will feature 10+ speakers, interactive sessions and a community built by 100’s of engineers and engineers leaders, all for free.

Not only will you have a chance to have access to Maria and Henrik’s research but also to other brilliant engineering leaders like:

Don’t miss your chance to learn from these great engineering leaders. We look forward to seeing you on September 30th, remember to save your seat!

Register now for INTERACT

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