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.

At Netflix, we don’t just think about productivity - we engineer it. There’s an entire team within Netflix dedicated to productivity. I lead the Develop Domain along with my Delivery and Observability Domain peers, and together, we make up Productivity Engineering.

I recently sat down with the Dev Interrupted podcast to discuss all things productivity, how I run my team, and how other managers should view employee success. Here’s how we think about it at Netflix:

Can productivity be engineered?

In short, yes! Productivity is not a generic term for team performance or a perfunctory buzzword used during team meetings. The productivity team is an actual organization. The work we do is foundational to Netflix’s development teams. Productivity Engineering lives within the broader, central Platform organization.

The role of the Productivity Engineering team is simple: we exist to make the lives of Netflix developers easier. Abstracting away the various “Netflix-isms” around development, delivery, and observability, productivity allows devs more time to focus on their domain of expertise. 

“We are sort of like the nerds’ nerds, if you will, enabling them to use our platforms and tools so that the work that they're doing is focused on studio and streaming, without thinking about everything that's under the hood.” - On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 2:31

With the recent addition of Gaming to the list of Netflix’s pursuits, the resulting focus becomes even more important.

Practically speaking, it’s the role of Productivity Engineering to help with things like coding, testing, debugging, dependency management, deployment, alerting, monitoring, performance, incident response, to name a bunch. Netflix utilizes the concept of a “paved road,” the frameworks, platforms, apps, and tools we build and support to keep our devs rolling. The idea is to keep workflows streamlined and enable developers to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible. If the road ahead is cleared of obstacles, you’re going to get to where you need to go faster and with support along the way. 

It’s also about helping developers enjoy the ride. To abuse another metaphor, a sound engineering experience should be like dining at a fine restaurant. If done right, you rarely remember the waitstaff, have a hard time finding something you like, or worry about how they prepared the food; you simply enjoy the experience. If Productivity Engineering is doing their job, they act as the restaurant and waitstaff with developers as the customer, providing nothing short of a beautiful end-to-end experience. 

Measuring Outcomes vs. Output

Measuring all of that productivity can be hard, and there’s no one unicorn measurement to rule them all. Hence, developer productivity teams should focus on impact and outcomes. Above all, Netflix focuses on customer satisfaction. Our philosophy is that while how something is delivered is important, the impact of what’s delivered is ultimately of greater importance. 

"If you're running around a track super-fast, but you're on the wrong track, does it matter? So really, what are you delivering? How you're delivering is important. But if that thing that you're delivering is ultimately doing what you want it to do, that's the most important thing." - On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 5:05

In this model, the outcome always wins over output or activity. For instance, standard productivity deployment metrics (DORA) as applied to our customers become an important proxy for measuring our success. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for productivity are viewed as a reflection of a team’s performance as it relates to customer satisfaction.

I’m a big fan of the SPACE framework, developed by Nicole Forsgren, for precisely this reason. How are our customers doing in terms of Satisfaction, Performance, Activity, Communication, and Efficiency? The answer to those questions reflects how we’re doing as a Productivity organization.

"This is our strategy, these are our hypotheses around, how we're going to improve our customers' productivity. Are those things paying off? And if you can't measure them in some way, who knows? Right? So yeah, we're getting a little more hardcore about this." - On the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 24:17

Key metrics provide productivity teams with a holistic view of performance by establishing benchmarks. Understanding that everything needs to be viewed within the proper context, it’s difficult to improve as an organization if nothing is measured or tracked. 

Comparing Productivity 

Comparing developers’ productivity across teams is a thorny subject at best and downright dangerous for team morale at worst. As the old saying goes, “Comparison is the thief of joy” or what I typically say, “comparisons lead to unhappiness”, or with my kids “eyes on your own paper!”. 

The productivity teams at Netflix take a contextualized view of dev teams rather than relying solely on raw data. Every project is different, the customer base is different, the use case is different, personas are different, and where a team is within the software development life cycle is different.

It’s a basic understanding that comparing apples to oranges is not good math. A team that is just starting out and building something new, is going to look very different than a team with a mature product. By recognizing this, it becomes almost impossible to rank teams against each other because very rarely, if ever, will teams be doing the same thing, in the same space, the same way, with the same people. 

Even a measurement of an outcome pertaining to customer satisfaction (CSAT) is not straightforward. At Netflix and across the industry, we’ve found that satisfaction for internal teams skews lower than satisfaction for customer-facing teams.

The reason? Teams within Netflix are their own harshest critics. When attempting to gauge the performance of an internal team vs a customer-facing team, it’s understood that the internal team is almost always going to score lower on satisfaction, even if both teams are equally effective. 

Context is everything. Measuring productivity means being mindful of context. 

Pushing Productivity 

Any company that wants to be successful must understand how to measure its success. Productivity doesn’t count for much if an organization is not moving towards desired outcomes. 

By viewing productivity as more than just a concept or a raw set of data, the hard-working teams at Netflix have turned productivity into an actual apparatus. It is a living, breathing team of human beings whose devotion to empathetic efficiency improves customer satisfaction and dev team quality of life. I am incredibly proud to lead these teams, and I sincerely hope the work we do inspires other organizations to improve their developers’ experience.

And if you want to be as productive as Netflix, remember that metrics are only as good as their context! 


If you enjoyed this article and you would like to learn more about the work that I do at Netflix, I invite you to come join me at INTERACT on April 7th

This will be the second time that I have sat down for a panel discussion hosted by Dev Interrupted. I love being a member of the Dev Interrupted community because they are such an amazing resource. If you are a team lead, engineering manager, VP or CTO looking to improve your team, come to INTERACT and check out the community - I promise you will learn something.

Pretend you are watching your favorite show on Netflix: Sit back, relax & watch as I share the stage with other amazing engineering leaders from places like Slack, Stack Overflow, American Express, Outsystems, Drata & many more.

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Fact: Over 26% of adults in the United States have some sort of disability. To ignore such a massive part of the population would be ill-advised for any company, legally, financially, and above all, ethically. How can you stay ahead of the curve when it comes to maintaining a progressive and responsive organization? 

We reached out to two experts - Alwar Pillai and Perry Trinier of Fable – on the topic of designing products that have inclusivity for people with disabilities at their core. Here are the 3 things they think every engineer, developer and product designer needs to know about inclusive design and how it will inevitably affect the future of their companies.

1. Inclusive design has already brought us Alexa, Siri and countless other smart gadgets

Often times people assume that tech companies are driving innovation through focus groups or trying to cater to the average consumer, but that’s not always true. Some of the greatest recent innovations in tech have been found by designing technology to be as accessible as possible to people with disabilities. By keeping the designing process inclusive, you maximize potential for growth.

Alwar Pillai: Each of us today use technology that’s been designed for assistive technology users first, from as simple as an electric toothbrush, which is designed for people with motor impairments, but this is something that everyone uses now… you have voice to text was for people with disabilities again. And now we have... Siri, and Alexa, and like dictation, and all of that existed because it was designed for people with disabilities first, so it is already proven that when you practice inclusive design, and design for the edge cases, there is that broader impact.

2. Inclusive workplace culture draws in better talent

When you put inclusivity and accessibility at the front lines of your work culture and development process, you not only maximize your potential customer base but increase your pool of applicants and make your workforce more efficient. Some of the best talent in the world of inclusive design comes from people who use accessibility technology daily. Maximizing your accessibility to potential employees gives your company the best shot at finding the right person for the job. What does it mean today to build an accessibility first dev culture? 

Perry Trinier: I think it's like sort of the opposite of saying that accessibility is an afterthought. In this case, accessibility is absolutely primary. And it's also like a shared understanding on the team that accessibility isn't an extra feature or like a defect that they can backlog. It's just a table stakes dimension of the quality of what they build, and that they kind of aren't finished building what they're doing if it's still inaccessible.

Alwar Pillai: There's a lot of barriers when it comes to trying to build an inclusive team, to just the workplace tools that are out there, you know?... And so we've had to do a lot of... custom workarounds for some things. But it has resulted in every single person in the team understanding the impact of accessibility and taking that extra initiative and make sure whatever they're sharing with... each other internally is easily accessible to everyone.

3. Inclusive design’s influence is set to explode

There seems to be a cultural divide when it comes to inclusivity and many companies are hesitant to make the necessary changes to fuel a more accessible work culture. Making the effort to enact real change is necessary for the health of your business and the respect of the individuals who need accessible technology. More and more individuals and companies are seeing the need to stay current with inclusive design or, better yet, lead the way to establishing new and exciting ways to stay inclusive.

Perry Trinier: I think it's important to invest in helping the team members to build the knowledge and specifically set goals for reports to, for example, complete a course in accessibility. It's an important skill, just like security and performance are for front-end developers. And it should be treated in that same way for professional development. And there are tons of resources online courses on LinkedIn, Udacity. And there are lots of blog posts and talks by experts in the community like Marcy Sutton, and they’re directed to developers, like front-end developers who just need to learn what they need to know to be able to test their interfaces and to build experiences that everyone can use, so I would say that's the place to start is just with building up that capability.

Design is changing… Moving towards a more inclusive future

There is a fundamental gap in what is provided and what is needed for many people who use accessibility technology. The way of the future is to practice an inclusive design culture and keep every person in mind in your design process. 

Alwar Pillai: The way we build digital products right now is broken. There is a digital divide between the experiences of people with disabilities and people who are able bodied. And we as people who are part of engineering teams and engineering cultures, it's our responsibility to make sure we change the way we build products and make the process more inclusive, so that more and more people have access to the products that we're building.

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If you want to know more about Fable and their ability to help your company evolve and grow while staying accessible to everyone, please visit www.makeitfable.com. Be sure to listen to and review this interview’s podcast and many others on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, YouTube or any of your favorite podcasting apps. Also, be sure to join the Dev Interrupted Discord community where we have conversations about topics just like this going all week long.

 

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A good SRE engineer will tell you your service is never down. A great SRE engineer will tell you that’s not what you should be measuring. In fact, they’ll tell you their job is customer service. 

Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) has grown immensely popular with many of the world’s largest tech companies, like Netflix, LinkedIn and Airbnb employing SRE teams to keep their systems reliable and scalable.

Along the way, SRE engineers have become one of the most sought after engineering roles in tech. 

The role is traditionally understood as ensuring that services are reliable and unbroken, but reliability and uptime aren’t perfect metrics. Perhaps what organizations should be asking themselves is what their customers think of their service. 

Wandering down to your engineering department and asking your SRE team about customer satisfaction is a good place to start. 

Their answer just might surprise you. 

History of SRE

In practice, Site Reliability Engineering has been around for a while. In the past its functions were covered by roles that had names like production ops, disaster recovery, testing or monitoring. The rise of cloud computing facilitated a need for more engineers in production. The complexity only grew as more organizations transitioned from monolithic infrastructures to distributed microservices. 

Modern Site Reliability Engineering originated at Google in 2003 with the work of Benjamin Treynor, who is seen as the “father” of what we now simply call SRE. Treynor, who coined the term, was a software engineer placed in charge of running a production team. With the goal of making Google’s website as reliable and serviceable as possible, he asked that his team spend half their time on operations tasks so they could better understand software in production. This team would become the first-ever SRE team.

Ben Treynor said, I'm paraphrasing, ‘[SRE] is essentially like throwing a software engineer at an operations problem’, right? Because you come from that developer mindset, that design and, you know, you think about all of these things. So think about it as a developer but apply it to an operational type of problem.” - Brian Murphy on the Dev Interrupted podcast at 4:26

Why not uptime?

So why shouldn't you be too concerned about your uptime metrics? In reality SRE can mean different things to different teams but at its core, it’s about making sure your service is reliable. After all, it’s right there in the name. 

Because of this many people assume that uptime is the most valuable metric for SRE teams. That is flawed logic. 

For instance, an app can be “up” but if it’s incredibly slow or its users don’t find it to be practically useful, then the app might as well be down. Simply keeping the lights on isn’t good enough and uptime alone doesn’t take into account things like degradation or if your site’s pages aren’t loading. 

It may sound counterintuitive, but SRE teams are in the customer service business. Customer happiness is the most important metric to pay attention to. If your service is running well and your customers are happy, then your SRE team is doing a good job. If your service is up and your customers aren’t happy, then your SRE team needs to reevaluate.

A more holistic approach is to view your service in terms of health. 

The Four Golden Signals

As defined by Google, these are the four golden signals of SRE. If these can be managed effectively, then you probably have a healthy system. 

Establishing system health

“The best way to get started is just measuring stuff, you know, just getting the baseline of what's healthy, what's not healthy, what looks like health, and then you can start working from there.” - Brian Murphy on the Dev Interrupted podcast at 10:49

It can be difficult to know whether or not your organization should consider forming an SRE team, or what your next steps are if you’ve already made the decision. 

Again, think of your decision in terms of a holistic approach, not just your uptime. If you have high uptime, that’s fantastic, but what you should be establishing is a benchmark. 

Using the four golden signals to guide you, establish what you think a healthy system should look like and set your benchmark. Keep measuring over time and you will begin to see the areas that are good or require more work. 

These measures will help inform all of your future decisions. Perhaps your organization is ready to roll out new features or make choices around expanding your service. 

Critically, the health you establish provides insights into customer happiness. If things look good you probably have happy customers. 

Internal customers

When done right SREs aren’t just making customers happy, they’re making the lives of developers easier too. Nothing is worse than having to stop because there’s a problem in production. Good SRE teams can shield dev teams by focusing on major hotspots.

If the fires are being managed before they are out of control, it allows developers to keep pushing out features. It even gives them the freedom to keep breaking things, if necessary!

When things do break, or require a slowdown, a dialogue can occur. A good SRE understands that the developer who wrote a piece of code understands it better than anyone. The model for good internal customer service is an SRE who brings in a developer, gives them ownership of the code they created, and offers to help them fix it.

Happy customers are the best customers

Whether you already have an SRE team or are thinking about forming one, remember to think beyond the engineering - think about the customer. 

Ask yourself if your customers are happy and if you would describe your service as healthy. Remember to think about your own teams as well, your developers will thank you for it. 

_____________________

Starved for top-level software engineering content? Need some good tips on how to manage your team? This article 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.

 

Following a recent interview on the Dev Interrupted Podcast, OutSystems CEO and founder Paulo Rosado joined us to chat about his path to founding the company, advice for successful leaders, and the growing threat of technical debt. The conversation below has been edited for length and clarity. 

_____________________

Tell us about OutSystems' founding story. What inspired you to start the company?

In February 2021, OutSystems was valued at $9.5 billion dollars - but it certainly didn’t start out that way. The idea behind OutSystems was decades in the making, and its mission stems from what I observed after moving to Silicon Valley back in the mid-nineties. 

My journey in technology began when I graduated with a degree in computer engineering from Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Lisbon, Portugal and moved to the US to get my Masters in Computer Science from Stanford. Afterward, while working in Silicon Valley, I began to understand just how much of a problem technical debt was. 

While working on a very large engineering team, we were faced with tackling a gigantic project in Java and I realized the issues of releasing and maintaining code sustainably. The lack of productivity in the software development process was appalling. Fixing this problem is ultimately what motivated me to found OutSystems. 

Before founding OutSystems, there was a small company I founded and later sold, which focused on internet and intranet projects. It wasn’t a bad company, but we kept failing. Projects were never delivered on time or on budget. 

We would think to ourselves, “We’re smart. How is this possible?” Our inclination was to blame the requirements of the project, labeling the scope as incorrect and adjust from there. However, we began to realize that the companies hiring us for these projects wanted us to make changes as we were developing in response to rapidly changing environments. 

The issue we began to face was the continual accumulation of technical debt. We would reach first production and realize we had built something users didn’t want, requiring us to go back and rework the stuff we had just built. 

“We came up with this realization that the problem was not that the requirements up front were wrong. The problem was that the cost of changing wrong requirements, which are a fact of life, is very high.” - on the Dev Interrupted podcast at 6:03

 

This phenomenon was occurring in 90% of projects at the time. Things were always over budget and always late. 

Today, it’s easy to take this for granted because concepts like Agile, DevOps, CI/CD are mainstream. But at the time, you had to build software the same way you build a bridge.  

Why is technical debt a challenge for companies now? How has this problem changed?

Technical debt has become a large problem for businesses, and one that only compounds with time. Tech debt doesn’t have a singular cause - it’s the accumulation of several factors. 

Over the course of my career, I’ve seen first-hand the complexity brought about by the evolution of software development. For instance, we’ve seen an explosion of languages, paradigms and frameworks that can all be used to achieve a solution. Often these languages are dispersed with no connections between them, so tracking these dependencies requires a great deal of sophistication. 

In addition to this, turnover within the development team is a critical problem that leads to technical debt. The moment a company loses a developer, the knowledge accrued by that developer also departs the company. The hole left behind is complex, including code,  frameworks and intent behind how their systems are structured. 

It’s been my experience that a lost team member can take as much as 20% to 30% of the fundamental knowledge of a system with them. Reverse engineering their work is both time-intensive and inefficient. 

Companies have tried to corral this problem by investing in coding standards. While these constraints can help mitigate the loss of a valued developer, our research indicates turnover remains a significant problem. 

OutSystems recently released a study on the effects of technical debt. What were its findings? 

Recently, OutSystems surveyed 500 large companies around the world to examine the cost of technical debt facing businesses and uncover the challenges companies face as they confront its causes. The results from the companies surveyed were many of the same things I’ve observed throughout my career. 

It’s important to note that while the causes of technical debt have largely remained the same, the pace at which technical debt occurs has grown substantially.

And so it's a hack, right? What we call a hack at OutSystems, they did a hack to just release the software quickly. And those hacks compound into technical debt.” - on the Dev Interrupted podcast at 27:11

The survey we conducted isolated three major causes of technical debt. They are as follows: 

  1. The amount of developer frameworks. An increase in frameworks leads to an increase in technical debt. 
  2. Developer erosion. Employees leaving an organization and taking legacy knowledge with them. 
  3. Compromises in quality of architecture and code. Often caused by a shortsighted view that what needs to be done now is more important than long-term stability of the codebase.

In the past, companies believed they could buy their way out of this problem, but that strategy has proven ineffective. The reality is, the most successful companies must build the software they require to meet their business needs. 

Simply purchasing what you need doesn’t solve your problems because even purchased systems must be cobbled together, requiring unique API’s, unique UI’s, unique portals, and unique mobile applications. 

Does OutSystems play a role in helping companies cut tech debt? 

The core of what we do at OutSystems is focused on tackling those three fundamental problems. We understand that technical debt amasses slowly over time, through a myriad of decisions that appear much smaller at their onset than their totality would suggest. Once these “tiny” decisions become a major problem, they inhibit investment in current operations and future innovations. 

The increasing pressures of today’s fast-paced business environment often push companies toward decisions that spiral into technical debt. The good news is that by creating a development process that marries short-term deadlines with long-term strategic goals, it’s possible to “pay down” that debt. 

I believe that any company is capable of whittling away technical debt with the correct tools and processes, and I founded OutSystems because companies shouldn’t have to choose between building fast and building right. 

To learn more about technical debt, how to combat it, and what to expect in the future, you can download the 2021 Technical Debt Report on our website.  

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Starved for top-level software engineering content? Need some good tips on how to manage your team? This article 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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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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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

_____________________

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

Putting employees and your community first should be a crucial priority for every organization, and it shouldn’t exist only in principle - it must exist as an actionable goal. Fostering a community within your team creates a foundation for high-performance, but it only works if you lead people-first.

At Stack Overflow, the level of collaboration between engineers is a step above any other organization I have seen. It takes conscious effort on the part of leadership to foster a work environment that puts employees first. Managers should choose to put people first, because it’s the right thing to do, not just a vague claim to a cliche. 

Thankfully, we live in a world where the data demonstrates that caring for people first is also the economic thing to do. No one has ever done a better job because they were scared, stressed, or worried about their future; especially in jobs centered around creativity and problem solving such as software development.

This commitment to people is the leadership philosophy behind Stack and helps guide our decision-making and our workplace culture. It also helped us to create Collectives™ on Stack Overflow. To get there, we needed a successful engineering team and culture - here’s how we built it. 

Indicators of team health

Common metrics that organizations tend to follow are often a symptom of a team’s performance, but not necessarily the whole story. Velocity, predictability, bug rate, etc should be viewed as an indicator of team health, not as a goal to be achieved; sometimes the best indicators to follow are subjective, and relative to the people and teams. 

After all, what does success look like? If people are getting what they need, agreed upon expectations are being met, and team morale is high, that’s real success. If this kind of people-driven success is occurring, you’ll start to notice that things like velocity time and predictability will naturally improve and not the other way around.

For the record, predictability should never be the goal. The end goal should always be to create value for your customers and/or your community. Any team - or manager for that matter - can make predictability look good if they are making sure that they never fail a given estimate on paper, but that’s not an indicator of good product creation.

If you're actually producing value, and you have a well run team, predictability will follow. It's a side effect, a symptom of good team health. 

Servant Leadership

At Stack Overflow, we’ve had long talks about what metrics we feel provide valuable feedback and those we believe are valuable to track. Numbers are important and should not be ignored, but again, they should not be the standalone goal. Tracking the right metrics should facilitate introspection for your organization and leaders would do well to keep this in mind. If we have a bad sprint, it tends to trigger us to think, “what went wrong?” and “how can we improve this for next time?” instead of thinking this was a failure of certain individuals.

For instance, if you had a sprint where you achieved a really high velocity, you should celebrate that success. But at the same time, you should be asking yourself what led to that success. Was there a behavior that changed? Not everything is internal. Sometimes external factors, a pandemic as an apropos example, influence successful team metrics just as much as internal ones do. Remember to look behind the metrics to see what’s impacting team members.


As far as following specific methodologies is concerned, try not to get hung up on the little things; analysis paralysis occurs is often a huge drain on performance and focus of the team. Time spent sitting around and arguing about whether something is a three point or a four point story is not productive. Call it a four and keep moving. Good leaders should keep their developers developing, while removing any hindrances to their performance, ideally before it is even on their radar.

Building a team and your product

If you’ve been around software development long enough, I’m sure you’ve had the experience of joining an organization where everything is dictated in a top-down approach. This kind of “my way or the highway” thinking ultimately undermines your teams and makes your organization rigid in an industry that is far more creative than some like to admit. 

A good manager will do their best to accommodate their teams, even if that means allowing a team to communicate or operate in a way that is not established within an organization. Recently, one of my most productive teams started to struggle after the project we were working on started to shift. A lot of the QA and code review work associated with the stories became large and unwieldy and the common practice was to have that wrapped in with the dev story. That makes sense after all, the former can’t ship without the later. Eventually we just tried separating out the more cumbersome tasks into their own stories. The immediate and biggest reaction was from folks overly invested in the metrics: we just doubled our stories and made it appear that story cycle time virtually doubled. The instinct was to say “this is a step backward. Undo it all,” but that would be ignoring what's going on behind the metrics: more work was getting done, and the bug count dropped. As those were saying we need to go back because the metrics showed team health was bad, my response was to just change the metrics to accurately reflect our healthier team that chose their own workflow.

Adopting this mindset as a manager provides huge returns for your organization. People are happier when they are not being forced into something that doesn't fit. With team members that control how they work, on their own and especially with each other, comes higher value creation.

Work-life Balance

I have never met anyone that works better when they’re worried about what’s going on in their personal life. I’ve found this over and over in my career as a developer and eventually a manager inspired me to write about it. People who are under stress feel strained to come up with strong solutions and tend to generate less errors. Those people who say “this person just works well under pressure” are really just saying “This person's performance doesn’t fold as much as others once emergencies happen.” That's a good quality for them, sure, but nothing an team should brag about; that should be embarrassing that it happened enough that some people have reputations around crises.

Work-life balance is not something a company sacrifices, that’s zero sum thinking. It’s been shown time and again that the opposite is true. Providing people with things like leave, and an investment in their mental health has more for an organization’s productivity than filling out timesheets ever will. At Stack we have a policy of unlimited sick days, no questions asked. If you need a day, we trust you to be able to take care of yourself. 

When you take care of people they will work better and faster - that’s also what they want to do. Regardless of the stereotypes people will often hear from naysayers who balk at the idea of unlimited sick time, the folks who just want to phone it in and game the system are the minority. So much so, that spending the effort considering how to manage the time a person takes a sick day when they aren’t sick is probably more of a time sink than how much it will happen. 

By choosing to be invested in your people’s health, an organization chooses to be a place that values its employees. When you avoid zero sum thinking, getting trapped in the idea that if employees are benefiting the company must be losing, you begin to realize that working with, instead of against, those you represent leads to happier people and a better bottom line. 

We took all these leadership principles and applied them to Collectives

At Stack Overflow, we’re quite a flat company. And I don’t mean this by measuring the number of levels between an engineer and the CEO (it’s 4, for the record), but people of all levels have a voice in product decisions. Engineers are heavily involved in what we build and how it is built. Being a company built for engineers and driven by engineers is a huge part of why Stack Overflow is successful. 

This success has allowed a beautiful community to thrive on our public platform, but we are always looking at how best we can give back to that community. How do we help our community grow? How do we make those experiences more meaningful? Those are the questions that guide us at Stack. 

“Anything that fosters our users’ ability to help each other and to benefit from it. That's always a homerun.” - from the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 34:54

With that in mind, we’ve launched Collectives, a new way for the community to interact with the maintainers of the technology they use most. 

As I discussed on the Dev Interrupted Podcast, Collectives are dedicated spaces on Stack Overflow where you can find the resources (including questions and technical articles) and trusted answers you need, faster, by centralizing that content and connecting you with the product experts and trusted users. For instance, if you have questions about Google Go, you can get answers directly from those who help maintain the language.


I am extremely proud of the work that went into this, and the work that we continue to do to make it something our users can enjoy. Like all new adventures, there is a constant feedback loop we work through to try and keep making Collectives, and Stack Overflow, a better and more welcoming place. 

It is still the Stack Overflow you know and love

The Beta release of Collectives was a huge success. We’ve seen over 20,000 users join Collectives on Stack Overflow and start collaborating since the launch in June. That said, we know we don’t have a Collective for everyone (yet). For users that don't want to take part, or haven't found a Collective that they're excited about yet, their Stack Overflow experience is not going to change.

For instance, we're not changing accepted answers, whether it comes from Google (our new partner) or not. If people don't vote for an answer, it doesn't get accepted. Content moderation will be treated the same way. Moderators will interact with content from sponsored users just like they would anyone else. 

“I think the most positive thing about it is that people aren't losing the site that they love, and that we're really proud of.” - from the Dev Interrupted Podcast at 33:22

With our community update, organizations will be able to improve the visibility and detail of content being created around their technologies, and users will be able to find more relevant and accurate answers they can put to use solving problems while being better recognized for their contributions. Ultimately providing both organizations and users with more actionable insights. 

These efforts allow Stack to build better communities because after all that’s really what we do: we are in the business of building communities. 

Collectives do just that. 

_____________________

Starved for top-level software engineering content? Need some good tips on how to manage your team? This article 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.

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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If you haven’t already joined the best developer discord out there, WYD?

Look, I know we talk about it a lot but we love our developer discord community. With over 2000 members, the Dev Interrupted Discord Community is the best place for Engineering Leaders to engage in daily conversation. No salespeople allowed. Join the community >>