Ideas to Improve Your SaaS Technical Operations

I am familiar with Dyn and had previously written an article about their enterprise offers. When I heard about their user conference I decided to attend since there were speakers from some of the larger web properties talking about how they implement their services. Dyn’s user conference is aptly named “Geek Summer Camp“. The name provided an interesting theme throughout the conference. One of the areas that I found most interesting was some of the things that different companies do to lead and inspire their technical operations staff.

Mike Rembetsy, VP of technical operations at Etsy focused specifically on the people aspect of their technical operations. Etsy is an e-commerce website for people buying and selling handcrafted items. They have a technical operations staff of about 40 people. Not counting deployments for content, which of course happen all the time, they deploy about 35 web software releases per day.

Some unique things that they do include:

  • Code T days – on any Tuesday or Thursday any operations staff member is allowed to write code for a project that they think would be useful subject to a few guidelines
    • Team is still responsible for getting the work done
    • After three Code T days you must present your results
    • No Code T work while on call
  • They share knowledge internally and externally and they encourage their staff to attend and speak at conferences. The emphasis is on speaking and all requests for attending a conference to speak are approved.
  • Focus on education including a “book club” and they are one of the supporters of OpsSchool.org.
  • 80% of their production staff works remotely and remote employees come to headquarters once per quarter.
  • They have a Hack Week and the last one had 79 demos of the hacks within the 7 day period. They felt that 7 days in a row was more effective for them than single hack days spread out over a period of time.

Mike indicated that all of the above not only help Etsy operations but also helped substantially in the retention of engineering talent.

Some other tidbits from other presentations and panels discussing the people aspects of technical operations that I thought were worthwhile included:

  • “Ping pong” is not a culture. The culture comes into play when you encourage people to take breaks during the day and interact with others.
  • The “devops” term has been taken over by companies trying to sell something, but true devops is about cooperation between different groups.
  • Spend staff time on tools not on maintaining systems.

One theme that came through in all of the conversations is that the focus in technical operations should be on tools. Many of the tools need to be graphical types of tools that can sort through the large amount of systems data and help staff to focus on the important trends.

All of the speakers made the point that you have to pick the things that are appropriate for your business and not just copy all the things that others do which I definitely agree with. However, I hope some of these ideas can be applied in your business.

Paul

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