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Engineering leaders at enterprises are often faced with the question: ‘How do we emulate the practices of a shiny, new unicorn?’ But one size doesn’t fit all, and what works for a trendy startup doesn’t necessarily work in a traditional business.
Enterprises are complex organizations with legacy systems, archaic processes, and ingrained traditions, all of which can have a negative impact on engineering velocity, employee retention, and the ability to attract new talent. As an engineering leader in an enterprise, you have a challenge on your hands: How can you speed up old processes and build a company that engineers want to work for?
For traditional organizations, engineering is the new department on the rise. But pre-existing cultures and systems are often ingrained and outdated. How can you carve out modern engineering teams in an enterprise? In this panel, we brought together a group of leaders who have successfully built dynamic and empowered engineering teams out of their established enterprises, and asked them to share their advice.
The panel featured Richard Nixon (Director of Engineering, Legal & General), Steve Wood (VP of Developer Platform at Slack), Blanca Garcia Gil (Principal Systems Engineer at the BBC), Dileep Marway (Head of Quality & Enablement at The Economist), and Aubrey Stearn (Freelance CTO).
During the event, the panel explored:
- How to create an empowered engineering org in an enterprise
- How to detangle complexity to increase velocity
- How to frame the problems of legacy tech in a way that excites engineers
- How to attract and retain top talent with a forward-thinking culture
There’s often a clash between engineers and product managers: The former wants to prioritize quality work, making sure their code is dry and complete, while the latter needs to push for quick turnarounds to hit deadlines on feature work. But in this article, Ken DeLand suggests a change in perspective on how these two efforts fit together.
He explains that quality work and feature work are a circle, not opposites that you need to balance. And central to both is the customer. By making your audience the focus and expressing work in terms of customer impact, you can unite engineers and product managers with a common language and a shared goal.
Most engineering enterprises own a significant amount of legacy tech. Decommissioning these old systems safely is a huge challenge, and often requires help from multiple folks across different teams. How can you manage these complicated projects, and motivate people to help with work that doesn’t make an obvious, visible impact?
In this article, Natalie Parker shares what works and what doesn’t when making big changes to legacy tech. From getting buy-in from other engineers, to being clear with expected time frames, to communicating successes along the way, there are steps you can take to get this unglamorous but important work done – and have some fun along the way.
Outages are terrible, for teams as well as users. In this article, Laura Nolan, Senior Staff Engineer at Slack, shares the story of a very bad day at Slack in May 2020, when they experienced a significant outage. How does a large company respond when their platform goes down – and that platform happens to be their primary communication channel?
Laura dives into the technical issues around the incident, sharing a step-by-step account of what went wrong and how the team responded. Reflecting on what they’ve learned from the experience, she shares how they are using that to drive improvements in their systems and processes.
Speed-to-market is a challenge for large enterprises. Shipping code often involves slow, bureaucratic processes and multiple stakeholders. But being a large enterprise doesn’t mean you can’t ship code quickly. In this panel discussion, a group of engineering leaders explored how enterprises can use agile processes and other tools to unblock the road to quicker shipping.
Panelists included Blanca Garcia Gill (Principal Systems Engineer at the BBC), Rukmini Reddy (VP of Platform Engineering at Slack), Nayana Shetty (Principal Engineer at the Financial Times), Said Ketchman (Director of Engineering at The New York Times), and Nour Fayad (Head of Platform Engineering at UCAS).
During the event, the panel discussed:
- What efficient shipping looks like for large corporates
- The obstacles that stop enterprises from shipping faster
- How to manage internal stakeholders and processes
- How to create a roadmap of tools and techniques to boost speed to market
Engineering incidents happen, no matter how hard you try to prevent them. How can organizations build effective incident management processes, and educate teams on how to respond in a crisis?
In this roundtable event moderated by Gergely Orosz, a group of senior engineering leaders came together to discuss how organizations should respond when things go wrong. They shared their biggest challenges related to crisis management and ideas for potential solutions.
The session included a presentation from Laura Nolan, Senior Staff Engineer at Slack, who shared Slack’s outage story with attendees. Having learned the hard way, she shared her best practices for dealing with engineering emergencies, urging the importance of preparation and a solid incident management process.
A final takeaway
Throughout the series, the panelists and authors agreed that carving a modern engineering organization out of a traditional enterprise doesn’t happen overnight. But by taking steps to attract the right talent; fostering a culture that prioritizes customer experience; simplifying outdated, overcomplicated processes; and preparing for when engineering goes wrong, you can start to build more resilient and efficient teams, and move your enterprise towards a more dynamic future.