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Russ Miller on Engineering Velocity: Continuous Delivery at Netflix, Dianne Marsh, SATURN 2014 Keynote

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by Russell Miller Vice President of Technology Services at Co-host of Architectural Concepts podcast At SATURN 2014 there were a number of excellent sessions on DevOps and Continuous Delivery; one of those was Dianne Marsh’s keynote entitled, “Engineering Velocity: Continuous Delivery at Netflix.” Dianne is the director of engineering tools at Netflix, a company that has led the way in terms of continuous delivery. Dianne’s main objective for the talk was to share details and philosophy from Netflix that the audience could consider for application in their organizations as a means to improve their velocity. She did a great job achieving that objective.

Often, in discussions about DevOps as the means to accelerate velocity, one of the first hurdles typically mentioned is culture. Normally the cultural hindrance cited is the lack of cooperation and trust between the developers and operations people, and getting both teams to change long-entrenched habits. It was this sort of struggle I expected to hear from Dianne in her keynote. However, instead of hearing what was expected, we heard something much more interesting and ultimately encouraging. In her keynote, we heard how the various aspects of the corporate culture at Netflix have allowed them to shift the curve—releasing faster while simultaneously improving availability—thereby improving velocity. Dianne also reviewed the various tools created at Netflix to support continuous delivery and how they were a product of the culture and how those tools aligned with the various aspects of the culture, creating a positive feedback loop. Before diving into specifics of the tools and processes created at Netflix, Dianne shared a bit about the culture at Netflix. Before hearing Dianne speak, I had only a general sense that Netflix’s culture was different, having heard about their “unlimited vacation day” policy. What I had not heard, or yet appreciated, was the foundation of the culture on values, and especially on “freedom and responsibility.”   You can learn much about Neflix’s culture from this Dianne Marsh's slide deck; it is definitely worth a look. As part of sharing about the culture, Dianne highlighted the importance of “freedom and responsibility” explaining how at Netflix developers were given the freedom to experiment and the freedom to make the decision of what to deploy and when to deploy, but then were expected to directly be responsible for the outcome. But “freedom and responsibility” was not the only aspect of Netflix’s culture that Dianne cited as helping accelerate velocity. Before she was finished, it was clear how each of the aspects of Netflix’s culture contributed. These other aspects include how managers provide “context, not control”; how the management layer keeps everyone, “highly aligned, but loosely coupled”; and how a number of the aspects of culture empower employees to experiment and take risks. There’s much more than this in her talk, which helped convince the audience that culture does impact tools, and that those tools explain a great deal of the velocity at Netflix. I highly recommend you watch the keynote yourself and find a few takeaways to apply in your organization to improve velocity.

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Bill Pollak

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