Last week, more than 200 New Relic software engineers converged on suburban Portland for two days of non-stop software-development presentations, hackathons, board gaming marathons, and cross-department networking.
“We have such an amazingly awesome group of engineers that we hold our own internal conference, and it’s the best conference we go to,” says senior vice president of engineering Bjorn Freeman-Benson. “We work very hard to create an integrated product suite,” Bjorn explains, “and this is an opportunity to get everyone working together on the same page.”
More than forty (sometimes fast-paced, often funny) original presentations from New Relic engineers covered everything from first-hand accounts of how to solve tricky programming problems to achieving nerd-life balance, mixing practical advice with inspirational guidance.
Lew Cirne kicks off!
The conference kicked off with a presentation from New Relic founder and CEO Lew Cirne, who still makes time to be a programmer (see 4 Essential Tips for CEOs Who Want to Keep Coding), and was thrilled at the chance to “geek out” during the conference (one evening he was spotted battling in a marathon game of Risk!).
Lew put everything in context by telling the assembled engineers that “15 years ago, to go to a bank, you walked into a physical building. Now the front door is a screen. And when customers are interacting with the business primarily or only via software, then measuring software is the only way you can see your customer… Poorly measured software is like a store with 15 employees on the floor, but only 1 of them manning the register while customers wait in long lines.”
At the same time, Lew said, “workers are spending 8 hours a day in front of software, and we want that time to be effective and pleasant.”
Lew explained it this way: “The world needs great software, and the world deserves great software. And I don’t think that’s possible without the kind of measurements and data points provided by New Relic.”
Contributions from the programming trenches
One of the most important elements of New Relic’s own conference is the focus on engineers talking to other engineers about their shared problems and solutions. It’s been a successful formula for the last five years, with the event roughly doubling in size every year as New Relic has grown.
That growth was a key topic at this year’s event, where presenters shared tips and strategies for maintaining a startup mentality in a fast-growing organization. Last year’s event focused on craftsmanship and code quality, Bjorn recalled, but now “we’re a startup that happens to be bigger, and that means we need to think about things like how we can break up into smaller teams and make sure individual programmers stay productive while meeting the needs of a larger company.”
Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing many of the best presentations from the offsite event as blog posts, so stay tuned. It’s a great way to get an inside view of how New Relic does things and meet some of our most interesting and creative engineers.