Jim Gochee has been with New Relic from the very beginning, some 10 years ago. So he remembers when enterprise software that works right out of the box was still “kind of a radical idea.”
Radical? Perhaps. A good idea? Definitely. “The playbook was, Get the user to try the product. Once they used it, they liked it.”
Since then, New Relic’s Chief Product Officer has seen and learned a lot about guiding a company through rapid growth and major reorganizations. At our most recent FutureTalks event, Jim took the stage with GeekWire Cloud and Enterprise Editor Tom Krazit, sharing insights—and the occasional radical idea—on DevOps, bootstrapping, scaling, and much more.
So how did Jim come to head up New Relic’s Portland operation back in 2008? “[New Relic founder and CEO] Lew [Cirne] came to me and asked if I would run an office for him in Portland, and I said I absolutely would,” he explained. At that time, it was still unusual for a Bay Area software company to base its full research and development team 500 miles away in Oregon. But, Jim said, “[Lew] fell in love with Portland. He really loved coming up here, and he loved the people we had working in the office at that time.”
Since then, of course, the Portland tech scene has exploded. But Jim noted that the city retains some key cultural differences that help create a unique tech ecosystem.
“People are more socially conscious here,” he said. “In Portland, it’s much more about the craft, enjoying your work, and the people you work with.”
Be bold and bootstrap
When Tom noted the relatively scarcity of major venture capital available to Portland-native companies—compared with Silicon Valley startups, at least—Jim countered that this is actually part of what makes his home city so great.
“Where Portland really shines is in companies that bootstrap themselves,” he said. “The beauty of technology today, especially if it’s pure software, is that you can bootstrap a company. You can use the cloud and deploy your idea and get it out much more inexpensively than before.”
In fact, he offered advice to Portland entrepreneurs that was equally applicable to ambitious developers everywhere: Don’t let the prospect of bootstrapping put you off. “If you have a good idea in tech, don’t hold back,” he said. “There’s no better time.”
Who’s taking the pager?
New Relic was once a startup, too, and Tom was eager to hear Jim’s take on the transition to a DevOps approach to development that has been so crucial to New Relic’s evolution.
New Relic began with a single ops person who was on call for everything, all the time. But rapid growth soon necessitated a change. “We got to the point where we said, ‘It’s just not working—development teams have to start taking calls for the services that they build.’ It was a very traumatic moment for the development teams,” Jim joked.
After that, it was—and still is—a matter of finding the right balance. “For me, one of the signs of where you’re really at is, Who’s taking the pager? The important thing is the full ownership that you feel for the full quality of that production code. The people who built the code know that they have to operate the code.”
Today, New Relic employs hundreds of engineers across some 50 development teams. Each team is on call 24/7, with individual developers typically responsible for answering pages for a week at a time. This system is effective, Jim said, but improving it is an ongoing process. And that’s true for many businesses, too.
“Every large enterprise company I talk to is somewhere on that journey,” he said. “They’re all trying to figure out how to get their development teams to move faster and take operational responsibility, and how to move more to a DevOps/SRE [site reliability engineering] model.”
Transitioning to DevOps is just one factor in New Relic’s growth over the past decade. Responding to questions from the audience, Jim offered hard-won advice to companies in the throes of fast growth. “You have to reorganize almost constantly as you reach new levels of scale,” he said. “Remove as many obstacles as you possibly can. Try to give teams as much local autonomy as you can while still having some control.”
He emphasized that even well-established software companies should expect their technical evolution to be a continuous—and continuously challenging—process. “How software is going to be built in the next 10 years is very different than how it was built in the previous 10 years,” he warned.
Of course, that constant evolution and innovation is what keeps tech visionaries like Jim excited and engaged. “I’ve got the best job there is right now,” he said. “Every company’s got a digital strategy, trying to connect with their customers. And we’re part of it. We get brought in to help those teams be successful.… We have this incredible seat at the table. We’re watching them do some pretty amazing things, and that’s very satisfying.”
To discover which three technologies Jim thinks will be crucial to the next chapter in New Relic’s story, why the company is gradually emphasizing Java over Ruby on Rails, and why a hybrid infrastructure suits New Relic just right, watch Jim and Tom’s full discussion in the video below:
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Note: Event dates, participants, and topics are subject to change without notice.