In June, we kicked off a “Life at New Relic” blog series to spotlight the company’s employee experience. After all, the best way to attract brilliant engineers is to introduce you to our brilliant engineers. Today we talk with Ivan De Marino, Lead Software Engineer, who has worked twice at New Relic and is based in Munich.
New Relic: What was your career path leading to your current role?
Ivan: With regard to my New Relic career, I have been here twice. I joined the company in 2014 and worked until 2018 to build Synthetics, then a brand new offering for New Relic. I was hired as the tech lead for one of the Synthetics teams because I had accumulated lots of experience with browser automation and distributed systems.
At the time, that was the first product New Relic built based entirely on Amazon Web Services (AWS). Until then, we had most of our products built and running on top of our own infrastructure, so this was the first time New Relic actively pursued putting everything in the cloud. It was the beginning of the transformation that we are almost completing right now.
I came back in March this year as Lead Software Engineer for the Kafka platform team. While I may have been hired at New Relic in 2014 because of my experience, I was re-hired for my gray hair—essentially to bring more experience to a highly skilled and brilliant team of engineers. And so far it has been good to be back.
New Relic: And what made you come back to New Relic?
Ivan: There are multiple factors. I’ll give you the easiest one first. As an engineer needing the tools to do my job as best as I can, I was missing New Relic. I tried to convince my previous job’s colleagues to buy New Relic, but we already had a contract with a competitor. Honestly, I missed our product, especially NRDB and our entire platform. One of the reasons they’re great products is because we don’t just build them. We use them—and not having them was a problem for me.
The other part, maybe a little bit less practical but nonetheless concrete, is that at New Relic, we have a sense of mission for building products that allow our customers to build better products. It’s an enabler. We sometimes debate over technical details, but there’s always a shared mission: “How do we make this the best we can for our customers?” I missed having that sense of mission—that purpose.
New Relic: What stood out about New Relic initially that attracted you to join in 2014, especially compared with competitors or other companies?
Ivan: When I first joined, New Relic was a younger company. I had an opportunity to shape part of this company by building a product from scratch. And I wanted to have a product that I was proud to talk about even after I left. When I’m asked, “What is the thing you built that you are most proud of?” I always point to Synthetics. I’m sure I will have lots of fun building great things here in the Kafka platform team, but I just arrived. So we are not at that stage yet.
New Relic: What made you so proud of Synthetics? What did that process and your involvement look like?
Ivan: The first thing that makes me proud of my involvement in Synthetics is how quickly we managed to prove what we wanted to build. One of my most fond memories was presenting a first prototype to Lew [New Relic’s CEO]. It was in my third week, and I felt I was already doing something crucial for New Relic.
Lew was very relaxed. He’s not the kind of CEO who stresses you out. Instead, we immediately started digging into how things worked and how to make the technology even better. That was the moment where I realized I was happy with the choice I made.
New Relic: What do you like most about working at New Relic?
Ivan: There are many things that I appreciate about working at New Relic. Building new products is an iterative process. We build something, something else breaks. And so we iterate to make it better. As part of the process, we do retrospectives, especially when there is a problem. We put a lot of energy into a process that lets us quickly focus on root cause analysis and resolution and purposely avoid blame. Because in a particular situation when a change or a product release or whatever causes an outage, the immediate instinctive human reaction can be, “Oh, let’s find who is at fault here.”
Instead, we focus on the exact problem, how we will fix it, and how not to repeat it. We are not the only ones in the industry to do this, but I think we do it well at New Relic. It’s a constantly improving process.
New Relic: How would you describe the culture here, and is there one thing that stands out most?
Ivan: If I think about New Relic’s values and which ones we personify, we embody pretty much all of them—but accountability is particularly close to me. The idea that, if necessary, we are going to put in the extra effort required to achieve a goal and do so in a way that’s still fun. It’s not a chore. I’m not saying that working hard is not tiresome, but if you can find the fun in that struggle, and be accountable in the sense that the people working with you know that you will bring it home, that’s crucial and a New Relic strength.
In general, New Relic made me a better engineer. I think this is the longest job I’ve ever had. In this industry, you change jobs all the time. I’ve been here for a total of five years. It really shaped me.
New Relic: Regarding that accountability, is there an experience that stands out where you’ve seen it very clearly? Anywhere where you feel like someone has demonstrated that?
Ivan: I think it’s a pretty shared behavior. I was reading a conversation in one of our Slack channels earlier where people were making fun of themselves for causing some outage and highlighting that it’s not about never making a mistake. Because if you’re never making a mistake, you are not challenging yourself enough and not moving the bar. Making a mistake, fixing it, and learning from it is how you prove your accountability.
Accountability is also a soft-skills tool that requires you to take responsibility and be the first to say “Oh, sorry – my bad!” Then, if you are working in a healthy group, everyone focuses on moving forward toward a solution.
“I think in general, New Relic made me a better engineer.”
New Relic: Let’s say there’s someone interested in joining New Relic, and they’re curious about what it takes to be part of the engineering team—what tips would you give them?
Ivan: I have three tips. First, and this is probably focused a lot on IT. People like me who develop lots of source code establish a solid relationship with the applications, code, and software they write. And that’s because they put a lot of passion in it. But part of aging and getting gray hair is that you essentially learn to put all the passion and energy and the best you can in it, but understand that after that code is in a shared repository, it becomes the team’s responsibility. It’s not your child to protect. This approach saves you from getting hurt feelings when somebody says, “Oh, I don’t like how you did this or that.” It’s an important tip for engineers.
The second one is more about communication—always assume people have the best intentions. As a remote engineer, and I think now we’re going to have more remote developers and engineers, I am both remote and asynchronous in communication. It’s important to understand that asynchronous communication and especially written communication frequently lacks in tone and context. So you need to make an effort to actively retain the context, especially when conversations are intense, fast, and people are trying to solve a complicated problem. Just a few words written in the wrong way can land badly.
On one side, people need to take care of their communication, but on the other hand, you need to take care of how you perceive it. Of course, somebody may be critical in a way that you don’t like. But before you assume bad intention, double-check.
And the third one is basic and probably common for any job. Never beat yourself up. Only by making mistakes do you grow and learn. And this can only happen when you are surrounded by a team of people who don’t make “blame” their mission. New Relic is a place like that, where you can feel free to say, “I made a mistake.” It’s fine. You are growing. And if you’re working with smart people, those people will support your growth.
Also, expect to be challenged, show us your true self as long as it’s on the basis of mutual respect. If you take care of learning, growing, and applying that growth, New Relic takes care of you. You bring the energy, the passion, and the will to learn, and New Relic will take care of everything else.
I’m constantly learning, and right now, we even have added support for AWS certifications. If you are willing to put in the time to learn, New Relic pays for the exam. And that is just great. You are taking care of your career growth and even your market appeal while staying in the same place.
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