engineering management seriesThis is the sixth in an ongoing series of posts that address how New Relic does engineering management in the real world, written by various New Relic software engineers and managers. Look for more posts in the series in the coming weeks, or see them all here.

 

New Relic hires smart people. You already knew that, right? But smart is just the beginning. What makes our engineers truly special is their commitment to collaboration—their enthusiasm for working together to achieve the best possible results.

But good collaboration doesn’t simply happen. Bring together a bunch of world-class athletes—without the right training facilities, they’ll never be a team. The same goes for engineers. Even the most selfless of team players will struggle to work successfully with their colleagues if their environment doesn’t promote it.

That’s why, at New Relic, we’re designed and configured for physical and technical collaboration, while still honoring the ability to work solo when necessary.

So how do we do it? Here are five ways:

  1. Small, agile teams

Teams are great until they get too big—that’s when meetings start to drag on, too many opinions obscure the point, and crucial input gets lost in the crowd. That’s why we work to keep our teams small and agile. By allowing compact units of engineers to develop a unique dynamic over time, we help them make the best of collaboration—with fewer potential drawbacks.

  1. Dedicated pairing stations

Pairing up on projects can bring a lot of benefits: cross-pollination of knowledge, accelerated progress through tighter focus, better code thanks to closer scrutiny—the list goes on. Our dedicated pairing stations make it easy for two engineers to work side-by-side, confronting problems and finding solutions in tandem.

  1. Semi-open office layout

Striking a balance between public and private spaces is essential to healthy collaboration. Fully open offices can make it hard to buckle down when it’s time to focus. But closed-off cubicles may foster feelings of isolation, not to mention a reluctance to disturb those colleagues whose input might be just what you need. By keeping our layout semi-open, we try to give our engineers the best of both worlds.

  1. Virtually Remote

Running a global operation like New Relic means having distributed teams. For inter-team communication, our conference rooms are fully equipped to enable our engineering teams in San Francisco, Portland, and Barcelona to get together even when they’re miles (and hours) apart. At the same time, within teams that include remote employees, we make an effort to ensure that everyone communicates equivalently. This can mean team members video conferencing into stand-up from their own laptops similar to a remote person, and steering inter-office conversations and technical exchanges via group chat.

  1. Persistent chat

New Relic engineers are constantly connected and always communicating. Tools like Slack help enable a steady exchange of information and ideas (as well as a healthy amount of appropriate banter), so that no one has to try to solve a problem alone. Having such a steady stream of knowledge and enthusiasm on tap is incredibly useful. And, just as important, that tap can be turned off whenever the moment calls for it.

As managers, our job is to bring out the best in our engineers. That means removing obstacles to collaboration, while at the same time enabling individual work. Doing both at the same time isn’t always easy, but it’s definitely worth working to get right.

Be sure to read the other posts in this series:

 

Background image courtesy of Shutterstock.com.

Mikker Gimenez-Peterson is a site reliability engineering manager at New Relic. He seeks to understand the technical and interpersonal interactions between development and operations. View posts by .

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