The world’s first ever Release Engineering conference was held in San Francisco on 20may2013, as part of ICSE 2013.
It was a great honor for me to be invited to give the opening keynote. This was a rare opportunity to outline some of the industry-changing RelEng-at-scale work being done at Mozilla. It also allowed me to describe some very important non-technical tactics that we used to turnaround Mozilla’s situation from “company-threatening-and-human-burnout” to “company-enabling-and-human-sustainable“. All stuff that is applicable to other software companies. Presenting the first session at the first RelEng conference helped set the tone for the event, so being down-to-earth and practical felt important.
My presentation focused on how effective RelEng helped Mozilla compete against larger, better funded, companies. This is what I mean by “Release Engineering as a Force Multiplier”. To give some perspective of scale, I showed:
- company logos scaled by headcount for each of Apple, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla. I noted that using revenue/profits instead of headcount would be just as disproportionately out of scale.
- company logos scaled by browser market share for each of Apple, Google, Microsoft and Mozilla, based on publicly available market share data
(The full set of slides are available here, or by clicking on either of the two thumbnails above. If you want the original 25MB keynote file, let me know.)
Anyone who has ever talked with me about RelEng knows I feel very strongly that:
- Release Engineering is important to the success of every software project. Writing a popular v1.0 product is just the first step. If you want to retain your initial users by shipping v1.0.1 fixes, or grow your user base by shipping new v2.0 features to your existing users, you need a reproducible pipeline for accurately delivering software. Smaller projects may not have someone with formal RelEng title, but there’s always someone doing RelEng work. Otherwise, your product, and your organization, will not survive.
- Building an effective RelEng pipeline requires a different mindset to writing a great software product. Both are non-trivial, and understanding this difference in mindset enables you to hire wisely.
- The importance of Release Engineering for the sustainability of a software company is only beginning to be recognized. Release Engineering is not taught as a discipline in any CompSci course that I know of. This has the unfortunate side effect that most Release Engineers only learn on-the-job, usually as a side-effect of helping out during an organizational emergency. This limits the effectiveness of Release Engineering to what can be learned on the job, and because information isn’t widely shared, its hard to learn from other people’s mistakes or successes. By contrast, when I was studying CompSci for my undergrad and postgrad degrees, there were all sorts of course modules, books and published papers detailing which sorting algorithm was best suited for which types of data, which graphics algorithms were best suited for which types of images, etc… but nothing about Release Engineering. Nothing about how to build a pipeline to deliver that software to users… even though every software company lives-or-dies by the efficiency of their delivery-pipeline.
This conference was a great start to helping raise the understanding of the industry on these three points, and many more.
Big hat-tip to the organizers (Bram, Christian, Foutse, Kim) – they did an awesome job putting together a unique and special event. Other industry speakers included Google, LinkedIn, MicrosoftResearch, Netflix, PuppetLabs as well as a wide range of academic speakers – see full program details here and here. In the past, I’ve attended plenty of industry conferences which have a sales-touch to them (“our technology is great, you should buy our stuff” or “our technology is great, you should come work here”), or academic conferences which have academic-accuracy-but-can-lack-urgent-practicality. By contrast, this conference was very different. All the speakers spoke candidly, humbly and objectively about the technology and tactical successes that worked for them at their companies, and equally candidly about their failures as “teaching moments” for everyone to learn from. The level of raw honestly by all these speakers, from all these different companies and academia was super-honest and very collaborative. Additionally, the sheer volume, and the quality, of attendees blew everyone away… the discussions during breaks were just electric. Very very refreshing. I dont know if this magic was because of the carefully chosen mix of industry-vs-academia speakers, or if this was because the organizers were also a mix of industry and academia, but regardless – the end result was simply fantastic.
There’s already plans underway to have this RelEngConference again next year… if you build software delivery pipelines for your company, or if you work in a software company that has software delivery needs, I recommend you follow @relengcon and plan on attending next year. You’ll be very glad you did!
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