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116. Success From Anywhere
Hosted by Greg Nokes, with guest Lisa Marshall.
This episode of Codeish includes Greg Nokes, distinguished technical architect with Salesforce Heroku, and Lisa Marshall, Senior Vice President of TMP Innovation & Learning at Salesforce. Lisa manages a team within technology and product that focuses on overall employee success in attracting technical talent and creating a great onboarding experience.
This episode of Codeish includes Greg Nokes, distinguished technical architect with Salesforce Heroku, and Lisa Marshall, Senior Vice President of TMP Innovation & Learning at Salesforce. Lisa manages a team within technology and product that focuses on overall employee success in attracting technical talent and creating a great onboarding experience.
The impact of remote work
Salesforce is looking at various work configurations across remote and in-office options in different ways. She shares, "In the past 12 months, we've been thinking about what the future will look like. What do our employees want? What do our leaders want for different worker types?"
In addition to the fully remote and in-office workers are flex workers who "come into office maybe one, two, three days a week to work with their Scrum teams, or maybe even one day, every other week. You come to an office to work together when it makes sense for you and your team for collaboration and other ways."
She notes there's a lot to learn from workers like Greg, who has been working remotely for 12 years.
Greg notes, "It took me years to figure out how to work successfully from home and how to have home not encroach on work and work not encroach on home." After unsuccessfully working from the couch, he needed to get an office with a door. Greg stresses that remote work in the pandemic is not the same as remote work at other times. "One of my joys was going to a coffee shop, having a really good cup of coffee and sitting there without headphones on, just listening to people talk while I would write and just that background noise. And I really miss that. So I want to make sure that everybody who's been forced to go remote knows that the present is not a great example of remote work. It's a lot different, and it's a lot harder."
Lisa and her team have been talking with other companies who are fully remote and stress that the experience of working fully remote during the pandemic "... isn't normal. We know we all want to see each other. We want to get back together at times where it makes sense." Part of this is focusing on "the things that we can do right now that we want to keep doing in the future when things start to open up."
Greg Nokes asserts that a remote-first work approach differs in organizations where remote work is an afterthought. He gives the example of a group of San Francisco employees sending a lunch invitation over a messaging platform, "...and then everyone in San Francisco signed off and when they signed back on, I'm like, ‘What happened?’ They'll go, ‘Well, so-and-so said, where do we want to get lunch? And then we all talked about it in the coffee shop; we're all sitting in, and then we went to lunch together.’ And we're like, ‘that's not remote.’"
Lisa Marshall shares the need for intentional inclusivity. "We all know how horrible it feels when you're in a meeting. And when you're a remote person, and others are in the room, and it's very hard sometimes to get a word in edgewise, it's difficult to hear all the common things."
Her team is working on organizational guidelines, including team agreements on how people want to work together. One senior leadership team has decided their weekly team meetings will be 100% remote because they found they communicate better when they're all online versus some co-located.
How will offices look in the future?
Lisa believes the majority of the office will be flex in the future. "So we're looking at how do we want to configure our spaces to support the kinds of work people want to do in the office? What kind of different technologies can we use? What kind of seating arrangements around couches or different pods or other considerations for building in those spaces to be truly about collaboration versus only individual work?"
Lisa's team is also focused on trying apps and tools to see what works and start rolling the tech out to other locations.
Greg Nokes shares, "The last year has been a tremendous inflection point. And it's given us the ability to re-examine what work is and how we get it done. And I think folks that are just going to go back to the way it was before are really missing out."
What are the unique challenges engineering teams face in a distributed/in-person environment?
Dev teams are already agile. Lisa asks how they can adapt to remote work in a way that "doesn't burn people out from staring at screens all the time?" She also believes that release planning will change in response to remote work by breaking it up into "smaller increments virtually to do your planning, whether it's two hours a day and having those chunks of time to work together."
Fun is important, and recognizing that people can't work non-stop. But we're all pretty tired of Zoom happy hours. Salesforce recently had a paint party and magicians for parents with kids.
Equally important is protecting maker time, where developers need to be heads down to get things done without any meetings.
Any advice for new remote workers or new hires?
Lisa stresses the importance of onboarding new hires. Part of this is about having fun and building relationships through hanging out virtually together, creating an opportunity for new hires to ask questions about who to go to. "And if you don't build that in, it's really hard to just accomplish that because your work is going to get prioritized based on the tasks that you have." Greg also commends the idea of cross-team get-togethers as an opportunity for diverse opinions.
Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Code[ish], an exploration of the lives of modern developers. Join us as we dive into topics like languages and frameworks, data and event driven architectures and individual and team productivity, all tailored to developers and engineering leaders. This episode is part of our dev life series.
Greg Nokes: Hi, and welcome to Code[ish]. This is Greg Nokes. I am a Director of Product Management at Salesforce focusing on data resources. And today I'm joined by Lisa. Lisa, could you go ahead and introduce yourself?
Lisa Marshall: My name is Lisa Marshall. I head up a team within the technology products organization, that's focused on overall employee success and engagement, both attracting technical talent to come to Salesforce as a technology destination, but then also when someone joins, making sure that people have great experiences and have the skills, that knowledge that they need to be successful. And as part of that, I get to lead the success from anywhere program for the tech and products organization within Salesforce.
Greg Nokes: And I assume success from anywhere is something about remote working, something like that?
Lisa Marshall: It's kind of a mix. It's really everything. It could be remote. It could be people who are, what we're calling flex. It could be, people are in office. It's really about the overall, how can we make sure our employees are successful no matter where they are or what their situation. And the way we're looking at it is what I mention flex, remote or in office, we're thinking about it in a few different ways. So traditionally of course, we had, what we believed, was mostly in office employees around the globe. And then we looked at our data and said, maybe it's not so much that, people weren't coming in full-time as expected. Pandemic hits, obviously we're all now working from home. But in this past 12 months we've been thinking about, well, what will the future look like? What do our employees want? What do our leaders want for what it looks like from what we just call things like worker types.
Lisa Marshall: So of course, we'll have people who will be in office, mostly full-time if not full time. And then we'll have a group of people who we're calling flex, which is people who will come to the office, maybe one, two, three days a week to work with their scrum teams, or maybe even one day, every other week. Really it's that flex idea where you could come to an office to work together when it makes sense for you and your team for collaboration and other ways. And then of course, we have also the fully remote employee who is working remotely pretty much full-time and may occasionally go to the office closest to them.
Greg Nokes: Yeah. And I'm definitely in that last category. I've actually worked remote for 12 years now and I absolutely love the lifestyle.
Lisa Marshall: Yeah. And I think there's a lot to be learned from people like yourself who have been remote for quite some time. Through this project, we've been talking obviously to a lot of people and now all of us are forced to work from home without the benefit of what you just said. Some of that travel, since we're all working... I'm working here from my garage, essentially because that's the space I had. And we're not able to travel, so we're not getting those benefits. But I think to your point, this seems to work or especially prior to the pandemic really well for you because you don't have a commute and you've set up your life and home situation in a way that it sounds like it's worked really well.
Lisa Marshall: And I think for a lot of us, like myself, I was going to the office about four days a week. And it was quite an adjustment to be at home full time. Now, I embrace it. And I, as many others have figured out what kind of work hours or work situations going to make most sense for me or my colleagues and other developers within the organization that can still be great for people personally, but also obviously for the work that needs to get done as well.
Greg Nokes: That was one of the biggest adjustments I had to make. And it took me years to figure out how to work successfully from home and how to have home not encroach on work and work not encroach on home. The first thing I did is, I was working from the couch for about three weeks. I was like, this does not work. The living room, at that time, my 16 year old was a toddler so he was running around and yelling and screaming. So the first thing I had to do is get an office with a door and that's really helped a lot. But the last year has not been normal working remote, it's been very different because like you said, no travel, but I miss going to coffee shops.
Greg Nokes: One of my joys was going to a coffee shop, having a really good cup of coffee and sitting there without headphones on, just listening to people talk while I would write and just that background noise. And I really miss that. So I want to make sure that everybody who's been forced remote knows this is not a great example of remote. It's a lot different and it's a lot harder.
Lisa Marshall: A hundred percent. And that's interesting because that's where, as we're figuring out, what is the "future" look like, none of us really know, we have some idea, but also reflecting on what we have right now is definitely not what we anticipate in the future. And we've done a lot of work talking with other companies who are fully remote, started distributed from the beginning and everybody's suffering through that. And saying, this isn't normal. We know we all want to see each other. We want to get back together at times where it makes sense. So think about what do we want to do now to help all of us while we are in our current situation. And then also are there things that we can do right now that we want to keep doing in the future when things start to open up, or we can see each other on occasion or go to an office on occasion as well.
Lisa Marshall: So I think it's a hard thing right now for people, including myself, to remember that, that this is not the way we want to be forever. So I think it's a challenge to think of both ways now and the future.
Greg Nokes: Yeah, for sure. And I think that there's an important lesson though, in that companies that think remote first, work a little bit differently than companies that are remote's an afterthought. I've worked with both. The first time I worked remote was with a distributed company. And then the second company I worked remote with was Heroku in the early days. And out of 75 employees, seven of us were remote. So it was really an afterthought. One of the stories I like to tell is in the early days of Heroku, we decided to do a remote day and force everyone out of the office just so they could experience what we were experiencing. And we were all in and I'm really dating it right now.
Greg Nokes: Campfire was our chat system, which isn't even a thing anymore. But somebody said in Campfire, one of the San Francisco employees said, "Hey, where do you want to get lunch?" And then there was nothing else. And then everyone in San Francisco signed off and when they signed back on, I'm like, "What happened?" They'll go, "Well, so-and-so said, where do we want to get lunch? And then we all talked about it in the coffee shop, we're all sitting in and then we went to lunch together." And we're like, that's not remote.
Lisa Marshall: No. I have to say, that's a bit of a fear of mine when we go back and we start to do what you just described, some in the office, some not in the office, we have to make sure to be really intentional about being inclusive of each other, to your exact experience. Right now everything is level, we're all online, we're all on camera. There's no side conversations happening. I think the key will be, how do we change all of our behaviors to respect the fact that we're going to be in a situation where some are in the office and some not, how can we continue to make sure it feels as inclusive for everybody as possible as we do that? And I'll give you actually an example of, as you were talking, that popped in my head of one of the things is the meeting one. So we all know how horrible it feels when you're in any kind of meeting, name it. And when you're a remote person and others are in the room and it's very hard sometimes to get a word in edgewise, it's difficult to hear, all the common things.
Lisa Marshall: As we're planning for the future, we're coming up with guidelines for our organization around how do we want to show up in the future? And some of those are guidelines, some of those are team agreements, but really it's how do we work together? And one of our senior leadership teams has decided that when things do start to open up, maybe about half of them are in one location and the other half are not, they're all over the place. They've decided the weekly leadership team meetings are going to be a hundred percent virtual because they found they communicate better when they're all online versus some in the rooms. So they even saw it for themselves, they communicated much better, so let's keep doing it. And then maybe they'll see when people are back, do they still want to do it consistently? But I thought it was a great way to recognize the differences with the old way and really build in some of the things we've learned through this pandemic really around how we can work more effectively together.
Greg Nokes: It's great to hear that they're taking that feedback and those lessons in and working with them.
Lisa Marshall: Yeah, absolutely. And I know there's another leadership team, senior leadership who felt that would feel too awkward and their approach instead is going to make sure that they run their meetings differently and creating a little bit more equal footing with some of the challenges that they had. And that's okay too. But to your point, it's super important to be thinking about what's going to be successful for these teams now and in the future.
Greg Nokes: So how do you think the offices are going to look in the future? Do you think there's going to be a change in how the offices look and feel, or is it going to be very similar to what we experienced before?
Lisa Marshall: No, it will look and feel different. And I think in a few ways, but the reason I say, I think is because we're experimenting and learning right now, what we believe to be important. So I mentioned earlier the different types of workers, so the majority will be flex. So the majority won't be using the office full-time in the traditional ways that we have in the past. So we're looking at how do we want to configure our spaces to support the kinds of work people want to do in the office? So traditionally you can say, you had desks or tables and people were working all across all the desks and doing the work that way. Well, what if we changed some of our spaces to be more collaboration spaces versus we probably, I'm guessing maybe had 70% on a floor desks and then some couches, I think it's going to be really flipped on its head. So what kind of different technologies can we use? What kind of seating arrangements around couches or different pods or other considerations for building in those spaces to be truly about collaboration versus only individual work.
Lisa Marshall: So I expect a lot of interesting changes. The other piece that I think is pretty cool is we're really experimenting and piloting a lot of different things right now. We opened our Sydney office a number of months ago, and that office has some engineers, particularly security, I believe, but predominantly other kinds of functions. So we learned a lot from that opening around what works, what do people, when do they tend to come into the office? What are the seating needs for them? But now we're opening up new locations and we have a great opportunity to learn. Most of that region is technologists, so we're looking at experimenting with a lot of different things, whether it is the way people collaborate together or how we have our product work.com that we built specifically for this. So how do we utilize work.com to help people reenter the office through scheduling or checking in or things like that.
Lisa Marshall: And we'll try different things. We'll try a bunch of apps and tools also, and see what works and then start rolling it out into other locations as it makes sense. So it's exciting as difficult and jarring as I think this whole thing is, it's also exciting to try new things and see what's going to work.
Greg Nokes: The last year has been a tremendous inflection point. And it's given us an ability to really re-examine what work is and how we get it done. And I think folks that are just going to go back to the way it was before are really missing out.
Lisa Marshall: And that's where it gets to somehow building in all of our habits. So you talked a bit about how you've set yourself up for remote work. I hope most people, if not everyone has done the same, at least during the pandemic to make it really conducive for them. The other thing that I think has been really helpful for people is doing different team agreements. What I mean by that really is around think of your scrum team that you're working with. What do you all agree to? So do you agree, hey, we're going to keep these kinds of hours or we're going to communicate over Slack for this thing, email for that thing, and really aligning around that. And then also availability. I don't know if someone needs to go pick up their kid at three o'clock every day, just making sure people know that, if you block time on your calendar, since you're not sitting together, agreeing across your scrum team, how are we going to do this together is really important.
Lisa Marshall: And I think has been helpful in doing some of the things that I think in the beginning of this, we all had the habit of doing, or the intention of doing which is working too much and working around the clock and responding all the time. And we all know that's not what we want for our employees at all, but I think that was a natural thing that happened because we were all just here. So now being more intentional about it through team agreements and conversations, of course, with your manager. I think we've gotten to a much better place and hopefully much more sustainable for folks too.
Greg Nokes: Yeah. One of the things that I learned actually accidentally is having two phones, having a work phone that I can set aside, and this is me time. So no work at all, no Slack notifications, nothing, that was really important. And once I really resisted doing that was I liked only carrying one phone, but getting the second one, now what? Four years into that, I'm like, I would never go back.
Lisa Marshall: Yeah. And I think everybody's got to do their own thing. I know for myself, I am pretty good about turning off my computer or my phone or what not on the weekends and evenings or I'm a people leader. So if I happen to be working on a Sunday night, which sometimes I will do to just catch up and get my mind back into work, I'll delay email sends. So I may email send things, but I'm going to set it on delay so I don't stress my team out thinking that they then have to be working around the clock as well. It's just not with the kind of environment I want certainly, and I don't want that environment for my team, either. Some people, I think really appreciate the flexibility of this kind of work. So when you're fully in office from whatever hours to whatever hours, you just lack flexibility to take care of some of the things that life just requires you to take care of, or you personally need to.
Lisa Marshall: And I think being more flex forward can really make a difference for people's personal lives in that regard. If you need to take off, as long as you let your folks know then good, and go watch your kid, play a sport, or go take care of a doctor's appointment or whatnot, and just be flexible in that regard. And I think that's been a benefit of some of this as well.
Greg Nokes: What are some of the unique challenges that the engineering teams face in this kind of distributed/in-person environment we're in?
Lisa Marshall: I think it's a few things. One is just by nature of being in a development team, an agile team. And you have, obviously your planning lifecycle, your release and including stand ups, all of that is adapting. So how do we do this in a way that works and doesn't burn people out from staring at screens all the time? So one way that I've seen some teams do is rather than the stand-ups in the traditional way, doing, I'll call them virtual stand-ups, but basically using an app in Slack that is asking the questions you'd ask in the stand up and people really respond that way. And you're not on another video that way. The other one that I think is unique to the time we're in right now that I don't think will be in the future, but is doing things like release planning. And that has been a challenge obviously, to do it virtually when you're typically spending a lot of time together in a room and really planning those out.
Lisa Marshall: So some of the most successful ways I've seen is just breaking it up into smaller increments virtually to do your planning, whether it's two hours a day and having those chunks of time to work together. And then the last piece related to that with planning is also building in some of the fun. We can't build the relationships right now in the same way that we used to when you're going out to lunch with people or happy hours after work or any of that. And we're all pretty tired. I think, of the Zoom happy hours. However, still making time as you're doing your planning or other key rituals through your development process. Just making time to have a little bit of fun together, too, whether it's doing something like a trivia or just hanging out on camera. Or we've had, just as an organization, we've brought in like a paint, what do you call it? A paint party or magicians for parents, with kids. All of those kinds of things, recognizing we don't want to be just working heads down nonstop. That's not good work. That's not going to work well for any of us.
Lisa Marshall: That's one of the key things for teams. And then the other piece I will say is around protecting maker time. And what I mean by maker time, I think most are familiar with it, but for those, particularly developers or people who really need time, heads down, not in meetings, getting things done. And how can we make sure to protect that time both now and in the future. And we've done that in a few ways. So one is we have a great program that was started many years ago in our tech organization called no interruption Thursday. I love it personally, even though I'm not considered a maker, it is a wonderful day where people can not be in meetings. People have absolute choice to just work independently all day head's down. And it's really made a great difference, I think in not just people getting things done, but getting work done in a way that works for you.
Lisa Marshall: So I personally am in a lot of meetings and maybe that works for me, sometimes it doesn't because I also have to produce some things too, and I need that heads down time. So I think protecting the maker time is really important. And we're experimenting with different ways beyond no interruption Thursday. So within a particular Cloud or a team, they may decide, you know what, we're also going to try from 9:00 to noon on Tuesdays, we're going to protect that time as well. And you don't need to go to any discussions, do not schedule meetings at that time. So trying to really build that in so that we don't develop a culture that is constant interruptions, because we know that just doesn't work particularly for makers.
Greg Nokes: So what's something you're really looking forward to in 2021 for the organization?
Lisa Marshall: A few things, one seeing people live again, I believe I will.
Greg Nokes: Me too, a hundred percent.
Lisa Marshall: There is no substitute for that. Absolutely no substitute for that. So I am looking forward to that day, whatever that day looks like and whoever it's with, but that I think will be really important. The other things that I think I'm looking forward to is I'll call it just the emergence of technologies or new tools or new practices, because I believe especially the past six months of this time, there's been so much innovation in different tools and apps and the way we do things, and we're learning a ton, that I'm interested to see what sticks. So as we're experimenting with all of this, well, there's a few things that so far have had pretty good traction. So maybe by the end of the year, as some of us are either in office or more of the flex workers, that it will have really grown to be adopted in the organization. So I'm really, I'm mostly curious about that. I'm really curious to see where we land.
Lisa Marshall: And then the other thing is gets also to that curiosity, how are we going to work? I am hopeful that things will be different and I'm hopeful that people will figure out new ways of working that really work for them and the business. So I love that we are adopting more of a flexible mentality for our employees. I love that we're thinking about hiring in various regions that we weren't really thinking about so much before and really opening up new opportunities for new talent and diverse talent as well. I'm really excited about that. And our leaders are all embracing that and we're ready. If you ask me the question, what am I looking forward to in 2022? That's what I'm really excited about. I'm really excited to see what will our organization look like? What will our work look like? And I know for sure it will be absolutely different and hopefully much better for everybody.
Greg Nokes: I remember reading in the 90s about the future of work and how it was going to be disconnected and laptops were a new thing and you work from the beach or whatever. Never really panned out like that, but I think that some combination of that utopian dream and reality, maybe we'll meet both of those halfway and we'll see more and more opportunities for folks to work in a style that makes sense for them and also makes sense for the business.
Lisa Marshall: Exactly. And I think it's interesting because I believe each individual is learning a bit about what works for them as well. And that is fascinating to me. I personally, again, never thought I would be someone who would want to be working at home more than I was because I really enjoy the energy of everybody else and the commute didn't bother me. That being said, now I'm like, wait a minute. Maybe that's actually not my biggest priority. Maybe I could get a lot done and still find ways to set up my day that works for me.
Lisa Marshall: And one of them is, this is so basic, but I just throw it out there is because I'm sitting a lot, of course, I have a sit-stand desk now, but also taking breaks literally to walk around the block for five, 10 minutes throughout the day, will absolutely increase my energy and engagement because I get the fresh air, I get moving. And then I come back to my office and it just changes everything. And I didn't know that the first six months of doing this and I realized, okay, that really makes a difference for me. So I got to make sure to build that in to my work day and I feel exponentially better.
Greg Nokes: So fantastic conversation. In closing, do you have any advice to somebody who's just starting out working remote or just entering the job market in this crazy world we're in. Or any companies that are struggling with this, do you have any last words of wisdom or advice for them?
Lisa Marshall: I'm glad you brought up the new hire, new joiner experience because that's a big topic of ours because we know how hard it is to start a new job, at a new company and doing it remotely, where you never get to meet anybody and have those peer to peer relationships to support you in traditional ways. We've talked a lot about that and recognizing how difficult that is. So I'm glad you called it out because we hear you, if any of you are in that experience and recognize that we want to make sure through these new worker types, that we're supporting everybody, again, no matter where you are. But I would say, I think that the additional key piece that I haven't spent too much time talking about is about having some fun and building some relationships. So if you are still struggling through this and, or feel you're working nonstop and burnt out, put time on your calendar to connect with people.
Lisa Marshall: I know there's a few apps in Slack that you can subscribe to within your organization or install in Slack that will pair you up with people just to build a coffee date. Definitely make time for that. I remember I was talking with someone who had always been remote or been remote for a long time like yourself, and he said to me, six, eight months ago that time of building relationships and just hanging out virtually together and doing fun things, that is work, in the sense of, that's part of our jobs to get to know each other. And that's going to help with us feeling more engaged and successful and asking questions and knowing who to go to. And if you don't build that in, it's really hard to just accomplish that because your work is going to get prioritized based on the tasks that you have. And then the other piece, as I mentioned earlier, is talking with your manager, working with your scrum team to figure out how do we want to work together in a way that works for everybody and gets the job done.
Greg Nokes: Yeah. I think that both of those are really important. I've definitely been on more cross team and intra team, little get togethers, happy hours, game times, whatever. And I really like the cross team ones because I get a diversity of opinions, get diversity of people, learn what is it like outside of my little group of people that I work with inside of Salesforce. And that's really valuable to me.
Lisa Marshall: It is. And I'm glad you said that. So the other, I guess bit of advice I would give for people who are leading organizations or leading teams also is building in something like you just described. So I mentioned earlier, so part of my team, we also do fun things. Like we had this amazing magician about a month ago and it was virtual and fantastic. And it was done in a way that helped people get to know each other a bit also versus just someone talking to you on screen. And it was phenomenal because it built connections with others in a personal way that just felt like you were hanging out together. So whatever makes sense for your organization, there's online trivia, there's different companies that help organize things. But I think your call-out is a great one because it's just those moments, what did they say? Moments that matter together, it does make a tremendous difference. So set those up on occasion as well.
Greg Nokes: A previous team of mine did a cooking class and that actually worked out amazing. It was surprising how well it worked out and we all grabbed our laptops, we're like, look at the food I made, it was a lot of fun.
Lisa Marshall: Exactly. Cheese tasting, we did a cheese tasting. Someone did a virtual paint party, I guess it's called. Yeah. There's lots of different ways and it's an hour and it tremendously can change your day.
Greg Nokes: Well, thank you so much for spending the last time with me. And it was a fantastic conversation. I look forward to talking again and learning more about this and other things we're doing.
Lisa Marshall: Thanks for having me.
Announcer: Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Code[ish] podcast. Code[ish] is produced by Heroku, the easiest way to deploy, manage, and scale your applications in the Cloud. If you'd like to learn more about Code[ish] or any of Heroku's podcasts, please visit heroku.com/podcasts.
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Master Technical Architect, Heroku
Greg is a lifelong technologist, learner and geek. He has worked at Heroku for over 8 years.
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