Zendesk has built out a global engineering team spread across four continents, nine countries and 10 cities around the world. We started the journey relatively early in our company’s life, it’s been difficult, and we’ve learned lessons along the way. Many of the things we got right, came from key people who had run global teams before (and knew the mistakes they didn’t want to repeat). Many of the things we got wrong, were based on assumptions that Zendesk would work as another business did. We’ve learned there’s no perfect strategy for expanding beyond head office, but we have been…

Desire path, photo by perrine_dethier via flickr (CC 2.0)

Introduction

In Part 2, I wrote about our adventures moving from physical data centers to the Cloud. Let’s move on to how we transformed our organizational structure to take advantage of being in the Cloud and enable self-service.

Building the foundation

In early 2018, our organizational structure was stereotypically old school, with operations completely separate from engineering. As we were racing to migrate to AWS, we saw an opportunity to align our organizational structure with our future architecture. We needed to plan for a future where our engineering teams would more than double in the span of a few years…

In my last post interviewing Zendesk’s co-founder, Morten Primdahl, we talked about Zendesk’s infrastructure development from 2006 to 2012, when we started growing like crazy and put out the first burning fires. This time, I’ll be looking at 2012 to 2017. This period of Zendesk’s history taught us that infrastructure is not static — you have to constantly assess whether you’re still on the right path, based on the environment around you. Further, you can’t change everything at once!

So, let me take you back to 2012. Ruby was still young as a language. Nobody believed it could scale and…

A great tweet from Julia Evans got me thinking about 1:1s. So many of us are exploring the potential of one-on-ones every week. I have personally had some amazing conversations and learned so much from trying different things. I thought I’d capture my journey so far.

1:1s are often my only chance to connect with someone on a regular basis. I enter a 1:1 with the idea that: we are two people, there together, trying to get most out of our time. It is a time to build trust, focus, re-energize, and help each other move forward.

Earlier in my…

I think Zendesk’s infrastructure journey is an important story to tell. Our path will always be unique to Zendesk, but our story will probably resonate with companies who were growing around the same time. The story of our growth is one we’ve often told internally, as new engineers have joined the company over the years. We find that while it’s an interesting story in and of itself, it provides invaluable context for engineers who haven’t been here since the beginning. It frees them to question decisions made long ago, and to challenge our current state. …

Blameless culture has been on my mind recently. Aspects of it can be seen in the Toyota Production System, however, only more recently did “blameless” start to be used to describe it. Across the software engineering profession, it seems to have become the gold standard and practiced by all the top tech companies.

Personally, I’ve always felt uncomfortable when blame was thrown around. I tended to get defensive quickly or remove myself from the situation, whether I was being blamed or not! I can’t remember a time in my life (work or personal) when blaming lead to a positive outcome…

I feel really passionate about making my workplace inclusive, an environment where everyone is respected and also feels respected. It’s something I never really thought about until joining the workforce and I’m thrilled it’s often a topic of discussion. However looking back, I certainly wasn’t aware that I needed to put effort into doing it.

Since returning to engineering management three months ago, I’ve been reminded of how important communication is in creating that feeling of inclusion. …

Jason Smale

SVP Engineering @Zendesk.

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