Get to Know: Shane Garoutte, GM & Vice President, Technology Operations
Tell us about your career before Everbridge.
My major in college was music education. I was in the percussion program at the University of Utah, where I studied under one of the best-known percussion teachers. I still play today.
I entered the computer field because my stepfather was into computers and he spurred my interest in it. I always liked math, and that developed into an interest in the analytical side and computer science. I started my career with the Sony PlayStation service desk and showed a proclivity toward Unix, Linux, and BSD operating systems.
Of course, music was still a passion, so I decided to move to California to play with my band. The whole thing is so cliché. I laugh about it now. My first job in California was with Virgin MegaStores — that seemed like a way to combine music with computer science. Branson is quite a character, and coming from Utah, Virgin was a huge culture shock.
This was before Sarbanes-Oxley, so if I had an interest, my boss would say, “Sure. Go for it.” I got to play around with all sorts of stuff, from BGP-peered routers to early Linux distributions and AS/400 based financial systems. It was a great experience.
Then I moved to a company called Homestore (now Move.com), which is where my I landed my first leadership role, as the manager of the Homestore Infrastructure Team. I’ve always loved teaching — I used to teach percussion — so leading people and teams was a natural fit.
“It was a fascinating experience to have the “money ceiling” removed from solving problems for a while.”
I then moved to the auto indstury and workd for Edmunds.com for a while. Edmunds had experienced a significant outage right before I was hired. My boss wanted to make sure it never happened again, so basically money was no object. It was a fascinating experience to have the “money ceiling” removed from solving problems for a while. It was also a little intimidating because I was so used to that ceiling — when it’s gone, your only limitation is you. That experience taught me how to think pretty far outside the box and focus on the ideal end-state.
I also did some work for Trace|3, a value-added reseller in the network addressable storage field. Sales is not my thing, but it was great to get experience on the other side of the table and Trace|3 served a diverse customer base. That has served me well, but salespeople tend to hate it — I know all their tricks and tactics.
Later, I worked at ReachLocal when it was a startup going through growth mode and built the team from scratch. I stayed with them through the IPO before moving to another advertising company, OpenX. Advertising can be great from an engineering perspective; you solve very difficult problems due to the volume and scalability challenges.
Why did you decide to join the Everbridge team?
Tech companies that save lives are rare. A couple weeks ago, we learned that messages sent through Everbridge helped save a child. On the intrinsic value scale, that’s hard to top. That’s what I was looking for, and what many people who come to Everbridge are looking for. I wanted to be able to tell my kids I’m doing something that makes a difference.
“Tech companies that save lives are rare.”
I enjoyed my time in the advertising field and I learned a lot about massive scaling, specifically around how to work with thousands of complex systems. You’re forced to think about things differently when you’re dealing with that quantity. But it’s still advertising. Most people don’t wake up everyday and say, “I want make money for other people.”
In addition to doing something morally rewarding, I wanted to work on consumer-facing products, and Everbridge meets that criteria. It’s a SaaS model, which presents unique and interesting challenges. We also acquired a product called Nixle, which a lot of people have heard of. It’s always nice when people recognize a product you have a hand in.
Are there things you learned in previous roles that have helped guide your work at Everbridge?
This is the third company I’ve worked with during an IPO transition. I supposed it’s my sweet spot. I’m not an early startup guy or a big company person who just dots “I”s and crosses “T”s. I like the volatile, hyper-growth period. It’s more fun, challenging, and rewarding.
I also make a point of bringing dev and ops together wherever possible, which is unfortunately not the norm. I’ve always struggled with the traditional perception that development and operations are on opposing “sides,” like they are somehow pitted against each other. That’s not healthy, and I’ve seen how it creates political problems and slows product development. There’s no need to have artificial barriers among engineers who are all working to solve hard problems.
“I make a point of bringing dev and ops together wherever possible.”
I think of operations people as the forensic scientists of our world. They want to dig into a problem and understand it intimately. It’s like doing a blood splatter analysis. They must be able to derive cause just by looking at the effect. It’s hard work and it takes a unique skillset.
Good operations people use all kinds of interesting techniques — including development techniques — so they’re not far from being great developers. There are also developers who want to work on the operations team because that’s where their passion lies. Even though they’re writing code all day, they want to solve large systemic failure issues, big tech debt issues, scalability problems, or performance problems.
Of course, there are also those developers who, once something is built, want to move on to the next challenge. They enjoy new architecture and building new software — it’s very creative, which is why a lot of musicians end up in engineering. I understand that those developers don’t typically want to tune and tweak and turn all the knobs, or add new knobs and figure out how to scale. That’s great — the similarities and differences between product development and operations teams can foster healthy debates, superior products, and team camaraderie.
Is there anything different about Everbridge from other companies you’ve worked at?
Internally, I’ve never been in an organization where the team has been so accepting of change and differing opinions — no matter how radical or seemingly crazy they are. That’s saying a lot, because I’ve been in some pretty progressive organizations.
“I’ve never been in an organization where the team has been so accepting of change and differing opinions.”
For instance, we’re reorganizing the team right now. Normally, when you’re talking about changing people’s jobs, you get a lot of head scratching and incredulous looks. People on our team had questions, of course, but they were totally fair: “Why are we doing this?” and, “What problem are we solving?” I didn’t hear anything like, “This is a dumb idea. I don’t think this makes sense. I think we should leave the team alone.” There was none of that. A company whose culture is truly open-minded is difficult to find in the technology field.
What are the most interesting challenges you and your team are working on?
From a technical perspective, many of our acquisitions came with legacy systems, so that involves a fair amount of rewriting and refactoring. The team’s also doing a lot to improve visibility, helping us understand the true health of the platform, trends, and where are we headed from a scalability and performance perspective. We are working with some of the most interesting technology on our new products and we are very focused on using data as the basis of all discussions.
In terms of culture, my team members are really passionate about their work and sometimes they put in too many hours. To that end, I’m actively promoting work-life balance. We’re also doing some deep dives into tribal knowledge and we’re looking for new team members who can scale and operationalize code. We are focused on all operations team members reading and/or writing code so they’re able to deeply embed with the development team.
“There’s so much on the line. If Everbridge fails, there are real and material consequences.”
There’s a lot that comes back to culture. We want to make sure that we’re empowering teams to increase their ownership in our products. This challenge takes on special weight at Everbridge because there’s so much on the line. If Everbridge fails, there are real and material consequences.
The more we wrap the environment with process, the more fragile we make it long-term. I’m a big anti-fragility fan, but we also can’t be flippant in any way. We spend a lot of time talking and thinking about risk management. It’s a very serious thing that we’re doing here. Because of that, I think in the past we tended toward being very strict and very careful. I believe a balance is warranted and we need to validate the robustness of our environment for the betterment of our customers.
Why is this an exciting time to join Everbridge?
We are in the process of establishing how we handle automation as a discipline and practice. It’s fun to be in the definition phase and influence the way code is written, automated, and deployed. We’re also making good progress on things like infrastructure-as-a-service.
Everbridge offers a unique opportunity to those with a passion for automation and those who want to see the fruits of their labor from inception to full deployment and scale. It’s also a fun time to be at the company because we’re releasing our newly refactored broadcast engine, which is the heart and soul of Everbridge’s application suite. We have a whole lot of shiny objects for software development and operational engineers. There are a lot of cool new toys to play with.