[2:15] Things we’ve done differently with our HQ (USA) team, Spain team and beyond, plus the realities of a distributed engineering/dev team
[5:30] How we maintain our culture amidst periods of rapid growth
[6:25] Promotion from within - why it’s so key to keeping the culture and why engineers make some of the best managers (YES!)
[9:05] What kinds of engineers we are seeking
[12:30] Tools we love and how we use them to stay connected
[16:51] Handling conflict in a way that builds your team up, making it stronger
[18:00] Our Manifesto
[20:25] Why every single engineer does a stint on our support team
[24:30] What is DDS? What does RTI build and what do we do?
[31:35] ELI5: DDS
Lacey Trebaol: Hi and welcome to Episode four of The Connext Podcast. I'm Lacey Trebaol and I'm here with Niheer Patel and today we're speaking with Jan Van Bruaene the VP of engineering at RTI. Jan brings over 20 years of experience in technical and customer-facing roles to lead RTI's world-class Product Development and Research teams.
Some of the Jan's current projects include setting these teams up for success through an immense growth period at RTI while maintaining a culture of collaboration and innovation.
Niheer Patel: So Jan can you tell us a little bit about what it's like to lead that kind of team?
Jan : I'm very honored to have the team that we have. I think that we have over the year and this is something that took quite a while to build and to give credit to the team, to everybody in the team. So this is not like we have this magic format. There's a lot of little things that we did to make the team work efficiently together. But maybe I'll first start with how team is organized because that...
Niheer Patel: Sure.
Jan : ...Some of the things we've done deliberately. So we have a team here in Sunnyvale maybe 50% or so of the engineering team is here including a lot of the build systems in the lab etc. So there's a lot of stuff being done here. But six, seven years ago, I believe, RTI decided to actually grow a team in Spain. We're in the South of Spain in Granada and we started with four, five people. We brought them here to the US. They were here for, I think, six months, yeah, six months or so. And then they went there and actually created their own small startup in a way. They build a team over there.
And then we have a number of people that are remote throughout the US. Most of them actually started at the headquarters and for whatever reasons they moves across the country. So I think it all started from all here and I think that's important so that people can, kind of, like see how things are done here. We don't want to have a US culture, a different from European culture, from a remote culture.
So that's our team right now. The team in Spain is about 25 people. I think, I haven't counted here but maybe 30 people or so here in headquarters and then a number of people remotely. Now how we get it all work together, hang together we've done some things a little bit different than, I think, what you normally would expect. For example: we've not set up the Spain team as an outsourced team or like it's responsible for one particular task or one particular product.
We set it up as an extension of the team over here. Right. So you have people here in the core team and people there in the core team. Right. Now that is harder because now you have a team that is nine hours in time difference away, but it also has a lot of benefits in that the team over there is never blocked necessarily. There's people there that know code, they platforms and know all the different functions support they can go and figure things out there.
So as well as right now you, kind of, hire where you find the best people in and you kind of say, "Look we found great people there to work on tools and they're going to work in Spain on tools and we have great people here in tools, we do that here as well." So you're not really that isolated. So that's how some of the things we've done is harder but it seems to work quite well for us.
Niheer Patel: Cool and you've something interesting, right, said you don't want to have a culture that,
Jan: Well, first of all, I want to say it's not like there has to be a
There's a lot of respect for everybody in the company. So if somebody has a good idea let them voice it and defend it themselves and that speaks more for it. So, I think, we see that in our group as well. We're
No, none of that. At RTI is like, "Go and talk directly to the person and figure it out." So, I think, that is the overall culture in the company a little bit now.
Niheer Patel: And I've definitely noticed that, right, as I'm ramping up over the past several months since I joined...
Lacey Trebaol: Niheer has been here for four and a half months.
Niheer Patel: Four and a half, yeah, and counting. You know I'm able to go talk to the research guys. I'm able to go talk to engineers. I'm able to go talk to our executive staff. I've had several conversations with Jan. I've had conversations with Edwin and my boss, David, and everyone is so happy to give you the time of day. It just really works well and, I think, that goes with what you're saying right. It's the company culture, but you know as we’re growing I think we're going to see engineering growing quite rapidly. Have you thought about how you're going to maintain or what the culture might look like?
Jan: Well, a couple of things come to mind of that. First of all, I think, for
Niheer Patel: Silos.
Jan: Right. So you'll see a lot of things that we've set up is very transparent. All the meeting minutes that we have in the engineering team anybody can go and look at them anytime.
Lacey Trebaol: Anyone in the company.
Jan: Anybody in the company. I have the thing is like I have nothing to hide in our group. And if there is something that doesn't look very pretty, well then it's better that we talk about it and then we can do something about it. Right. So it's something that I definitely want to maintain. Now as far as how we can preserve some of what we have as a smaller company and as we're hiring.
One of the things that we actually just recently did is I do think that the culture comes from everybody in the team right. So we want to promote people from within the team to manage the group first and different and take on reports etc So they are the best way of continuing the culture as new people come on board. And I also don't want to have just pure people managers. So you'll see that all of a sudden we had five new engineering managers and those people have maybe a few reports. So that they can still be an engineer at the same time.
Right. And that is something that you can look at well all of a sudden and an engineering manager's meeting is a lot of people, but we kind of did it also again deliberately because, I think, the best way is
Lacey Trebaol: I think it also benefits them because when you promote engineers into roles like that they're not just able then to, you know, provide management help to the person's career. They're able to provide technical mentorship...
Lacey Trebaol: And guidance that is rooted and this is how things are actually done here, and I also I think I know some people you promoted into these roles, I mean, there are some of the most respected technical staff we have. Like any young engineer would be incredibly lucky to land a manager like that. So I think when you put your best people forward it also helps keep the very low turnover rate we have here because people feel taken care of and valued.
Jan: Knock on wood because I know it's very competitive and valuable but we're pretty good at that. And now somebody wants to try out managing and if they after a while say, "Hey managing is hard. I don't want to do that, that's fine." Right. I don't have a problem. We don't want to make our best engineers our worst managers. So we try sometimes experiments and adjust based on that.
Niheer Patel: And sometimes you need that, right, to really figure out who you are as a person or what your interests are. You have to try stuff that, you know,
It's really what drives you to build a
Lacey Trebaol: Definitely. So you mentioned a little bit and we talked about scaling the team and the team growing which, you know, implies we are hiring.
Jan: We are.
Lacey TreBaol: If people want to go check out what positions are open it’s www.rti.com/careers, correct?
Lacey Trebaol: And so tell us all about the types of people you're looking for in engineering specifically. Like what types of roles and, I mean, also what kind of people do you think would be really successful on these teams.
Jan: So right now we are hiring in many different areas just to... And we've, kind of, like categorized them in a few kind of like profiles. But I think as a general rule, we're looking for
But a lot of our software is written in C and C++ so definitely a lot of the work will be in that. But we also are looking for people that are great at building tools in Java or even other technologies. And thirdly we're looking for security engineers. We have a great set of products around security. We have something very unique to that. I'm sure Niheer can fill you in that. He's the PM of that.
Niheer Patel: As the PM for security I am ecstatic to see that we're growing that part of the team.
Jan: So we're looking also for security engineers. We'll be looking for some project management help and some technical writing. So for those are, kind of, the big buckets of people that we're looking for both here in Sunnyvale as well as in Granada in Spain.
Niheer Patel: It's good. And it looks like you're considering all of the needs of the company. I mean, technical publications
Jan: Within RTI we use a lot of the Google Apps for business products. And one of the things that the engineering team likes a lot is we installed the number of chrome boxes in different ...
Lacey Trebaol: I love chrome boxes.
Jan: And they help us... We know there are some sometimes Google Hangouts give us some a little bit of, for some people a bit of a hiccup but in general the benefits are way better and we deal with some of the problems there.
So we use a lot of video conferencing, being able to see somebody and see how they react is crucial. Even if you don't ... Let's say don't use google but use Skype, you turn on the camera, that's the critical part there. So we're lucky in the sense that, I think, in Spain people ... The hours that people work are typically more. There's at least a few hours of overlap with headquarters here.
And over the last few years engineers in headquarters started to come early and earlier to work. It used to be very common in the valley here 10 o'clock when an engineer comes to work, 11 o'clock little by little people... We started meeting starting at 9 AM, now 8: 30, 8. And one of the things that we allow people to do here is like, "
So all the things that we've done we use a lot of the Atlassian tools set to build our software. We have Jira, we have Bamboo for contingency integration. And one of the things that they also have is a Hipchat as a group chat application which we started adapting. Older people
It's almost like you walk into the office here and I run into you and say, "Hey what are you doing today or what's going on?" Right. So that was going to a little trick that we did so that people when they started their day "Good morning. Today I'm going to be implementing this feature," and at least people are connected. They kind of were like, "Hey! oh! That's interesting tell me more." Right.
Niheer Patel: You know what I love about The Good morning chat group is that, you know, you have this concept of agile programming. This methodology where you have these 15 minutes SCRUMs and you're expected to be able to give a status and tell everyone what your problems are and challenges.
This is like agile in the morning, but you're not even spending more than thirty seconds to just let people know what you're working on. Everyone can take a look and, you know, they can see if you have a problem then they can walk over or they can give you a call and help you out. And, I think, that's really awesome kind of analogy or extension to agile programming but even to another
Lacey Trebaol: You also don't run into that weird thing that I'm a remote employee so I know this happens. If I don't check in with my team, they don't know what I'm doing. Right. So, I mean, every day the marketing team we also... We use Hangout, we don’t use Hipchat but we say what we're doing and just getting in the practice of communicating like, "Today I'm getting podcasts and working on blogs and white papers or whatnot."
It lets everyone in your team on Hipchat, everyone, and even the extended teams because other teams are on there to, know who's not only just doing what on a given day, but who knows about what. Like when you have a question you're wondering who that subject matter expert is or if the person who usually 'is this me' is not in the office, you're like who else would know about this? You know, to the transparency thing you brought up earlier Hipchat is archived and you can search through it and you can find all the things.
So announcing something as simple as you're working on documentation today it makes me know that if our documentation person is out, maybe they know about it.
Jan: Right and it's very much like part of the technology with like publish/subscribe Hipchat is exactly like that you publish something and people can subscribe
Lacey Trebaol: Oh my gosh and it comes full circle.
Jan: And it comes full circle. But we have some pretty good, I mean, we also have the technical groups where people talk about ...There's a room about
And then people started, "Hey did you know about this band etc.? There's a room like “What Are You
Lacey Trebaol: I'd be in that one.
Niheer Patel: I've got to look that one up. Yeah.
Jan: Well, it's more like the virtual kitchen. It's not about food necessarily, it's more like you, let's say you run into the kitchen and you just a little bit of chitchat ...
Niheer Patel: Like a water cooler chat. That's awesome.
Jan: It's a water cooler chat. So, yes, some of that is pretty cool there. So we do some of those things. I know there's a
Niheer Patel: That's cool.
Jan: And if it doesn't work, well, we'll switch over to something different. We're not... This is the
Lacey Trebaol: Oh they like it.
Lacey Trebaol: It's cool.
Niheer Patel: So it sounds like a lot of roses and rainbows here at RTI, right? No conflicts, no problems. Do we have conflicts at RTI Jan?
Jan: Oh we do. We do.
Niheer Patel: How do we deal with these conflicts? What kind of conflicts do we get and how do we deal with them?
Jan: Well, a good question how do we deal them is head on, I would say.
Lacey Trebaol: I agree.
Jan: I'll tell you a little story here. I went, I think, it was last year or the year before to a conference. It was all about how to work better as a team etc. And there was actually a presenter Kim Scott was talking about a project she was working on the idea around radical candor and she launched the book, and there's this whole company around it so for those who are interested go and look at the bit about that. Coincidentally, I was at a conference there was some conflict in the group, in the team, very publicly.
People had a big argument and it was
And, I think, as a whole in the company people have really strong opinions and we'll look it out and sometimes, yeah, you have to... There's no easy answer sometimes. But you've got to make some decisions around that then.
Niheer Patel: But I'm and seen some clear consistencies in the culture around transparency, around always trying to be better, trying to grow whether it's our personal...
Lacey Trebaol: Value people.
Niheer Patel: Yeah.
Lacey Trebaol: Opinions and their insights.
Jan: When I sit down with new hires in our team I always... We have this little document it's called The Manifesto for the engineering team. It's more like what is important. It's no political statement but one of the things we talk about is around radical candor try to actually
I used to be in, at one point in the services team and also in the support team and I had a... I was working with a customer, and he would send us some questions on support and we would answer them and he would be really happy with what we...our support. And he'd say, "We love the turnaround." And it's not just, you know, it was multiple people in support team answering support questions.
But as we were seeing the questions he was asking, he was actually using support to design his system which is not the right way to go because in support you typically have only like a very limited view into the bigger picture. You get like how do you do this? Well, you do it, you know, you answer point questions
So he was very happy but at the
And in the long run they will be happy, but for
We'll them if something is wrong
Niheer Patel: So the trust point, right, trust within the company and trust by our customers. We actually connect our customers directly with engineers, right. We actually get them talking to each other so that they can better understand the product. Maybe not at the architectural of you're talking about with professional services, but when they're looking at getting to know parts of the products or really trying to troubleshoot.
Jan: First of all, any engineer that joins the company goes
But it's not just at the
Niheer Patel: although you should!
Jan: No but we basically what it is the various product architects, support, PM is there as well, we sit together and we look at what are some of the issues that people have run into. Is our process working? But also we want to be very closely connected to what our customers are encountering and sometimes we also learn about new use cases that way. I'm also in that meeting.
I lead the meeting because it for me it feels one of the ways I can stay very closely understanding what our customers are running into. So through
So you'll see our engineers writing
Lacey Trebaol: Writing tutorial about these features so that the customers can actually test and implement them.
Lacey Trebaol: And answering questions in the community forum that our customers post about their experiences using the product, and then you'll get our lead engineers or even our CTO actually going on there and providing
Jan: I read that and people are amazed that they get the answer from our CTO about...
Lacey Trebaol: I know.
Jan: ... particular features on the forums, "Okay I didn't know that." And so we want to be very closely connected to what our customers are going through. And, I think, overall that's what people value a lot about us because we make a lot of changes to our product directly in response to what customers are saying.
Lacey Trebaol: Yeah. And I'd say that you guys do more than just wanting to be close and responsive. You guys are incredibly close and responsive to the customer.
Jan: We know our customers are, I mean, we're an engineering company for engineers our customers are really smart developers in the middle of our teams etc So we feel like, you know, geek to geek kind of connections.
Niheer Patel: So it sounds like the culture isn't just a benefit RTI. This culture that you've built with an engineering it's a
Jan: True. We see that on support all the time and when both are supporting engineers or even our developers will spend the extra time doing some additional performance investigation. We want to have the bigger picture in mind help them succeed rather than, "Hey if you want to engage with us you've got to pay here. You got to pay there."
That doesn't help anybody. Don't tell this to sales. They're probably going to be upset about it. But in general, I mean, we do the right thing for our customers.
Niheer Patel: All right.
Lacey Trebaol: Right. That wonderful product that your team worked so hard on.
Niheer Patel: So the team builds several products, right, tools, infrastructure services all built around Connext DDS, Pro, Secure.
Lacey Trebaol: Micro.
Niheer Patel: Micro and Cert.
Lacey Trebaol: So we ask these two questions of everyone that we interview from RTI, and the first one is what is DDS?
Jan: All right, well, let me talk about DDS, what is Connext and what does RTI do, kind of, like, make a bigger picture but... First of all, we're a software company providing a secure connectivity is the key to the Industrial Internet of things. That's a big marketing sentence really but it has a lot of important pieces into it
We're focusing on the big systems connected hospitals, autonomous vehicles, smart grids and where there's a lot of devices, a lot of different applications running, scale and reliability and performance all matter. So to that we actually have an SDK, a suite of products and I typically explain it a little different from the way we sell them. So we have Connextt Pro and Secure DDS, but I kind of explain it that we have three types of products.
We have a set of libraries which we have in small, medium, large. We have our flagship product Connext DDS which is a
So it's, kind of, a library version but if you're programming in a visual environment like LabVIEW and even Excel. So these are kind of like integrations, libraries of how to share efficient data delivery and I'll come back to that in a little bit.
The second type of products that we have is applications or we call them, internally sometimes, infrastructure services. These are
Integrating with a database is another type of service we have. It's smartly called database integration services, but it's basically an application that runs in your distributed system routing service to create different hierarchies, different segments. But also integrate with legacy protocols. So when we have an adapter as the case you can have one protocol then being integrated with the DDS data bus.
Queuing service and web integration service are other examples of this type of product. And then the third category that we have is a set of development and management tools. These are tools that allow you to see what goes on in your system.
Now the way we bundle them is a little different. So Pro has
I put it in a nutshell as we focus on efficient data delivery and especially in the environment that I mentioned these let's say connected hospital with lots of devices going on.
So let me give you some examples. First of all, you need to know who is interested in the data that you're sending. Because you don't want to swamp everybody with your information and who is still around, applications and devices come and go. So there's a whole part of our protocol that deals with automatic discovery. Who available? Who goes away or they're still around? When did they disappear? All of that and keeping your system going and have that visibility into that.
So the first part is
We don't look at things as one data pipe. We actually look at and enforce a level of quality of service that we provide. So that think of it as if there is data that has a particular latency budget, we actually can prioritize that or if data needs to be sent reliably. We have our own reliability protocol for that.
If you want data that was previously sent, historical data we can provide that. So taking into account quality of service is the third part that makes up our software. And then the fourth thing that I typically highlight is smart filtering. We are very good at knowing which piece of data do we need to send to which subscriber or which consumer of the data.
And there's a lot of steps that
Our software is transport agnostic. We don't require that you have TCP for reliability. We have own lipid reliability protocol but we can run on IP network, serial networks, infinity band, wireless networks even satellite links to the space station. Security is a big part of our software. I know, I'm talking to...
Niheer Patel: Absolutely.
Jan: ... The PM for our Secure product. And then a few other things that I typically highlight is the fact that we're
Lacey Trebaol: Yes, we do.
Jan: Our lab here is
Niheer Patel: Yeah. I've
Jan: We have DEC Alphas even the old machines that we actually had to go and buy on eBay. But we have all kind of different machines out there, different operating systems and we support a huge number of programming languages as well, scripting languages, programming because we know our customers use that. So all of that makes up our
And, of course, security. Sending data securely those things make up over half a million lines of code that are in some of our libraries to make sure that we can send data efficiently. So that would be, in my nutshell, what we do.
Niheer Patel: Great.
Lacey Trebaol: You just gave us this great explanation in a very large nutshell about what, you know, Connext does and what DDS is. Can you explain DDS to me like I'm five?
Jan: If I would have to explain to somebody who's five what the RTI does is, we make sure that the doctor can treat the patients in the hospital. That all the different thermometers and all the different devices you see in a hospital work together. So the doctors can cure people. We make sure that the lights in your house the energy, the electric lights that you have in your room that actually work and turn on when you need them.
We help make sure that all systems work well. We make sure that when you drive to school that the traffic and all the lights and all the way the different systems, the different cars talk to each other or can work together that you get safely to school. So that those systems work well, and
Or when you actually go and go on vacation to Disneyland and you take an airplane that those airplanes work well. So that's what I would tell and, you know, forget about that software and all of these things because at the end, I think, that's what people think about. That's what we enable. That's what our customers do.
Lacey Trebaol: That's the user experience.
Jan: That's the user experience. Correct. And then there's a lot of things between what we build and what actually is being deployed, what our customer build is as incredible and we have a piece in that.
Niheer Patel: Thank you Jan.
Lacey Trebaol: I like that explanation and it makes so much sense to me. It beats the engineering brains that's why we liked it. I feel like I came away with something and I’ve been working here for almost 6 years.
Niheer Patel: Did you write it down?
Lacey Trebaol: Thank for listening to this episode of The Connext Podcast. We hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions or suggestions for our future interviews, please be sure to hit us up over on social media and you can also reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks and have a great day.