EQ > IQ
“Thoughtful” is the most salient trait of people who work at LightStep.
To best describe what EQ and thoughtfulness mean to us at LightStep, we asked different team members to share their views:
Alice Fuller, software engineer, ex-Box: “Ever since I started working at LightStep, people always ask me what my team is like. The first quality that popped into my mind was ‘thoughtful’ followed by ‘intelligent.’ Now nearly three years later, I’d still use the word thoughtful to describe my colleagues. We approach technical conversation, company growth, and our interactions with each other with care and consideration. I love that I can go to any of my knowledgeable teammates with questions and they will not only be able to teach me a lot, but also want to take the time to do so. I find that balance is crucial to a positive workplace, and I am so happy I work at a company that values EQ > IQ.”
Joe Blubaugh, software engineer, ex-Namo (acq. Twitter), ex-Google: “My co-workers care about me as a person first, and that helps us have the kind of trust and candor that brings out my best work. I love that everyone at LightStep is so low-ego and my brilliant colleagues love explaining what they're working on to others. I get to share their excitement and we get to learn from each other.”
We cultivate trust with each other so team members can thrive both at work and out of the office.
We directly assess teamwork and communication in our paired interview processes and day-to-day work. This means that when teammates need to leave early, arrive late, work from home, take a self-care day, or use some of their (unlimited) PTO, we can genuinely support them in life’s ever-changing needs. Many of our individual contributors, managers, leaders, and even our founders take care of young children; we take pride in our generous maternity and paternity leave policies and respect each other’s offline time, which allow people to continue growing their careers at LightStep after becoming parents.
Additionally, many LightSteppers lead passions outside of development and tech, from soccer players to trapeze artists to musicians and fire spinners. We also enjoy getting involved in the community by giving our time with local nonprofits like the Tenderloin People’s Garden and 826 Valencia.
At LightStep, you're not restricted to checkboxes on a job description.
While we provide support for both management and individual contributor tracks, where we shine most at LightStep is in the agency we give team members to define their roles at the company. For example, Isobel Redelmeier shaped her own hybrid role. “I knew I wanted some sort of challenge/change of pace beyond the traditional IC engineer role, but I didn't necessarily know what I wanted that to look like,” she says. “Was it PMing? speaking more? something else? The LightStep leadership seemed genuinely open to finding the right alignment between employee interests and business needs, rather than disincentivizing anything outside of the exact, on-paper job requirements.” This led Isobel to her current role as an open source software engineer where she partakes in a combination of engineering, project management, and community work.
Ultimately, our leadership genuinely cares about finding the right alignment between each person’s interests and the company’s business needs. In the search for our first engineering managers, we hired experienced external candidates and also shifted Daniela Miao, one of our early software engineers, into an EM role to help her realize her career goals. She’s since played a crucial role in designing our new interview processes and keeping LightStep’s focus on people as we grow.
High Quality Code Base
We care deeply about fast development, thorough testing, continuous delivery, and good algorithms.
It can be hard to find the perfect balance of all of these factors, but one thing we particularly care about at LightStep is good instrumentation. A high-quality code base that's easy to understand and diagnose is what makes a great work environment.
To that end, we take code reviews extremely seriously. It's an opportunity for shared learning, so we spend a non-trivial amount of time understanding each other's code. We use data and metrics to track software quality, and discuss these metrics at our weekly meeting. We also have a streamlined process for prioritizing and triaging all reported bugs; they are automatically assigned an owner so none fall through the cracks.
In our previous work as engineers at big companies like Google and Amazon, we were responsible for maintaining code quality and writing our own automated tests. This practice is something we brought to LightStep - we do not have a separate QA team, so we are accountable for the quality of the code we write, and are on-call for issues that arise in production. This motivates us to build robust monitoring, comprehensive alerts, and automated CI/CD pipelines.
Team is Diverse
Diversity in its many shapes and forms is top of mind for company growth.
We have team members who grew up in software engineer families, used to be English teachers and musicians, have finished renowned PhD programs or are self-taught without degrees. But don’t be fooled: the technical bar is incredibly high at LightStep for everyone from engineering to sales and marketing.
What makes us cohesive as a team is our commitment to each other, to doing quality work, and to growing our business in line with our values. To that end, here’s what one of our recruiters has to say:
“It was crucial for me when choosing a team, and continues to drive the work I do here at all levels,” says Austen Yueh, a recruiter with a degree in computer science from MIT. “When I joined, nearly half the IC engineers were women, and senior women at that. As we scaled our engineering teams, we have kept the percentage of female engineers at about one-third, well above the industry average - and this is just one dimension of many dimensions of diversity.” She and many others look forward to regular Ladies of Lightstep gatherings both in and out of the office.
We’re also very family-friendly. Many of our office events are kid-friendly and organized with families in mind. One time we invited all of our employees’ families to the office to play with (adorable) pigs!
Heavily Team Oriented
Our teams are organized by personas, which reflect the many hats we (and our customers) may wear.
At LightStep, we have collaborative, cross-functional teams comprised of designers, product managers, and engineers. These teams are grouped by customer persona, aka the “hats” that LightStep customers may wear at some point during their work. As of March 2019, we have four persona teams:
- Application: Application engineers care about adding instrumentation to their application with minimal amount of effort: either via configuration of a framework they’re using or via instrumentation libraries themselves. They want to move fast to develop their application, so it’s important they have a tight feedback loop to know if the product is working.
- Observability: Observability engineers want to standardize and encourage platform/infrastructure best practices. They build in-house observability systems, operate 3rd-party ones, and encourage SLOs to be applied to all services.
- On-call: On-call engineers want to keep their service or product up and running, and meet all SLAs. They want to resolve the 2 a.m. page as quickly as possible and be paged as infrequently as possible.
- Performance: Performance engineers define and improve the baseline (i.e. SLO) of performance and reliability including throughput, cost, latency, errors, memory etc. They proactively make long-term system performance, scalability, and reliability improvements.
In addition to persona-based work, any engineer can propose a new project, which goes through a selection process. All projects typically start with a conversation with the product manager (PM) on your team, followed by a collaborative drafting of a 1-2 page brief that outlines the problem space, potential impact, and engineering effort level required to complete a solution. Briefs are then grouped together, reviewed, and further vetted by the entire team, including the PM, EM, engineers, and designers. During this process, we have both verbal and written mediums for anyone to provide feedback. Ultimately, the teams make a collective decision to work on the highest impact projects.
Even our interview process reflects how collaborative we are. Every engineering candidate meets with panels of two team members who focus on productivity and teamwork. Having a pair of interviewers lead each onsite panel helps reduce bias in the hiring process and more accurately assess a candidate’s ability to collaborate and work with diverse perspectives. Using the feedback from both interviewers, we can continuously reflect on and improve our interview practices. We’ve heard from candidates that they also appreciate this setup, since more people in the room adds greater perspective and generally yields more interesting conversations.
Open Source Contributor
Progress in observability is progress for the industry overall - and we’re pretty transparent about how our tech works.
Ted Young, Austin Parker, and Isobel (mentioned above!) make up our dedicated open source team. In addition to day-to-day software engineering work, they regularly speak at conferences, engage the community, and host a (free) podcast called On-Call Me Maybe.
The support for open source started long ago with our CEO, Ben Sigelman, who co-founded the OpenTracing project (recently merged with OpenCensus). OpenTracing is a vendor-neutral standard used by LightStep, but also by internal tools at Pinterest, Twitter, Uber, Elastic, and Couchbase, to name a few. The idea here is that tracing shouldn’t be some big secret held from the world. We believe progress in observability is progress for the industry overall, which is why we’re transparent about how our tech works.
As this article describes, we believe encouraging open source is key to our lives as developers but that tying it directly to a business’s profitability can backfire.