Monthly Archives: February 2013

Netflix teaches everyone how to host a tech meetup

Netflix has once again set the bar. Not with their technology this time – but with their organizing. I just got back from the first meetup of the NetflixOSS group – and it was spectacular. Let me walk you through it.

The intro was given by Ruslan Meshenberg, and contained a wonderful story about the email exchange that started the ball rolling on Netflix’s open-source efforts: one of their developers had something he wanted to open-source, so he asked about the policy for doing so. He was told “Our policy is we have no policies. Go for it!” To many of the developers in the audience this was a religious experience, because they had experienced very different responses at their companies to the same question. (When Ruslan earlier asked the audience how long it typically took to open-source something at other companies, the loudest response from the audience was “FOREVER!”) At this point the audience was warmed up and already on Netflix’s side, because they’d shown a) that they’re supporting open-source b) that they don’t put bullshit in your developers’ way and c) that they have smart, cool, funny people working for them. Win x3.

Next up was Cloud Architect Extraordinaire Adrian Cockroft, who gave an overview of all the (really cool) platform pieces that Netflix has open-sourced, along with an explanation of why they are doing so in the first place. Adrian’s presentations at conferences are always packed and for good reason – he’s entertaining, charming, and (like Ruslan) knows how to hit developers in their hearts. His talk had enough anecdotes about quirky naming methods, reinforcement of the “stay out of developers’ way” culture at Netflix, and enough hard-won insights from experiences in production (and amusing digs at other platform solutions) to keep the audience’s interest piqued, and at the end everyone was hungry for more details about the components he had introduced. Adrian’s reinforcement of the “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” message also reminded everyone that the software they’re talking about all works together to accomplish far more than any individual component could ever hope to – which presented a fantastic analogy for the audience to infer about the team and process at Netflix as well.

Then came the brilliant part. There was a series of several lightning talks where one of the developers of each of those platform services talked briefly about what it did and why they needed it. This really stoked the audience’s interest and I know everyone (like I did) had one or two things they heard about that they were super eager to get more information on. This also made even more evident that there a lot of smart, experienced, and accomplished people at Netflix who are working on interesting problems and who have been given the freedom (and responsibility) to come up with the right solutions. Again, a tempting picture to paint for the developers in the audience.

The final stage was the demo room, where food and booze were provided and then those same engineers who had given the lightning talks were standing in front of stations where they would answer your questions and demo the software they had described earlier. So you could find the engineer who talked about what you had found so interesting during the lightning talks, and you could drill in with them. I spent a few minutes talking with Ben Christensen about Hystrix, a library that provides mechanisms for isolating failures in distributed systems so problems in one area don’t cascade throughout the system, as well as providing a dashboard view into the metrics generated by said library. This was fascinating to me for many reasons as I’ve long been interested in how we monitor and manage the connections between systems (sooooo much harder than dealing with the systems themselves) and I thought Hystrix did a very good job of presenting the information in a dashboard that was information-dense and yet at the same time very helpful at highlighting the things that were important. The point being that I found someone I could have a great conversation with about something I found very interesting – and I’m willing to bet that so did the majority of other attendees.

Overall, I had a great time and think it was a fantastic experience. It’s definitely one of the best tech meetups I’ve ever been to (and I’ve been to a lot). Kudos to the Netflix team – I think everyone had a good time, and I suspect a majority of the audience went home tonight thinking to themselves “Wow that’d be a cool place to work!” 

Which, I suspect, was the goal all along…..