Growing in breadth and depth
If you want real speed, it pays to be smooth. Put another way, to give your customers the truly responsive and reliable service they expect, not only must your core principles and working practices work in harmony, but also your key assets – your people. Are they working together as smoothly as possible? Do they have the skills they need to do this? And if not, how do you get there?
At Access Worldpay, this work means encouraging its people to grow in breadth and depth. What does this mean? Breadth-first: “It’s about how we can get our developers and cloud engineers to work together to become full-stack developers,” says Andrew Davison, a Principal Cloud Ops Engineer at Access Worldpay.
Pairing is sharing
To this end, every project squad within Access Worldpay practices pairing, where software developers and cloud engineers work together. “Pairing really helps for getting the knowledge-sharing going,” Andrew continues: “It’s always good to get a different perspective when you’re working on something.”
Expanding the breadth of individuals and teams is then complemented by increasing the depth of each person’s technical skills. “Traditionally, a developer might gain some rudimentary knowledge about the cloud but fundamentally they might focus and specialize entirely on the software side of things,” says Shravan Jadhav, a Senior Software Engineer. Within Access Worldpay, however, the objective is not only crossing disciplines “but fully understanding those new disciplines and developing your skills.”
Making the investment
Enabling people to deepen their knowledge of new disciplines requires investment, which is why a key principle of the Access Worldpay team is to reserve 1.5 days from every 10 day period to improve skills and thereby boost individual and group productivity.
For a development group, part of this time is spent re-examining fundamental working principles and practices. The rest is used in ‘personal days’, where individuals can talk to their managers about their training requirements and go on suitable training programmes.
Shravan has seen that developers are keen to improve their infrastructure skills. “They might have touched on it a little bit in the past,” he says, but have not developed a depth of understanding that is genuinely useful. “From my point of view, it’s always been ‘I can write this code but then how do I actually use it?’ because obviously, I can’t just run it on my laptop. Being able to deploy that code properly and have a full view of the end-to-end flow, that’s the bit I’ve always missed.”
Testing in the cloud
For cloud engineers, meanwhile, the primary focus is learning how to bring test-driven development (TDD) into the cloud. “There’s been a big, strong push to adopt TDD in the cloud and it isn’t always easy to understand how to write or implement a test in the infrastructure world that works well,” says Andrew. “A lot of cloud engineers are looking to learn how to write tests – lots of us did an infrastructure testing hackathon recently to try and get hands-on with writing infrastructure tests.”
The fundamental purpose of growing in breadth and depth is about helping developers and cloud engineers to work “across principles,” Andrew says. “So we have cloud engineers tackling dev approaches like TDD, but we also have developers working on cloud infrastructure, learning about how we do things and working with us to get the product delivered.”
Shravan agrees, saying that developers’ familiarity with TDD has proved useful when learning about infrastructure. “When you’re making changes in the cloud, using tests allows us to see if our changes are working even if, at first, you don’t fully understand the tools that cloud engineers use.” The process of testing and checking gradually allows developers to increase their understanding: “it’s a much safer way of upskilling, and a safer way for developers to be able to contribute to infrastructure right off the bat.”
Breadth, depth and beyond…
Although the push to increase breadth and depth has certainly helped drive improvements within this particular area, its rationale does not end there. “We’ve focused a lot on testing because TDD is just fundamental, but obviously this isn’t just restricted to that,” says Shravan.
Instead, he believes this shared approach can help with all the new concepts and technology that Access Worldpay wants to use. “Everything we do consider tends to be more holistic, so one of the ways we’re trying to grow in both directions is by bringing everyone onto the same page in the first place,” he says. “If you’re working on the same thing then it doesn’t matter whether you’re a cloud engineer or a developer – we can have just the one, single approach.”