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Track: “Don’t Mess Up The Culture!”—Scaling with Sanity

Location: St James, 4th flr.

Day of week: Tuesday

Why do small, tight-knit, high-performing companies become large, anonymous, inefficient juggernauts? Is there any way to avoid the silos, fiefdoms, duplication, frustration, duplication, and crazy expense policies of Big Enterprise? 

In this track we invite veterans of effective scaling to share their stories, advice, cautionary tales and embarrassing secrets, always keeping in mind the default survivor bias advice of “We have no idea, it just sort of worked!”

Track Host: Dan North

Originator of BDD

Dan North uses his deep technical and organisational knowledge to help CIOs, business and software teams to deliver quickly and successfully. He puts people first and finds simple, pragmatic solutions to business and technical problems, often using lean and agile techniques. With over twenty years of experience in IT, Dan is a frequent speaker at technology conferences worldwide. The originator of Behaviour-Driven Development (BDD) and Deliberate Discovery, Dan has published feature articles in numerous software and business publications, and contributed to The RSpec Book: Behaviour Driven Development with RSpec, Cucumber, and Friends and 97 Things Every Programmer Should Know: Collective Wisdom from the Experts. He occasionally blogs at http://dannorth.net/blog.

10:35am - 11:25am

Why Culture Change Can Blow Up in Your Face, and How to Prevent It

Ever wondered why changing culture is so difficult?  And why anyone trying to turn culture around can rapidly burnout?  Or why every work culture eventually seems to degrade and dysfunction over time?  Are you wanting to make a change to culture but want to avoid the usual pitfalls? Then this is the talk for you.   


Known for her radically different way of looking at the world of work, in this talk Katherine exposes ‘invisible forces’ which can cause your attempt at changing culture to blow up in your face.  Using this lens, she will then share a simple tried a tested technique that she uses to kick start averting cultural ‘hell’ and begin to realistically build culture into effectiveness.

Katherine Kirk, Independent Consultant - Transformation in Tech

11:50am - 12:40pm

Discovering Culture Through Artifacts

Congratulations! You've just got off the phone with the recruiter and you got the job. You can't wait to start and show them what a great engineer you are. This is the opportunity you've been looking for. You love the position, you've met the team and you understand the company's business model. But something is holding you back. You don't know much about the company's culture, and this is making you cautious. You just left a dysfunctional culture, at times even toxic. You would very much like to avoid joining another company like that. So what is it really like to work at this company? What do they believe in? How do people behave and treat people? In other words, what is the culture of this culture and how do I go about discovering it? 

Learning how to discover the culture of an organization can be extremely valuable to you, whether you are debating joining a new team, or just want to better understand the company you've worked at for the past decade.

In this talk, Mike McGarr (Engineering Leader, Slack), will share with you an approach to discovering organizational culture through its artifacts. Mike will share his model for understanding culture and the key artifacts you can seek out that will allow you to build an understanding of an organization's culture. Mike will also share a wealth of "experiences" (that's code for failures) that have shaped his approach to discovering culture.

Mike McGarr, Engineering Leader, Frontend Infrastructure @Slack

1:40pm - 2:30pm

People Are More Complex Than Computers

Equal Experts is a consultancy founded and run by software people. We try to take the principles we use when building products and apply them to building a company. In just over a decade we’ve grown to an 1300 person network with many great clients. We’ve learned that there are some cultural challenges you can successfully apply an engineering mindset to, but some things are harder than they first appear! Join me to learn about how we’re trying to be a different sort of company. We’re challenging traditional ways of working; we question the standard practices of hierarchical management, performance appraisals, approvals, annual budgets, etc. Instead, we’re using concepts like iterative, user-centred design, microservices, ‘devops’, monitoring and alerting and plenty of other buzzwords du jour to try to create a better place to work.

Mairead O'Connor, Partner and Engagement Manager @EqualExperts

2:55pm - 3:45pm

Variety: The Secret of Scale

When we talk about “scale,” the conversation tends to be restricted to talk about scaling the size of the organization. What if negative consequences of scale eg silos, frustration, and even cumbersome expense policies are actually a consequence of attempting to scale the size of an organization without also scaling the amount of tolerable variety? Further, what if we should be doing more than just tolerating variety? What if increased space for (and decreased cost of) variety is a reason to scale, not just a curious byproduct?


If you seek to scale variety, you must understand and overcome the natural human aversion to ambiguity. This session provides an approach for incurring variety where it makes sense within the coherence of a longer-term vision.

Cat Swetel, Agile Methods Coach & Advocate for Woman in Tech

4:10pm - 5:00pm

Building and Scaling a High-Performance Culture

As the research in Accelerate and in the DevOps Handbook shows, high-performing organizations deliver more rapidly, more repeatably, and more reliably. And far more important than any tool or technology, it is the culture that differentiates a nimble and innovative organization from a lumbering leviathan. This session breaks down several key elements of a high-performance engineering culture. 


We will discuss team Autonomy -- how high-performing companies organize themselves out of small, cross-functional teams, and how those teams own their destiny from idea to development to deployment to operations. Next, we will discuss Trust -- how we need to foster a culture of trust both among the individuals on a team, as well as between the teams themselves. Last, we will highlight Pragmatism in the product development process -- how we need to clearly define the business problem we are solving, and solve that problem in the simplest, most straightforward way possible.

Randy Shoup, VP Engineering @WeWork

5:25pm - 6:15pm

Culture Open Space

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