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How to Introduce a New Technology to Your Organization

Dev Processes
Impact
Internal Communication
Convincing

27 September, 2020

Pete Murray, Principal Software Engineer at Electronic Arts, recalls his efforts to introduce a cutting edge technology of that time and how that was intrinsically connected with his personal growth as an engineer.

Problem

As an engineer, I always had a profound interest in expanding my knowledge, improving my craft and further investing in myself. I would be spending 10 to 20 percent of my time thinking about new challenges and approaches the future will bring. I was always interested in introducing new technologies and back then, Docker and containerized architecture was the next big thing. I was eager to try out and introduce this new technology in my organization.
 

Actions taken

I went to an IBM conference in 2015, where they talked about Docker container architecture and containerization in general. Back then it was a brand new thing and people were still hesitant about doing it. After learning about it, I played with it for a while investing my personal free time to better understand it. But I needed to find an opportunity to exercise it and as a lead engineer, I was also responsible to find opportunities for my engineers to keep their skills updated.
 

I decided to re-architect one of our platforms using Docker technology. To engage people I had to put myself in the shoes of the developers who would have to undergo a mindset shift in order to work with Docker. I had to take them on a journey on which they would understand that things they were building on their laptops would be run in the cloud.
 

As with any cutting-edge technology it was not enough that I was certain that it would work, it was about convincing and empowering my engineers that it would work. That required me to understand what they were not understanding about this new technology. A part of it was about vision and belief and another part was about action and action was all about empathy.
 

Translating what an architect has drawn as a figure 1 (the system blueprint) to how you can build it is a daunting task that is often overlooked. Sometimes it feels like you have to tell people how to work and if you have led engineering teams this is what you are told never to do but trust your people to figure it out.
 

For new technology, you have to be present and support people figuring it out give them new analogies and listen to what they are telling you. For Docker, this meant us moving away from the safety of the Integrated Development Environment (IDE) but driving a new integration based iterative delivery method from Unit (in container), Boat (Docker for integration +1 container) to Ship (Docker end to end).
 

Lessons learned

  • Managing change is not about telling people to change, it is about reinforcing that change. Walk in their shoes, show them the light at the end of the tunnel and motivate them to stay on the track. Focus on people who your change impacts the most -- ground-level engineers. They have to be inspired to understand and embrace new technology.
  • As an engineer, you have chosen a career that is underpinned by a craft and you have to invest in that craft. That is entirely different from considering engineering as a job. Great engineers will spend weekends reading textbooks and they will enjoy doing what they do which makes them excel in their craft. That is the difference between a job and career -- career is about craft and calling that is inspiring you to further master your skill.

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