Search Retargeting & Magnetic Part 1: The Two Jobs of a Great Engineering Team
It isn’t hard to explain at a high level what Magnetic does. In the simplest formulation, we use search data to target online advertising across the Internet. That is the mission of our business.
To succeed in our mission we need to solve many engineering and business problems. First, we must provide our customers with access to enough of the right data for them to effectively target to meet their campaign goals. To do this, we give marketers a scalable, powerful and yet simplified solution to create, manage and review the success of their campaigns. Additionally, with billions of targeting actions per month being executed across Magnetic’s platform, we need to analyze our data in order to identify ways to better serve our customers.
So, while the high-level description of our business might seem straightforward, the engineering and product problems aren’t so simple. Above all, there are two rules we use to distill the responsibilities of Magnetic Engineering into a core team mission statement: keep our products running, and continuously improve our products.
Keeping things running has traditionally been in the realm of operations, the engineering sub team responsible for keeping systems available and performing well. At Magnetic we follow the principles of DevOps, which requires developers to be responsible for supporting the software they create, and in general, integrates operations with development to a great degree. As we grow, there will be dedicated operations engineers, but application developers will never stop supporting operations.
All engineers at Magnetic are responsible for supporting applications released to customers. Developers test releases for performance and performance under load. Additionally, they use automated tools to release their software to customers and build monitoring and alerting into their applications
Product development serves as the engineering team function focused on improving products and developing new ones. Magnetic uses the Scrum methodology for product development. Agile approaches such as Scrum posit that the engineering team’s primary responsibility is to regularly release software changes that increase the value of the company’s products.
Agile is a great fit for Magnetic. Most importantly, it keeps the team focused on what matters most — our customers. By releasing often, we quickly deliver new features, smoothly integrate with new business partners, and proactively make infrastructure improvements that keep our systems working well.
Agile also allows Magnetic Engineering to be nimble, enabling us to identify goals and priorities, and then focus on execution. Because we break work up into manageable chunks, we can plan ahead without committing to months of work, leveraging that nimble ability to shift focus to newly identify higher-priority work. On the other hand, we can break larger projects into a series of smaller, more predictable steps, and get feedback from customers as we complete them.
A great example of this is the Magnetic SEM tool currently in alpha release. A full-featured SEM product requires significant effort, but core features useful to alpha customers can be built more quickly. Currently, our engineers are working directly with customers to identify the next set of innovative features to add to the tool. This highlights two more core Agile principles we leverage at Magnetic — interact directly with customers to understand their needs, and build working “thin slices” of applications as early as possible.
As the head of engineering, nothing is more satisfying than seeing our engineers own the development of a tool and drive the expansion of our business. I’m doing my job only to the extent that there are no barriers to the team achieving its two missions of keeping our systems running and continuing to add features to our product that make it more valuable to more customers.
In my next post, I’ll discuss the connection between system architecture and business success at Magnetic.
Senior Director, Engineering at Magnetic