Stacks on Stacks

The Serverless Ecosystem Blog by Stackery.

Posts on Company and Culture

What Successful Serverless Teams Know
Nate Taggart

Nate Taggart | October 10, 2018

What Successful Serverless Teams Know

Shipping serverless applications feels good. And it should! Serverless lets us focus on our software and ignore the tedium of managing servers. You download a framework, write a little code, and deploy your first Lambda function. Congrats! You’re a serverless developer!

But, as you run through that first “Hello, world” serverless tutorial, you might notice that you’re cutting a few corners that you can’t really cut in a professional setting. Security? Permissions? Secrets management? Dev environments? Testing? CI/CD? Version control? And the other two hundred little details that matter when you’re doing professional software development with a team.

On the one hand, these are solvable problems. On the other hand, though, if you have to re-invent the wheel for the development and operations cycle, maybe you won’t get to focus on the code as much as you thought…

Successful Serverless Teams

Successful serverless teams use software tools to solve these challenges. They deliver projects on time and reliably by automating the manual, error-prone parts of serverless development. While we could write a book on all of the best team ergonomics for serverless, let’s focus on the big three areas where you’ll want a tool: configuration, release automation, and visibility.

Configuration

Regardless of which framework you choose, once you get past your first “Hello, World” function, you’re going to have to start writing configuration code. Congrats! You’re a serverless YAML developer!

You (and everyone else on your team) will need to learn to configure every single cloud resource you want to use down to the smallest details. Event streams, VPCs, API gateways, datastores, etc, etc. And I mean really down in the weeds here – like, the be ready to map your IP Routing Tables kind-of-in-the-weeds…

The right tooling can automate this configuration for you and let you pull pre-configured resources off the shelf and into your framework automatically. That’s trickier than it sounds! Most “resources” are actually a collection of services. It’s not enough just to say “I need an API,” you’ll be configuring IAM roles as part of the assembly process, unless you have professional tooling.

Oh, and um, this is awkward… everyone on your team is going to have their own configuration file. Each developer will need to sandbox their own resource instances with scoped IAM roles and namespace their resources so you don’t overwrite each other with collisions. Even with master-level git-fu, this is really hard. That’s coming from me, and I came to Stackery from GitHub.

Release Automation

For serverless release automation, we’re going to need to figure out how to solve a few specific challenges: defining deployment stages, managing permissions, and integrating into a central CI/CD pipeline.

Once you’ve got your application built and your infrastructure configured, you’re ready to deploy. For your first app, that probably meant giving your framework God-like privileges in your personal AWS account. Yeah, ok, no, we’re not going to do that at work, in production. Right?

For serverless release automation, we’re going to need to figure out how to solve a few specific challenges: defining deployment stages, managing permissions, and integrating into a central CI/CD pipeline.

Managing deployment stages is a very similar problem to juggling your multiple configuration files. In fact, you could just define each stage in that one file… except that now when you make a configuration change, you have to remember to make it in every environment. I’m not pointing fingers here, but it’ll probably get messed up by someone at some point. And that will suck. Plus, these environments each have their own secrets and environment parameters which you’ll want to keep out of version control (and out of your config file) but available to the newly provisioned resources.

We’ll also want to create limited access roles for provisioning which, unfortunately, some frameworks just don’t support. This is why Stackery’s CLI leverages your existing user roles to enforce your access policy, rather than requiring admin rights to your AWS account like other tools.

Finally, while you could write your own scripts, scripting up serverless deployments can be tricky and brittle. With the right CLI tool, you can simply drop it into your CI/CD pipeline and have it automatically support your deployment stages and environment parameters.

Serverless Visibility

When you’re developing an application to run on static infrastructure (you know, the old way with servers), it’s pretty easy to visualize the architecture in your head. There’s an app; it’s on a server. If someone makes a change, the architecture remains stable. If there’s an error, it’ll show up in the server logs. Need metrics? Dropping a library or agent in one place will do the trick. Pretty straightforward.

With serverless, visibility suddenly becomes way more important. The dynamic architecture changes as your team builds more functions. Errors and performance bottlenecks can get distributed to other services. Logs and metrics collection need to be in place in advance – once that function instance dies, it and its data are gone forever.

It may not be obvious in advance, but the day will come when having a place to quickly glance and see a real-time view of your application architecture and performance will save you. Plan accordingly.

Get Back to Development

While we focused on three big challenges, the truth is that there are a lot. Centralized build process, dependency management, standardized instrumentation, error monitoring, and on and on. Pioneering teams have solved most of the above, for the rest of you, we’re making sure you can do all of the above without having to build it yourself.

The leading serverless teams today spent the last two or three years solving these challenges. Again, they are solvable. But if you’re trying to deliver your application and meet your deadlines (and not create a bunch of extra risk for your organization in the process), you have three choices:

  1. Give up the velocity advantages of serverless and go back to legacy software development.
  2. Delay the velocity advantages of serverless and spend the next several sprints trying to invent your own patterns (and then the subsequent ones refining them and training everyone on how to do it your way) and roll your own tooling scripts.
  3. Embrace the velocity advantages of serverless and plug in a software tool to manage these challenges and get back to development.

And really, that’s a pretty easy choice. Smart companies will always stand on the shoulders of giants and focus their efforts on building problems unique to their business. Try Stackery today and get back to development.

From Code School to Software Engineer: How I Got to Build the Future of Serverless with Stackery
Jun Fritz

Jun Fritz | September 25, 2018

From Code School to Software Engineer: How I Got to Build the Future of Serverless with Stackery

In 2017, I decided I wanted to become a developer. I felt that a code school could expose some popular trends in the tech industry, so I enrolled in Epicodus. I picked the first available track, and spent six months learning how to program alongside other aspiring developers. The bootcamp provided our cohort with interesting topics and applications to work on. I was completing the coursework and individual projects, but wasn’t spending much time considering what area of development I wanted to work in.

After Epicodus, I applied for any developer position in Portland that had the words “entry-level” or “junior” in the title. I had no preferences for what work I’d be involved with. I focused on large tech companies in the area and had the intention of adopting their methods and learning any tools that they used. The hope was that I would find a subject I was excited about from within the company. As a result, I held positions that I wasn’t interested in because I thought it would help my career and I’d be able to work my way up. I put off exploring my interests while at Epicodus but now I was out of the code school bubble. I wasn’t going to achieve much without an idea of where I wanted to end up.

I invested more time discovering what technologies interested me and what kind of developer I wanted to be. To stay relevant, I started looking into AWS and earned some of their certifications. I learned the ins and outs of services like API Gateway, Lambda, and S3. Eventually, I stumbled upon a tutorial that brought these three together to build a single-page serverless application. When I was done, it was clear that I wanted to focus on.

It felt good to dive into a topic like serverless and realize I wasn’t too late to the party. The serverless community was (and still is) uncovering ways to help it reach its full potential. I put together more serverless apps and payed attention to any area that I felt could improve. Each of my projects were prefaced with a hand-drawn diagram illustrating the cloud services I’d be using and how they all interacted with each other. It was my way of planning out the infrastructure and testing my understanding of the services involved. As my applications grew, it also served as a guide to navigate through the hundreds of lines of YAML that needed to be written. It helped shape my opinion that there should be other options for a developer to choose from when deciding how to build a serverless application.

I continued to form my opinions on what serverless development could improve upon and wanted to find any local developers who shared them. I entered the term “serverless portland” into my browser and followed a link that read “Stackery - Serverless Development for Teams”.

Landing at Stackery

I was relieved to find an engineering team that was building a toolkit that I wanted to use, but also curious to see how they were building it. So I expressed my interest in an email with some projects attached, and sent it off hoping that I’d receive some feedback. They reached out to me soon after that and I got to hear what problems Stackery was solving. A toolkit designed for teams to improve the way they built serverless applications. Part of me was upset over the fact that I hadn’t found the Stackery toolkit sooner for my own projects. Another part of me was determined to be a part of the solution that I wanted to see in the community.

Follow up discussions got me into the hiring process and I came out the other side a Software Engineer at Stackery. Now I’m a part of a group who share the same drive, and who want to make a positive impact in the tech industry. I wouldn’t be in the position I am today if I hadn’t parted with my initial mindset of “just get a job in tech and you’ll figure out your interests later”. And I’m confident that my work as a developer has more of an impact now because it’s backed by a desire to move serverless development forward. Earning a role on a team like this, in an area of technology that you’re passionate about, should be the goal of every aspiring developer.

How Do You Actually Create a Diverse Team in Tech?
Nicole Blystone

Nicole Blystone | September 19, 2018

How Do You Actually Create a Diverse Team in Tech?

It’s easy to say that you value diversity and inclusivity, and that it’s important that people from all walks of life of represented and heard from in your work environment. The perspectives a diverse team can bring to the table, along with the variety of tools and solutions, is appealing, and it feels good to be able to say that you respect and learn from those different ways of seeing the world. But it’s one thing to say it, it’s another thing to mean it, and it’s yet a third thing to actually demonstrate it.

So how do you walk the walk of an inclusive work environment rather than just talking the talk?

It’s not as simple as saying, “We are going to hire a diverse team!” While that sentiment is great, it doesn’t do anything to ensure that you’ll get a group of candidates that are actually from many different walks of life. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to reach diverse recruits in the age of the internet. Most major cities have groups of women, people of color, and other underrepresented communities who run organizations geared toward empowering professionals in their particular fields.

In Portland, for example, we have PDX Women in Tech. Their organization advocates for women to enter careers in the tech field, offers the ability to post jobs through their website, and helps connect women to jobs in a field that is often male-dominated. There are many other resources for getting job postings to diverse candidates, including hiring groups like Hire <Div>ersity, that can work as strategic partnerships to encourage diverse hiring practices.

More than just getting the word out through many channels, it’s important to make sure to discuss things like unconscious bias with your hiring team. Whether we mean to or not, it can be easy to form opinions about a potential recruit in advance based on things like appearance, age, race, gender, and many other factors. The process of judging a candidate can begin with something as simple as seeing their name before you even have a chance to meet with them. Making sure that any team members meeting with a candidate are aware of unconscious bias can help mitigate some of the damage these stereotypes can cause.

Conversations about the importance of diversity, including making sure that the team is aware of unconscious bias, set an important foundation for ensuring that everyone is on the same page about hiring goals. Transparency around diversity goals helps ensure that the existing team understand the importance (and benefits of) having people from a variety of backgrounds and representations join the company. Making inclusivity a regular part of the conversations, and making sure it is something that can be talked about opening, helps promote the idea of within.

Finally, one of the most important things a company can do to make sure that they are walking the walk of inclusivity and diversity is this: make your company a safe place for people from many backgrounds to be valued and to grow.

Improving the Workplace

There are lots of ways to create a safe place for employees. Create clear and open communication channels, and encourage people to use them (because, once again, transparency is important). Managers should work to make sure that employees have a voice in their work and in the decision making around it. Empowered employees feel a sense of ownership in their work and in the company itself. Allow for flexible schedules so that people from many different backgrounds have the freedom arrange their schedules around their beliefs and their needs, whether those are cultural, medical, or otherwise. Give staff time to get to know one another outside of their work, whether that’s team lunches, happy hours, off-site meetings, or team building activities, and be sensitive to whether or not everyone will be able to participate in those activities. Be mindful, patient, and open to conversations around diversity.

Hiring a diverse team isn’t as simple as putting a line in an employee handbook stating that inclusion is a company value. It takes work, and it’s not something that happens overnight. Luckily, it’s work that creates so much value in terms of the ideas that can be brought to the table, the perspectives that might otherwise get missed, and the great pleasure of getting to know people who have lived lives different from your own.

Start Now: What My New Job Taught Me About Inclusivity
Farrah Campbell

Farrah Campbell | July 18, 2018

Start Now: What My New Job Taught Me About Inclusivity

A few months ago, I was invited to be a part of a documentary - The Chasing Grace Project. The project exists to raise awareness around the presence of women in tech, because the truth is, you can’t be what you can’t see. I certainly didn’t start my career in tech, and it was a transition that didn’t feel accessible until I started to meet people who were in that space.

Since then, I’ve volunteered with PDX Women in Tech and Techfest NW, worked at multiple tech companies, and met countless people in this industry who’ve changed my entire life for the better both professionally and personally.

I guess you could say supporting more women entering tech is something I’m passionate about.

So when my last company, Reflect, was acquired by Puppet, there was no question about what my priorities would be while looking for my next position. After being offered some incredible positions at incredible companies, I stayed connected to what I wanted in the next company I joined. Above all, I knew I wanted the following three things:

A Smaller Team

The people hired at the beginning set the tone for the rest of a company’s growth, and growing remarkable company cultures is something I love doing.

A Place Where I Can Grow and Feel Respected

I value leadership that supports personal growth as much as what you can do for them right now. The first two leaders that I worked with in Tech challenged me to learn what I didn’t know yet. Even things like learning to write a bit of code or filing bug tickets after testing a product update. I had never been in an environment that unquestionably supported me in the process of pushing those boundaries to go from “a person who does not X” to “a person who does X”. The feeling was exhilarating and I now know that I need this in order to be successful.

A Company That Supports Diversity and Inclusion

Now, that last one can be sticky. We all know there are more than a few companies out there, run mostly by men, who treat diversity as a number they need to hit on their spreadsheet. It’s not about changing the statistics or opportunities long-term for them - it’s one more reason to say, “Look at me!”. Because the thing is, it’s hard to build a diverse team if it’s not diverse from the start. We see companies struggling to keep female talent for a reason. Women leave tech at twice the rate of men.

So I’m more than a little wary of companies that claim inclusive policies, especially if it’s a new initiative for an older company. I had three phenomenal opportunities, and there was no way I could say no to Stackery. Why?

Stackery was a team of 10 when I started - including four women of which three were engineers. That number spoke volumes to me, because it meant not only did they prove they valued diversity from day one, but it meant it was possible from day one.

They were taking inclusivity seriously, doing the right thing from the start. They didn’t make excuses. They didn’t just hire their friends. It was a concentrated effort to have a diverse team from day one. While I love every team I’ve been on and love the people I’ve worked with, Stackery’s commitment to inclusive hiring practices says something to me about them as leaders.

The reality is, the employees who are there early on are the ones who will lead the way, especially regarding culture. Being able to walk in and know that I wouldn’t have to fight to have an opinion or be compensated fairly was validating. I felt like I would have real support from the get go, and that’s exactly what’s happened.

So to all the companies who say, “But we didn’t get any women applicants” or “We couldn’t find any women who were qualified”, I say this - You’re not looking hard enough.

I challenge you to post your job postings on sites geared for diversity, to work with code schools who prioritize women, to create a culture that is actually inclusive and not simply stating that it is important to you.

So far, Stackery has been amazing. I’m learning a ton, work/life balance isn’t something that just gets mentioned in a job posting, and everyone’s doors are opened. I look forward to continuing to grow with this humble, talented team.

Unexpected Lessons from Startup Life
Nicole Blystone

Nicole Blystone | June 28, 2018

Unexpected Lessons from Startup Life

It probably goes without saying that working at a startup is exciting. Things move quickly, people are passionate, and it’s easy to see the impact of your daily work. Everyone feels invested, and it doesn’t feel like a big deal to put in extra hours, go through emails or bug fixes on weekends, or to do what needs to be done to hit those milestones.

But here’s the thing-it is a big deal.

One of the things that most startups tout is a great benefits plan. Flexible hours! A well stocked selection of snacks! Awesome vacation policies! A benefit that should also been included in this list (but that too often slips through the cracks) is work/life balance. Yes, it’s important to meet deadlines, but it’s also important not to burn out. I know I do my best work when I’m rested and refreshed. You probably do too. So how can individuals–and companies–promote a healthy work/life balance?

Unplug: You may not have strict work hours. You may pride yourself on your fast response time to emails. You may have days where you take calls from home outside of your usual 9-5. That’s all fine. Try to set aside time, though, where you don’t check your emails, don’t take work phone calls, and don’t open up that work computer. Taking time away from your daily job duties helps your brain reset, and it can open up your mind to other ways of problem solving since you’re not letting yourself get entrenched 24 hours a day in whatever you’re working on.

Use that vacation time: It can be hard to want to tear yourself away from the projects you’re working on, but employers offer vacation for a reason–so use it. Whether it’s a long weekend, a trip to a place you’ve always wanted to visit, or some time to stay home and hang with friends and family, taking time off helps you recharge. Staying fresh always helps you to stay enthusiastic, creative, and energized about what you do day in and day out.

Lead by example: It sounds great to encourage people to balance their life with their work and to take time off, but if no one ever actually takes time off and people spend their nights and weekends working, then the point is moot. If you’re in a management position, it’s especially important to set an example by taking time off when you need it and not responding to emails 24 hours a day (as tempting as that may be). If you do it, the people around you will see that as not only the norm but the expectation. Even if you’re not in a management position, you can still set an example for the rest of your team and coworkers by creating the expectation that you value your time outside of work so that you can enjoy your time at work.

It’s awesome to be excited about your work–and it’s even better to stay that way. Making sure you take time away from the office, shutting off your screens, and taking care of yourself are all important ways to stay happy at work. You are one of your company’s most important assets, after all.

Looking for a place that values work-life balance? Check out Stackery - we’re hiring.

Finding the Right Fit
Anna Yovandich

Anna Yovandich | April 23, 2018

Finding the Right Fit

Before joining Stackery, I spent 10 years as a frontend engineer at digital agencies, building a spectrum of client projects. Though the work was challenging, I was exhausted and unfulfilled by rushed project cycles, marathon meetings, and disposable output. Fortunately, what I needed to do finally became clear: quit.

It was time for some serious self-care and to journey into unchartered waters. Identifying positive and negative work experiences shed light on new goals and priorities. I would find a small and focused product team – building tools that serve real needs, with talented and inclusive people who enjoy their work and their lives.

After some introspective time off to renew my focus, I moved to Portland and discovered Stackery.

I joined Stackery in September 2017 as the fifth team member. Right away, I was contributing substantially to the codebase and sharing significant ownership of the first release. Trust and transparency were paramount from day one, as I began making sweeping functional changes and architecture decisions.

Our team has doubled since then and we continue to operate with a lean and autonomous approach – powered by the mantra: “Ask for forgiveness, not permission” (thank you Grace Hopper). We begin each week with a planning meeting to define features, fixes, and improvements – then we get to work solving challenging problems and building functionality. By mid-week, we check-in to discuss progress, set backs, and discoveries. On Friday afternoon, we have informal demos and share our collective progress to cap-off the week.

Encouraging a healthy work life balance is important to Stackery’s culture. I have experienced the pervasive expectations entrenched in tech culture that violate work-life balance – resulting in self-neglect and diminished quality of life. Our team discourages overwork and behaviors that result in burn out. The leadership at Stackery have established policies and practices to support harmonious, healthy lives. We have the freedom to adjust our workday, work from home, and take time off as needed – a formula that fuels our best work.

Meaningful work, shared ownership, and work-life balance have been critical to restoring energy and purpose in my career. In making the leap from client-driven work to a startup, I discovered that these are the elements I need to thrive professionally. If our work and environment appeal to you, we’re hiring!

Diversity Tips for Startups
Sam Goldstein

Sam Goldstein | April 05, 2018

Diversity Tips for Startups

Originally published on hirediversity.us/blog

It’s no secret that tech has a diversity problem and over the last several years there are an increasing number of tech companies working to improve this. There are great resources online about how to approach diversity and inclusion, for example projectinclude.org which provides recommendations for building an effective Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) program. However, a lot of the information is geared towards large companies. This makes it challenging for early stage companies to find actionable advice on inclusion and diversity. Over my career I’ve worked at a variety of software companies ranging from 3 to 1200 people and I’ve seen a lot of successful and unsuccessful attempts at D&I in that time. In my current role, leading an early-stage product engineering team at Stackery, we’re building inclusiveness into our company from the earliest stages. So how should a small startup approach recruiting and retaining a diverse team? How do we create a company environment where people of all genders and backgrounds will feel empowered and excel? Here are some of the practices that are most relevant to leaders at early-stage companies:

1. Start Early

When you’re starting a company from scratch you have to prioritize constantly. You’re building a product, finding customers, courting investors, hiring a team, providing customer support, looking for offices, doing taxes, writing docs. It’s easy to convince yourself diversity can wait. A lot of the best practices (e.g. develop an effective employee handbook) don’t really make sense at an early stage when you’re focused on recruiting your first few employees. However, two of the most important responsibilities of every startup leadership team are to hire a strong team and build a strong company culture. You should be focused on these priorities from the earliest stages of your company, and these two areas, hiring and company culture, are where it makes the most sense for startup leaders to focus their diversity and inclusion efforts.

2. Rewrite Your Job Postings

One effective way to attract more diverse applicants is to look closely at the language in your job posting. The way you present your company and team will have a big impact on who applies. Avoid using language that tends to skew the applicant pool male, like overemphasis on how hard your technical problems are or how aggressively you pursue your goals. An effective technique is to describe the team environment, the company culture, and the technical stack. Talk about how you work together and what you value. Every applicant is interested in what the day to day environment will be like, and this takes on additional importance for individuals who don’t fit the typical white male programmer mold.

Avoid describing your ideal candidate or listing requirements. This encourages many potential applicants to disqualify themselves. Candidates used to having people consistently assume they’re “not that technical” (which is very common for underrepresented candidates) are even more likely to skip past your posting and move on. I’ve found it’s useful to explicitly encourage candidates to apply, even if they’re not sure they’re qualified.

3. Plan Your Interview Process

A big part of encouraging inclusiveness and diversity is discussing it with your team. Planning an interview is one perfect opportunity to do this. Communicate why D&I is important to you and the company, and how that factors into your hiring practices. Your team should be discussing what’s being assessed in each part of the interview process, since without a shared understanding of the criteria for the hiring decision you’ll be relying primarily on unconscious bias. Make sure you’re coaching your team to avoid vague statements when giving feedback. Statements like “wouldn’t fit in” or “doesn’t seem that technical” often mask unconscious biases. Make sure your team grounds their feedback in concrete observations (e.g. “was able to implement the program, but struggled to implement optimization X,” “interrupted and talked over me repeatedly”). Encourage your team to ask themselves “what does this person bring that we don’t already have?” and “how would this person add to our company culture?” A group with diverse skills, strengths, and weaknesses will be more resilient than one where everyone shares similar strengths and blind spots.

Structure your interview process to avoid putting candidates on the spot. Interviews are stressful for the candidates and different people show stress in different ways. Your goal is to assess whether the candidate will succeed in the role, not whether they speak eloquently under pressure while discussing CS 101 concepts with a whiteboard. Many people will get flustered and freeze up in these situations. Does this mean they’re bad programmers? No, it doesn’t. In addition, when you consider societal factors like women being perceived as “pushy” instead of “confident” when they strongly state an opinion, it is even more important to think through the way you structure interactions in the interview process. Ideally you should be telling the candidate what to expect and how they should prepare so they can put their best foot forward throughout your process.

4. Plan Inclusive Activities

There’s a lot of data which shows that underrepresented people leave the software industry at higher rates than white males. Why? A lot of it boils down to tiny things that happen every day that indicate to an employee that they don’t belong or don’t fit in. This is why creating an inclusive culture and work environment is a critical part of promoting diversity in your company. One thing that many young companies get wrong is planning team-building exercises and social activities which unintentionally make some employees feel excluded. Look for activities that can be enjoyed by individuals with a wide range of physical abilities, personalities, ages, ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations. Avoid highly physical activities which some people can’t participate in. Avoid venues that have a likelihood of making anyone feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Minimize off-hours activities which may be challenging for employees with children or other caregiver responsibilities. Make sure that if alcohol is available it isn’t the primary focus and consider the impact on employees who have experienced addiction. Even if everyone on your current team is really into paintball and brewskis, the effort you put into ensuring work-related activities are inclusive will help you attract and retain diverse individuals.

5. Talk About Diversity & Inclusion

One of the first rules of management is that if something is important, talk about it a lot. People look to their leaders for cues on what they should care about and to understand what’s valued by the company. One-on-one meetings are an excellent opportunity to emphasize the importance you place on building an inclusive environment. Ask for feedback and suggestions. Explain why diversity and inclusion matter to you. Encourage employees to share with you (or other leaders) if and when they encounter uncomfortable situations. Keep in mind that many employees may feel uncomfortable sharing situations where they felt excluded or unwelcome for fear of being ostracized or further excluded, so it’s important to build a strong foundation of trust, and emphasize that any concerns they do share will be handled thoughtfully. Meetings related to hiring and team activities also provide great opportunities to provide updates on steps you’re taking to promote D&I, to solicit input from your team members, and to reiterate the importance of building a strong and welcoming company culture.

Starting Inclusively

At Stackery, our leadership team made the decision to emphasize inclusiveness from day one. We believe this is not only the right thing to do, but that it makes us a stronger team. It is a core component of our strategy for building a successful growth business. We’re striving to be a company where people of every flavor can see people like themselves playing important roles and succeeding.

Leaders at startups today have the opportunity to sidestep the diversity problems that plague the majority of tech companies. There’s more awareness and useful info available than ever before on how to solve tech’s diversity problems. It won’t happen overnight. It will require the hard work of many people over many years. But, if you’re in a leadership role at an early stage company you have the potential to avoid the all-too-common situation, where you wake up one morning to realize you’re a company of 50 or 100 or 250 white men with a diversity problem. Instead you can build intentionally towards a better future where people of all shades, shapes, and backgrounds can feel welcome, contribute in meaningful ways, and achieve incredible results. I hope you’ll find these tips helpful for encouraging inclusion and diversity at your startup.

How Do You Know What Customers Want?
Susan Little

Susan Little | March 29, 2018

How Do You Know What Customers Want?

Now that serverless technology enables building and releasing applications without spending precious time coordinating infrastructure changes, enterprises in particular are finding it easier to deliver a stream of innovative features, updates and products to market faster. And while Stackery is developing a product to uniquely solve the operational challenges serverless brings to enterprises, we've often wondered how do you capture what's on your customer's mind amidst all of this rapid development?

Do you know what your customers are really passionate about? What truly keeps them up at night? We probably won't know for sure until we hear the passion in their voices as they talk about their problems.

That is why I'm taking a closer look at what a Customer Advisory Group – where a group of customers advise you on topics ranging from industry trends, business priorities and product direction – can do to provide even better insight into what customers want.

I've had the opportunity to start and lead Customer Advisory Groups and I've found that engaging key customers in a more structured approach can go a long way in building a strong loyal customer and learning more about what is actually important to them.

Since serverless technology enables you to rapidly prototype new product innovations, including multiple directions, one of the greatest benefits of a Customer Adisory Group is to share these prototypes for validation. It’s a great way to get early and quick feedback on your product from your customers.

Additional benefits of a Customer Advisory Group include:

  • Direct, unfiltered, and candid feedback on all aspects of how your company engages within your marketplace – your products, people, and services
  • Early warnings of shifts in customer/market requirements and emerging opportunities
  • New Product Development feedback that can drive innovation
  • Critical insights into both the obvious and the below-the-surface problems customers may experience
  • Intelligence on competitors' tactics and strategies - what's working and what's not

I've found the key to success in setting up a program is to define your mission, identify the benefits to your customers and determine the meeting cadence and follow up. Equally as important is to identify who might be the best fit in an advisory role. Look for leaders within your customer's organizations who are willing to express their point of view and also represent the views of other customers.

Here are three important steps in starting a program:

1. Define your mission

You'll need to gather input from your internal stakeholders and craft a mission for the group. Describing your mission helps explain the group's purpose to your customers and it can also help to set expectations internally.

Creating a mission is helpful to customers and your internal teams:

2. Explain what's in it for your customer

It is important to explain to your customer how they will benefit from being your advisor since they are carving out valuable time from their busy schedule. Often times you might be hesitant to ask too much of your customers because you don't want to bother them, however, it's important to remember your customer's success is directly tied to your success – so they will more than likely be interested in joining forces with you.

Highlighting the key benefits will inspire customers to join the group:

3. Get Buy-In

It's important for your customer to understand what is expected of them. Ideally, you'll have face-to-face sessions in addition to virtual sessions. Hosting these events is a great way to give back to your Customer Advisory Group - customers love it because it's a great way to meet their peers and discuss business challenges in person.

The cadence of the meetings can be flexible – I've found Customer Advisors willing to meet more often to provide input into the product development process. This is helpful with the accelerated development enabled by serverless technology.

Sharing expectations builds buy-in, faster:

Lastly, creating and distributing a Customer Advisory Group meeting summary is important so contributions have been captured and expectations are set for any follow up items.

Conclusion

It is exciting to see the benefits of serverless technology and how Stackery is helping enterprises find an easier way to predictably spin up new environments, automate the build and deploy process, and have operational control and a line of sight into the health of their serverless applications. By adding a Customer Advisory Group to the mix of this rapid product delivery cadence means we can truly delight our customers.

If you are interested in joining our Customer Advisory Group, please feel free to reach out to me at: marketing@stackery.io.

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