SVP of Engineering Werner Keopf blogs on his first 30 days at Conversica

A few observations after my first 30 days at Conversica

So it’s been about a month now since I joined Conversica, and I thought this would be a good time for me to share my first observations with you about with what I have learned in my short time here.

My last couple of jobs have been in Seattle with big internet companies, Amazon, Expedia and Ticketmaster, mixed in with a small startup, Wetpaint. All of those were in the consumer space, so I was very curious about how different the people, culture, processes, technology and operations would be in a comparatively small B2B SaaS company in a small town 90 miles north of Seattle. I have to say that I have been very positively surprised on what I have found out in my first month here at Conversica.

The people are fantastic! My first goal was to learn about the team, meet everybody and understand who they are, where they have come from, and what they do. Our engineering team is in our Bellingham office, and they are a great crew! They have tremendous passion for our product, great appreciation for our customers and a lot of pride for the technology they have built over the last few years. Many started their careers at Conversica and all come to work every day with energy, commitment, drive, lack of ego and an unbelievable willingness to learn.

The culture is great! We are in an open space without private offices and without cubicles. We have a cook that makes breakfast and lunch for us every day, a masseuse that comes once a week and then there is also the weekly yoga class. There is an Xbox, PlayStation, arcade games, a much used pool table, a Kegerator and quite a few of the other toys you find in any healthy software development environment, and we frequently venture out after work for happy hour, bowling or soccer. All of that creates a tremendously interactive and collaborative environment. When an issue comes up, people huddle to discuss how to best address it, and folks show each other what they are working on or debate with each other different ways to solve a problem all the time.

The process works! The team embraced the Agile development methodology, and it’s working really well. We have five Scrum teams that do new development and one Kanban team that fixes incoming bugs and address customer service and onboarding issues. They all do a daily standup, and a biweekly demo, review, retro and planning meeting. The backlog of stories for the teams is in great shape, and there is a good sense on what the overall priorities are, namely delighting our customers and breaking into new verticals. We ship what we committed to all the way to production during each sprint, and all the teams have healthy discussions on what tweaks to their rituals they could make to improve their throughput or overcome inefficiencies.

The architecture is solid! The team has built an amazing product with a tremendously wide coverage of functionality. We integrate with our customers’ CRMs and DMSs to access the leads with which our virtual persona communicates, we work seamlessly with our customers’ mail servers, Gmail or Amazon SES to send or receive emails on their behalf, we cleanse and preprocess the email responses that we then feed into our Artificial Intelligence-based decision engine, and then we create queues of the next round of tailored outgoing emails. All is made visible through our client dashboards and host of BI tools for customer service and our own back office. Finally, we apply our Experimentation Platform to A-B test everything we do. All of that has been built as a set of decoupled and largely event-based processes, very much in line with a micro services architecture.

Our operations are sound! The team has been following the DevOps model, all our production systems run in the cloud in AWS and we use Datadog for monitoring and alerting. We have big TVs in our open space that show us dashboards with key metrics, like the number of leads we work per minute, how many emails we send out or the confidence of our AI engine, and the teams get immediately alerted when one of their key metrics goes out of whack. The teams all have a great vision on what refactoring and rearchitecting they want to carry out to improve operations and stability and to scale up their systems to allow us to break into new verticals, and they have been able to pull some of these technical tasks into their sprints together with the stories that they are working that are tied to business value.

So, that’s a lot to digest in my first weeks with the company, but it was made easier by a solid team, great management and a quality product. I couldn’t have hoped for a better next step in my career.

I’ll follow up with additional insights on Conversica, the technology and new opportunities in future posts. Please share in the comments below what you’d like to know more about.

-Werner

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