Gatekeeping At Dephion
What's a Gatekeeper and why should you care about what they think? It’s simple, really. Gatekeepers are like Mr. Miyagis at Dephion.
Dephion is pretty flat. We say that in the most… flattering possible way (Sorry, that was completely unintentional). However, we do need to stay organized somehow. We need people to know what the teams are doing and coordinate with other teams and what they are doing.
So, as an employee, you have your Product Owners, who manage operations. They can assign tasks and ensure that’s it’s completed on time. How are they different from middle managers? POs are right there, working right next to you too.
On the other hand, we have the Gatekeepers. And they are here to tell you “wax on, wax off”. These people understand how the Dephion world works. What gate are they keeping? The craftsmanship gate. They won’t allow you to turn in anything half-finished.
And they have words for you. Words you’d be wise to read.
Data and AI - Mike Neergaard
“Every day, we are striving to build something radically new out of building blocks we have created in the past. Everything is in transition, but don’t wait for the perfect future state. Improve what you can now with the tools already available. “Perfect” is the enemy of better.”
Now, we couldn’t have been the only ones blown away by that wisdom. A definite improvement over Voltaire’s old aphorism.
“I want everyone to focus on the vision. It is easy, especially in a demanding environment like ours, to think, ‘Well it won’t work, but MY part works’ or ‘I will deliver what I was asked for—that’s my job’.
“When you have a moment to think about it, though, we are proposing to improve the conditions for our fellow travelers in this life by supporting healthy lifestyle choices. The more this vision permeates our processes, the more effective we can be.”
Talos - Scott Delbressine
Scott believes in a very simple truth: Ask questions.
“By asking questions about why we are doing something, or how we are supposed to do it, we trigger discussions with the team that make us build better products.”
The Talos Gatekeeper confirms that he has in fact survived meetings where he sits down and asks his questions to Igor. In turn, Scott encourages his team to do the same. “I end up being challenged, which is great.”
“Asking lots of questions results in either the original concept being challenged and changed, or you learning something new on why we are doing something. It's a win-win.”
Front End - Lion Timmers
The first thing that Lion wants anyone working on IT to remember is that “you’re making something that people will use.” With the needs of the client in mind, how can your code be optimized? Everything single line affects the final product, which is where his second piece of advice comes in: Do not cut corners.
Indeed, cutting corners goes hand in hand with ignoring problems and in the long-term compromises the quality of your product. And next thing you know that buggy code is the cause your client’s information ends up at an undisclosed server in China. Or Brazil, or something.
Lion also encourages everyone, no matter what the vertical, to look beyond their own field of expertise for growth opportunities. “Look at product design, architecture, art design—anything that can become the inspiration for something aesthetically pleasing.”
But what if you can’t make up your mind at some point? “No bullshit. Just get it done.” Eventually, you’ll have to make a choice. Even if the decision you take is wrong, you’ve learned something.
Back End - Roger Beckers
Roger speaks from experience when he says, “Don’t promise to do things that you are not sure you can do”, at least by the desired deadline, which should be obvious. But how many times have we made that mistake ourselves?
A not-so-obvious piece of advice? “Don’t do what a stakeholder or client tells you to do, but what they want you to do.”
What? And how are we supposed to do that? “For different reasons, clients might express things differently than what they actually want. So try to understand what it is they really want, and if you can't, ask questions until you do. Once you do, explain back to them what you are going to do to verify that you understand each other.”
The back-end gatekeeper would also like to remind us to work together. “If everybody works on his/her own island, and try to bring things together in the end, you fail.” That’s right, never let a team label like “Content, or “Art” make you forget that what we are doing requires we stay aligned.
Art - David Slack
The art director believes that having some degree of passion for your work is paramount.
“Having passion for delivering one’s best abilities towards a project will also ‘feed’ others and is almost like a ‘drug’ that can be shared with others who are also working on the same project.”
Well, for an artist that shouldn’t be too difficult. Is that not like the blood running through their veins?
Next, even artists can’t forget that they do have a target audience. “As an individual, we have our own ‘tastes’ and values; however, to apply our Art correctly, it is our understanding of the Target Audience‘s tastes and values that will create the correct path we must take in generating the end product.”
But also, don’t forget to have fun. “If you do not enjoy what you do, wherever and whatever that may be, then for your own wellbeing you should change.”
Writing - Brooke Burgess
“After 21 battle-scarred months in the Dephion trenches? I propose that there are TWO qualities necessary to grow and advance in this wonderful and wacky place we call 'the Factory': initiative...and adaptability.”
As a writer, Brooke is an observer. And what he sees is that “the folks who excel tend to be the ones who sniff out potential problems before they happen, come to the table with novel solutions/improvements, and go beyond established boundaries to connect across teams and improve essential communication…”
Clearly, he’s talking about initiative here. Any wise words on adaptability?
“I like to reference an old Monty Python skit, where a hapless thief finds himself in absurd and unfortunate circumstances: 'Adapt. Adopt. Improve!' — the essential part being the former. Without adaptability, it's pretty much impossible to be on the cutting edge of technology, creative endeavours, or the fickle whims of the marketplace.”
DevOps - Igor Raffaele
Now, as acting chief of DevOps (and ultimate stakeholder), Igor’s words should not be ignored.
“In theory, DevOps and Dephion are a match made in heaven.
“An iterative, efficient company (Dephion) should get right along with a hybrid service that is supposed to deliver the best of a system administrator and a programmer’s work (DevOps).”
And yet, Igor finds that some DevOps engineers struggle to shake off old habits.
“The key to success for a DevOps engineer isn’t to have learned one trick really really well. It’s to know which trick to deploy when, so that we can keep producing and iterating our quality level.
Okay, let’s break that down right now with a helpful example. “A complex, docker-based Kubernetes swarm may take months to set up. A website can be online in three mouse clicks and 10 dollah. Knowing which solution to use, and when, is key. And as usual, knowing your craft and understanding your deliverable are key to producing the right solution.”
Are you taking notes too?
“The keys to success as a Dephion DevOps engineer are the same as those of any other Dephion discipline: production and quality.”
Boom! There you have it. Now we can all go home.
Well, almost. There are several other points on which Gatekeepers agreed:
Craftsmanship - Roger called it ownership. “Don't just do the tasks that are assigned to you, but feel responsible for it as if it's your own baby.” Lion reminded us that “we do iteration, we do things over and over, but it’s not a waste of time, it’s about making improvements.” And Igor taught us how the right tools help us maintain our quality standards.
Communication - Scott encouraged us to ask questions. Roger believes everyone should “dare to stand up for your professional opinion”. David adds that listening to our peers will allow us to learn from their mistakes and successes. Lion plans on always explaining the reason behind your decisions to your team.
Deadlines - Roger maintains that deadlines should be kept realistic. David, would put quality above deadlines, and yet “a deadline can help focus one’s directive and make one’s effort more sublime.”
Flexibility - Mike wisely said, “Don’t be discouraged if you have to change direction”. Igor explained the importance of adopting the appropriate methods. Brooke pointed out that “[an] inflexible approach is bound to fail in the face of ever-changing demands, pivots in priorities, and natural shifts in product vision over time.”
Training - Lion advises keeping up with modern technology to stay relevant. Mike proposes that “you are the best advocate for the training you need. Identify training that will help you professionally and ask for it.”
Be proactive - Mike said, “Identify contributions you can make and ask for the responsibility.” Brooke called it initiative. And Lion urges us to “Bring forward new ideas about how to improve the product.”
The good thing about all this wisdom is that, much like “wax on, wax off”, it doesn’t have an expiration date. Most importantly, every single Gatekeeper speaks from experience—and it must pretty good advice if it got them to where they are, right?
Do you know what else Mr. Miyagi said? “You trust the quality of what you know, not quantity.”