Troubleshooting systems through Observability with Charity Majors
We also talk about:
- the new generation of DevOps,
- how and why we should assess systems in production,
- the flaws of staging areas,
- what it takes to make on-call a good experience,
- how to assess engineering excellence,
- and how and why she founded honeycomb.
Charity Majors, is the founder, and CTO of honeycomb. Honeycomb is a tool for introspecting and interrogating your production systems. It represents the new generation of monitoring systems that can handle highly distributed and complex systems.
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Read the whole episode "Troubleshooting systems through Observability with Charity Majors" (Transcript)
Michaela: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the Software Engineering Unlocked podcast. I'm your host, Doctor McKayla and today I have the pleasure to talk to Charity Majors. Charity is the CTO and founder of the startup called Honeycomb. Honeycomb helps modern development dev ops and site reliability engineering teams operate more efficiently, string ableing, observability and monitoring of their systems. Before starting her start up journey, Charity worked for Parse, a company that was acquired by Facebook. Well I'm super thrilled that I can ask her today what observability means to her, how she assesses engineering excellence and how she decided to start her own business.
Thank you Charity for being on my show.
Charity: [00:00:42] Thanks for having me.
Michaela: [00:00:43] Yeah, I'm really thrilled. So Charity, can you tell me a little bit about your startup? How long does it already exist and why, and how did you start that company?
Charity: [00:00:53] Yeah, totally. Um, we have been around for, it'll be four years on January 1st. And I started at coming right out of Facebook. Um, I was at Parse right before this: mobile backend as a service. I was the first infrastructure engineer there. We were acquired by Facebook a couple of years then. And I was there from before their like pre-beta till there was well over a million apps. And I left Facebook fully intending to go be an engineering manager at Slack or Stripe or something. And instead kind of suddenly went... I had had this experience at Parse where you know, it was, it was down all the time. We were doing all of these exciting things that we now have names for, like, you know, microservices and stuff. We didn't have names for it then, we just knew that everything was breaking all the time and we had to do terrible rewrites, et cetera. And I had, like, I had come, I was coming to this horrified conclusion that we had built a system that was basically undebuggable by some of the best engineers in the world, some of the best I've ever worked with, all doing the "right things". And yet it was down constantly. Like every day it was going down. And not just, it wasn't just reliability, even if it was up, we just didn't understand it. You know, like a user would write in and be like, you know, complaining that Parse was down or complaining about the performance or something. And it would take us, you know, hours, if not days to track down, was it a real problem? Was it, you know, were they imagining things, did they not plug their network in? It's just about impossible to reason about, and we kept track of that by brute force. And I tried every tool out there, every monitoring metrics, logging, you know, APM, everything, and everything was really good at giving me answers to questions that I knew. Right. But like, I didn't have that kind of problem. What I had was problems where I had a vague report or two or three from unreliable narrators, or I had a suspicion, the problem was not answering questions. The problem was figuring out what the question was! Like, by the time I knew what the question was, I usually knew what the answer was. The answer usually comes before the question in these distributed systems problems. And at some point we started to get some of our data sets flowing into this tool at Facebook called Scuba. And that was when like, The sun started to come out because the time it took us to understand these complex systems problems dropped, just dropped like a rock from days to two seconds or minutes, you know, and reliably so like predictably so. I wasn't even an engineering problem. It was like a support category problem. This made a huge impression on me, obviously, you know, like when I was leaving Facebook, I suddenly realized, you know, I no longer knew how to engineer without this stuff that we had built. Like it had become so fundamental. So core to this, like my five senses, you know, for understanding systems and my, my friend, Christine, who was also at Parse, she had had a different, but similar experience. I mean, we decided to build this. And it was only over the course of that first year, 2016. When we started talking to users that we started to realize just how much anger there was out there at the tools that you know, and these tools that they're great tools. I'm not trying to shit talk them, you know, they're great tools. And when they started shelling out a lot of money for them, they genuinely solved their problems. It was, it was like magic. You know, um, that was mostly like all of these tools were started back in the days of the monolith and now like we've blown up the monolith, and now it hops to network and, and so we can't use the debuggers anymore. And yet. The tools that we use to try and understand it and monitor it really hadn't changed. And there's, there was just this enormous, like we started talking about the things that we were doing that were different and it really resonated with a lot of people very quickly, which was, which was a surprise.
Michaela: [00:05:02] And so the first step with starting your company was actually talking to users, or did you have already a prototype? What was the first thing that you did.
Charity: [00:05:11] Oh, no, we had nothing. We had four slides and we didn't even really know what we were building. We just knew that we had had this experience that was really, really powerful. And we didn't even know why.
Michaela: [00:05:23] So it really started from a problem space. Okay, cool. And so then you went and you found different customers or not even customers, users, right? And you wanted to see if they have the same problems?
Charity: [00:05:36] Honestly, we kind of went heads down for a year because. You know, I've spent my entire career telling people, never write a database, just don't ever write a database. Well, we kind of had to go and write a database... I will protest weakly that it is a storage engine. It is a distributed storage engine, but like, you know, the things that we realized that were so important, high cardinality, these arbitrarily wide events. There's nothing out there that can handle it. Right. And so we basically just for a year, we just went heads down. We started writing this storage engine and in parallel, trying to figure out what it was we were building and why, and how to talk about it. And honestly you think that writing a database would be the hardest thing, and it was not. Trying to figure out how to talk about it was by far the hardest thing we ever had to do.
Michaela: [00:06:33] And so how did you figure out how to talk about that?
Charity: [00:06:37] Well, after about six or seven months of thrashing and, and like flailing and being unable to sleep and you know, being so frustrated, like every term in data is so overloaded and overused. Um, it was July that year that I actually happened to Google that the meaning of observability kind of on a whim. And, and that's when I realized that it had this really rich pedigree that came from mechanical engineering, right? Like observability the mathematical dual of controllability and to the extent that you can observe the outputs of the system you can infer what's going on internally. Like you can understand. And that was when light bulbs just kind of went off in my brain. I went, Oh shit, that's what we're trying to build, that's exactly what we're trying to build. We're trying to build a tool that will let you understand any state that the system has gotten itself into. Even if you've never seen it before, it's never happened before. You don't have to predict it in advance. You don't have to see it before. You should be able to understand what's happening inside this complex system. Um, and, and, and that, that was when I started to realize why that was so important.
Michaela: [00:07:52] Yeah. So one of the things that you talk a lot about on your blog as well is that you want to make the on call experience better. And that being on call should be, you know, it shouldn't be a drag. It should be something that's, that's fun. Maybe even?
Charity: [00:08:10] it should, it can be!
Michaela: [00:08:11] How do you think that we can get to such a state? And why do you think it isn't for, for many of the people, why is on call a little bit an anxiety-introducing experience right now?
Charity: [00:08:23] Yeah. Well, it's really scary because you feel like you're on your own and anything could happen, you know? And so like I increasingly think of these systems that we're building is being very, they're sociotechnical systems. Right? You can't look at just the technology. You can't look at just the people there either. There's a lot of back and forth and interplay there and on-call has gotten a lot scarier, right? Because you are encountering so many different new problems. You can't just like get trained on it. And after six months of doing it just. You're trained. It's cool. You know how to respond to everything that happens. There's a runbook. Like, there's no, runbooks where we're going. Right? Like the time that you spend on a runbook is largely wasted too, because like, you know, you don't see the same things break over and over again because you fix them. But there's just as many weird little ways that it can break like left for you to discover. I guarantee you so like, problems have gotten way more complex and open-ended, system's gotten bigger such that no one person can fit a model of it into their head and just reason about it. Like you used to just be able to close your eyes and imagine the request entering, you know, at the edge. And you can just visualize it. Boom, boom, boom, boom. And then it comes out, right? Oh, you can't do that anymore for most systems. And if you try, you'll be shooting yourself in the foot because you'll have an inaccurate cache of the data in your head and you really need to kind of give up and put this in a tool where everyone has equal access to it and it is more or less up to date. So like systems are getting harder, more complex. Uh you know less and less of it. Um, and, and the stakes are going up, right? So it's like a perfect storm. And in ops we have such a well deserved reputation for masochism for inflicting pain on ourselves and like the, the martyr complex and, you know, it's, it's deserved and like I'm over 30 now. I don't want to get woken up in the middle of the night either. Like, I'm so done with that.
Michaela: [00:10:26] So what do you think, can we do about that? What can we do to make it better?
Charity: [00:10:32] I feel like the first step is putting software engineers on call or at least in a position of ownership over their code. Because as it's getting harder and harder to operate software, um, it's getting harder to operate it unless you know what it is supposed to do, right? Unless you built it or unless you're updating it, and, and there's this beautiful virtuous feedback loop that gets created when the person who has that original intent in their heads is writing the code, you know, deploying it to a system, watching it, seeing how it performs. Well, real users are using it in production and fixing the problems that they see. But if you break that up so that the person who's writing the code, just kind of hits, you know, merge to master and walks away and doesn't, and doesn't follow it all the way out to production. Ooh! And if the person, who's trying to debug it doesn't have that original intent. It's just bad. You know, like there are so many pathologies that have come out of this whole, like breaking up this virtuous feedback loop and we're just starting, we're just starting to build it back up again and put people like in a position to see all the way through its life cycle.
Michaela: [00:11:46] Yeah. So I know that you aim and also measure productivity and high performance by the ability of a team to write code and ship it. Right? The, the time that actually, you know, passes from writing the piece of code that it's actually in production. That's also one of those measurements that's a very good indicator for well, for high-performing teams. Right? One of the things that I thought about is how do you think that, for example, QA departments or manual testing. How does that fit into this devOps life cycle? Where we, you know, we write the code and we ship it. When is the right time that, you know, manual testing takes place when are QA departments involved, or are they actually all obsolete, right?
Charity: [00:12:33] Yeah, they're not obsolete any more than, you know, people are always proclaiming that QA is dead or ops is dead and any we've still got software and it still breaks a lot. So I guarantee you, like, there's still a need for us, but these are becoming niche specialties. Right? Um, the, the general software engineer is expected to know how to write tests and. They're increasingly in, in, in my view, um, we like, it's like the first wave of DevOps was very much about yelling at ops people to learn, to write code and like message received, you know? Yes. We all write code now, but like the second wave of DevOps is, is still in its early stages. And it's really about, okay. Software engineers, like your turn. Now it's time for you to learn to build operable services and learn what it means to operate your software and learn how to build software that is maintainable. Build software that doesn't wake you up all the time, build software that's resilient, build software that is, you know, self-healing, build software that is understandable and well instrumented and all these things. And we're very early on in that. And like, SRE's, ops people like myself are increasingly force multipliers who know how to build systems really well. Right. And, and we can help you own your software. And I think the same is true of QA, where, you know, they're experts in testing. There's a lot of depth there that the average software engineer just has no clue even exists. And so for systems that have super high quality needs, um, you know, testers can come in and consult with engineers to help them test better. As for the stuff like, manual testing and so forth I feel pretty strongly that it can't be allowed to bring up this virtuous cycle and there are a lot of ways to get code into production first, um, without necessarily turning it on for all users, you know, there's feature flags, there's, you know, progressive deployments. There's, you know, there are lots of ways to do this, that don't break that up and make it so that you can't actually like complete the loop. I don't think that most people have started really fixing the organizations, but, but they gonna have to, because the companies that do move a lot faster, experiment a lot faster, make better progress and they will out-compete the people who don't.
Michaela: [00:15:07]I find it really interesting. You said I also would see that as staging areas, right? You would have maybe staging areas and then before it goes to production, or as you said, you have like switches that you only turn the code on for, you know, a subgroup of your users. How would you, as an expert in that field define what would be an optimal way to do that? Is there an optimal way for to
Charity: [00:15:28] Oh I hate staging. I tell people: do you really need staging? Can you turn it off? Like really? And I'm not actually that much of a radical, I'm not an abolitionist. I'm not saying everyone should get rid of teaching, but a lot of people who have staging areas don't really need them. And there's a real cost to keeping staging areas around. It is really hard to keep them in sync. Honestly, you can't keep them in sync and you probably shouldn't try. Um, It can be a huge black hole for engineering time, especially now that we have distributed systems where like, what are we going to spin up a copy of Facebook to test Facebook every time? No, they're not. And so, because it's not the same environment with the same, you know, load patterns the lessons that you learned from running things and staging are always going to be wrong. They might be useful to a limited degree. Where that stops is always up for debate. I feel like right now, people are just starting to realize how much they have been over- committing so many cycles to staging environments and fake environments and therefore starving production of the engineering cycles needed to do things like guardrails. So that the thing that you do default, the easy thing is the fastest thing is the most convenient thing. And it's the obvious thing. So that it's actually hard to do the wrong thing. The disastrous thing, the terrible thing that will, you know, delete all your data. To me, like the definition of a senior engineer is someone whose intuition and instincts I trust, right? The senior engineer is like "gasp I have a really bad feeling about this. I will stop the presses and we'll figure out why." Right? You only get that kind of intuition and instinct by spending a lot of time in production. You do not get it by spending time in staging. And in fact, your learn, like internal machine learning brain, um, Learning on staging environments learns the wrong corpus of data. It learns the wrong instincts about what's going to be slow versus fast. What's going to be hard to do. What's going to be easy to do it. It incorrectly learns that things are okay when they're not at scale. Uh, and it's just. It's it's, it's a net negative, honestly, it's, it's not useless. There are uses for it, but it's, it has a lot of costs that people don't really factor in.
Michaela: [00:17:58] So how much of this advice do you think is specific to a business or, you know, the size of the company?
Charity: [00:18:03] Everything is specific.
Michaela: [00:18:05] And do you think that something can be generalized from that?
Charity: [00:18:09] If there's something that can we generalize it's this, every single company, every company has in common is we have a limited number of engineering cycles, right? Even very large companies have a limited number of hours in the day,engineering cycles. And a lot of times the argument will get made: "Oh, we don't have time to do this in production." It seems extra, you know. And I argue, I have never seen a company that shouldn't move some of those cycles that are being spent on falsified environments, staging, and reallocate them to project. Like every company I know is under invested in, including mine, is underinvested in their deploy process, giving it to interns, giving it to people who are, you know, just kind of hacking shit together, you know, or clone something off of Github, "Ah this is good enough". You know, when that's the most important software in your company and every engineer should be able to deploy. Uh, and yet, you know, deploy code is unloved, is unmaintained. It is nobody. I don't know of anybody who's built a really, Oh, I know of one. Facebook has a really nice built system actually. Um, but you know, for people that are complaining that they don't have the time and energy: take some of the cycles away from stage, you can give them to prod and that can absolutely be generalized.
Michaela: [00:19:24] Okay and so you said even your, your own company doesn't give as much love to that area as it should be. Why is that? What do you think? Why are people not investing?
Charity: [00:19:36] Because we have seven engineers, we have seven engineers. And for the past year we've been like in, you know, hardcore sales enablement mode, trying to raise money, trying to get past this hump. And that means that we have to think very, very, you know, critically about what we're going to spend our time on and anything that is not for the, for the past six months, you know, anything that was not contributing towards getting new customers, onboarding customers faster got deprioritized. Now that we have gotten past the fundraising, we are starting to go back and pay down some of that tech debt we accrued.
Michaela: [00:20:12] So one of the things that I read on your blog, where you said rules actually inhibit the development of good judgment. And I think that says a lot about your team culture and your mentality. So, um, how would it look in, in your company? What policies, what rules do you have, or you don't have any policies or rules, how much, you know, how much empowerment have your engineers and things like that?
Charity: [00:20:38] You know, rules can, can be, you know, constraints can fuel creativity, but like the kind of rules I had in mind were like, you know, no deploys on Fridays. Well, that doesn't teach you why it's important or how to use your good judgment. It just tells you don't deploy on Fridays. And any other time is fine. Right? When in fact the more, the more subtle approach that I would like people to take is: anytime you're thinking of merging to master use your judgment. Is it seven o'clock at night? Is anyone else around? Are you about to walk out the door? If so, I don't care if it's Friday or Tuesday, like don't merge because you know it's going to get automatically deployed. I have a higher bar for merging things on Friday than I do for merging things on Thursday. Right. Um, and I feel like encouraging people to exercise this judgment and building incentives so that they feel the impact of the mistakes that they make. Yeah. That's nature's teacher and it's how you build good, thoughtful, careful engineers.
Michaela: [00:21:50] So you have been at Facebook and now you are leading that, uh, small startup. What's the main differences that you see, especially for the development of software. Right?
Charity: [00:22:03] Well, One of the reasons that I like small companies is because they run on a very human scale. Right. I love seeing everybody's face. They're just very special people to me. And I love seeing their faces makes me happy to be around them. I know them, you know, I can tell them having a bad day. Um, and it's very personal. Um, and at Facebook it was just like, you know, I was there for three years and I would still be walking down the hallway and recognizing almost nobody and yeah. You know Facebook is the only place in my entire career, the only time that I've ever like walked into a meeting room and had people like, look me up and down and go: "How technical are you again?" I was just like, fuck you. Like, I'm here representing a developer tool. I'm the only person from my company. Just give me the benefit of the doubt. You know, let's just assume, just round up shall we? I just, it was really annoying. Yeah.
Michaela: [00:23:01] Yeah. That's strange.
Charity: [00:23:02] It's not strange at all. It's Silicon Valley. I've gravitated towards smaller companies. So I've always, you know, people know who I am pretty quickly. Yeah. I'm not particularly shy or quiet. Um, and so I just never, I've never had to deal with that anonymity.
Michaela: [00:23:19] Do you think it's better in the smaller companies because people know who you are and know what you know, and you don't have to , you know, prove that all over again?
Charity: [00:23:27] You can't a hundred percent generalize here. People have had bad experiences at small companies where, you know, they're surrounded by people that they don't like, and it's very , You know, personal and they can't get away from them and it's terrible. Right. But I've had really good experiences honestly, in my career. So that's true for me. Another like, um, another big difference as far as developing software is you know, at the big companies, like. You know, Netflix, Facebook, Google, or there's a ginormous submerged like iceberg of tools you rely on every day without even knowing that they exist. And like, anytime you have the thought that something maybe should be better, somebody's already built it, or there's a team for that. And like, all you really have to do is stay in your lane and just churn out little chunks of things, which, you know, half the time your project gets canceled before it ever goes live. And that's just kind of, you just kind of learned to not get too emotionally attached to your work at a big company, because there are always these forces going on way above your head, above your pay grade, and you have no visibility into them. And sometimes they just hand down edicts that just totally screw you. And you just, you just have to not be too mad about it. Right. Whereas with, you know, with a tiny startup like ours, like. Everyone chooses their own work. You know, we set priorities for the company. We talk about what's important, there's a lot of, you know, interdependency, but there's a lot of autonomy. And we really, you know, we rely on everyone's creative brains coming to work and helping us figure problems out from scratch. And I find that a much more... It's just a lot more rewarding in terms of the type of work.
Michaela: [00:25:08] Yeah. So one of the things that you wrote about on your blog as well, it's one of the blog posts that really resonated with me was the engineering management: the pendulum or the ladder. And there you write about the pitfalls a developer can get themselves into when they pursue a management career. And reflect it at least, right? So that they are actually drifting away from the technical expertise and they still have to, you know, get to know their social skills or up their game in that area. And that after some time they are somehow in a space where it's hard to navigate away from that. Now that you are the lead of your company. Well, now you're the CTO, but at one point you were the CEO as well. Do you feel that you are also in the management position or are you very technical as well? And how do you keep that balance?
Charity: [00:26:02] You know, I spent six months bootstrapping the infrastructure and like building the first version of everything. And then since then, The biggest problems have all been not engineering problems. Yeah. They've been honestly, there's technical aspects to them. Like there's like trying to figure out, but it's a lot of, it's just like trying to figure out how to explain or convince or convey or break down or, or customize you know, advice or like how to, you know, how to roll the red carpet right up to a team's front door so that it, so that they don't have to do a lot of work to try and figure out how to incorporate us coz we have kind of done that work for them. You know, I really do think that not every senior engineer, but most every senior engineer should try management. Um, doesn't mean you have to manage a team, but you know, management is just a collection of skills and experiences and, you know, you can pick up some of them, like you can get, you can get an intern, you can get, you know, you can do some project management, you can do some product planning you can do, you know, and, and I really think that if you're on, if you're on the fence, you should try management. Give it two years because the skills you take back, even if it's not for you longterm, like doing that for a couple of years, putting down what you're good at is very humbling. It really forces because you to enter that beginner brain space again, which is very healthy, and having the experience of, you know, figuring out how to make a small herd of humans all go in the direction that you want them to, or that they need to. Like, it's learning how to inspire people and how to motivate people and how to think about and communicate with the people around you. And it will absolutely make you a better engineer. It'll make you better at anything you do if you are better at people. So I'm a big fan of just like. Demystifying that, you know, making it clear that it's not a promotion and if it's not a promotion, if it's just a career change, then it's not a demotion if you want to go back to being an engineer after that. Right? I think it's a very healthy way of looking at it. I think that hierarchies are mostly poisonous and it should be inverted or left to die. Um, so I, I do like thinking of it as a support role and a communication role, but I think that there is no such thing as a great senior technologist who does not have these skills.
Michaela: [00:28:30] Yeah. So I interviewed Leif Singer from Automattic or recently, and Automattic doesn't have, for example, the management roles as promotions. So it's just, as you said, it's a different career track. Right. And I like that very much. And Leif said exactly the same: if you don't like it, you can just switch back. Yeah, it doesn't matter. And then people choose that that are really good at it.
Charity: [00:28:53] Your Ego doesn't have to get wrapped up on it. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And then you get people managing, not because they get more money, they get more respect, they get more power. Those are not the people you want managing teams. Right? You want the people managing teams who, whose hearts are really in it and who really get joy out of helping others succeed. And I'll be honest. That's not me. Not really, you know, but, but I know that now. And I don't regret it and, and it's, and it's been wonderful to learn those skills. And, you know, I learned more about myself, learned more about those around me, and now I can choose whether or not it's worth it to me to, you know, work in a managerial role versus a technical role.
Michaela: [00:29:34] Yeah. So one of the things I wanted to discuss with you as well is the tech stack and the processes that you have at your company. Can you tell me a little bit, what tech stack do you use for Honeycomb to develop Honeycomb? And also if you do code reviews, if you do testing.
Charity: [00:29:51] Yeah. Um, we're, we're a big Golang shop. Um, we use GoLang for all of our backend services and the distributed column store that we wrote. Um, we use a lot of React on the front end. We have beelines, we have integration libraries for Ruby, Python, pretty much all the main languages that you would suspect. Uh, we run on AWS. I use RDS for our mySQL stuff, which is where we store the user data. Um, when events come in, they get dropped into the API, obviously, which is pretty dumb, thin layer. It takes them in and drops them into Kafka and Kafka delivers them to the right partitions and distributes them correctly. Uh, but also keeps, you know, a backlog of a few days. So if anything dropped or deleted or whatever we could can just play it off the Kafka queue, which is really nice. We use ALBs extensively. We are a microservices-ish shop. We use CircleCI for running continuous integrations. We absolutely do code reviews. Yeah. But we're, but we're not so much, you know, some places you have to like, you know, kind of get a lot of permission before you build anything. We're much more of a, you know, Oh, you feel inspired, cool! You know, go build it, come, you know, and we'll talk through it. We value communication very highly. Um, in fact, our engineering interviews, uh, the meat and potatoes of the engineering part of the interview is, you know, we give you a piece of code the night before your interview to take home and, you know, spend an hour or two on it, just extending it and improving it. Um, but that's not the interview and you're not supposed to finish because we don't care how perfect your code is. It's not about that. We want you to bring it in the next day and spend like 30, 40 minutes, just talking through it with a couple of your peers, like, and just telling us like why you made the decisions that you made, you know, what, what you kind of have earmarked as left to do, um, what are the trade offs between this versus that choice? You know, because we figured that anybody who can talk through the problem can definitely solve it and the reverse is not necessarily true. There are a lot of great engineers out there who do not value and prioritize communication that we do the way that we do. Uh, and, and it's just, we don't think less of them. It's just, it's not the way that we've chosen to build our team because we believe that to build high performing teams it's incredibly important that you be able to talk to each other and learn from your mistakes.
Michaela: [00:32:25] And how does that work at Honeycomb? are you all in the same office? Are you all co-located or is there other distributed people? Remote people?
Charity: [00:32:35] Yeah. We're about 25 to 30% distributed. And I suspect that this is the year where that goes up to about 50%.
Michaela: [00:32:43] And do you measure somehow, um, several aspects of your code base? Do you have some metrics that you, you know, that you pay attention to? Code coverage, for example, or technical depth metrics or things like that?
Charity: [00:32:56] You know, the metrics that we pay attention to are like, how often are they getting alerted outside of work hours? And how often are they getting woken up? Cause we have an engineering on call rotation that includes everyone. And it's very, very important to us that, you know, we aim for no more than like 1 alert a week outside of business hours. And people shouldn't get woken up more than like once a year. Cause it's so expensive for you in terms of your burnout, your motivation, your energy, and your ability to be a human being.
Michaela: [00:33:31] So one of the things that I asked on Twitter is what people would like to ask me to ask you. And I had a really great question. And that question was: what do you think about managing incident communication publicly versus only internally?
Charity: [00:33:47] Oh, I'm a big fan of doing it publicly. And it's funny because I've really advocated transparency at every job I've been at because engineers love to hear the nitty gritty details. It builds trust. My managers would always be like, no, if we say this, they're going to think that we're stupid. We don't know what we're doing and all this stuff. So we're going to make up something that sounds obfuscated. I'm like, that does not earn you trust with engineers. That does not mean you trust it all. It's the opposite, right? And all of us have had the experience of doing dumb things. It's not gonna, they're not gonna think less of us. They're going to think less of us if it's a mystery to them. Um, so finally I have my own company, so there's nobody telling me I can't do it. So we, we have like every time that we have had an outage, we've done a postmortem. And in fact, um, You know, a couple of times ago, we actually took all of the, you know, the event analytical data from the outage and we imported it into the dataset that's now if you go to honeycomb.io/play. so anyone can, you know, we did some modification of the details, like app names, but anyone can slice and dice and look at how we debugged this problem and see if you can debug it faster or better than we did. Right. I'm a huge believer in transparency. I think that if you get started that way, um, there's no, you know, shock. Like I think if, if you're trying to switch midstream, people can sometimes be surprised, but why lie? Like, it's just, it's better for everyone if we can learn from each other's mistakes.
Michaela: [00:35:18] So that's the technical aspect, right? I'm also a little bit engaged in the startup scene and, um, in the open startups as well. So what do you think about sharing, for example, revenue and things like that? Are you doing that with Honeycomb and what do you think about that?
Charity: [00:35:38] We do it informally to users. We haven't posted it anywhere. That's a little bit more... kinda like it's kind of like salaries, right? Like it needs to be done well, or it will screw you. Like nobody wants to be your first customer, you know, big customers are always going to eye you and go, are you really going to be around long enough? Yeah. You know, and so you get into this chicken or the egg thing where, where you can't get any, because you don't have any. And revenue stuff also really doesn't tell the full story, right? It doesn't tell the full context. And if everyone shared all this detail, it would be demystified and it would be fine. But if you're the only one sharing this detail, then it becomes a competitive disadvantage because your competitors will use it to crush you. Um, so, you know, and I'm, I'm not like a transparency zealot. I celebrate people's individual right to privacy, Right? There are plenty of things that I wouldn't go around saying just because I'm like that deserves to be private, but I do feel like a default of leaning towards openness is the easier way in the long run because it fosters the right kind of humility and an openness to critique. Like I do. I see that organizations and people suffer when they, when they are trying to pretend that they're something other than they are, because they feel like something bad will happen, you know? And I just feel like it's easier if you, if you just make a practice of being forthright.
Michaela: [00:37:22] So one of the things that you mentioned at the beginning is that you actually got funding for Honeycomb. How did that go? How did you find your investors? How did you approach them? Was this a long process? You know, how, how do we go about that?
Charity: [00:37:36] You mean the most recent round or the first one or...
Michaela: [00:37:39] Maybe the first one is the most interesting one. And then I am also interested in the recent one. Yes.
Charity: [00:37:45] Honestly, it kind of makes me angry. leaving Facebook is the first and only time in my life that I have had investors just basically pursuing me saying, would you like some money to do something? I've never really had a pedigree, you know, I didn't go to MIT. I didn't go to Google. I don't like big companies. Um, and so it kind of makes me grit my teeth that, you know, I wasn't a better engineer coming out of Facebook. I wasn't better at anything really. Um, except for navigating big company bureaucracies. So it irritates me that that is what gave me the nod that people are just like, Oh, maybe you would like millions of dollars now. You know, I think it's really unfair and unwise. Um, but I also felt like, well, this is never going to happen again. So I kind of have a moral obligation to take the money and do something with this. But you know, but, but we had nothing, we had three slides and it was all bullshit. Right. Um, and, and then we did an extension round and that time, you know, we were out of money, so we had to raise, but. We had had to spend that first year and a half writing a storage engine, not talking to users and working on the UI and UX and all this stuff. So, you know, like in a lot of ways it feels like even though we're coming on four years, it's more like we're at the 18 month mark as a company because of, you know, that protracted early period of, of, you know, preparation. Um, so, you know, we, we raised money. And I think that, you know, we raised from a couple of financial investors and they are great guys. I think that they thought that we were going to be a different company than we are. And to be fair, we probably thought that too, like I think that there was an expectation that it would be much more like a drop-in replacement for unstructured logs. Just like here, you can put it in anywhere you've got an elk stack and we'll do it faster and easier and better. Right. And boy did that, not turn out to be who we are. Uh, so, you know this, this most recent round, um, is the round where I feel like it all finally kind of came together. We know who we are, we know who our customers are. We know how we're trying to change the world. We know it's a ten year journey. You know, it's much like CICD you know, we're at square one. Uh, but we figured out where square one is. Um, and I'm really happy with the investor we got this round because he used to be a director of engineering at Netflix. There are videos of him out there giving talks about observability at Velocity conf. You know, he really, anytime that you've been around as a company for four years, and you haven't like reached like meteoric growth, you know, everybody's excuses or reasons start to sound the same. And I remember telling Christina a year ago, I'm like: "if we raise this round, It's going to be from an investor who has an engineering background, because they are the only ones who are really equipped to understand why the things that we're saying about the world are true and inevitable. So that it doesn't just sound Like we're making excuses." It took a long time. It took a long time to create that awareness, you know, cause people have been told for years that high cardinality, it was impossible and that this is the best you get. And, and it took a long time for, for us to like kind of show the distance between where, where we are and where we could be as an industry.
Michaela: [00:41:25] Yeah, I think it's great that you feel that you finally are where you belong and that the market, and also your tooling is ready for the next generation of observability and monitoring of systems. So Charity, I think we are at the end of the show, it was such a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you for being on my show.
Charity: [00:41:44] Oh, this has been delightful. Thank you so much.
Michaela: [00:41:46] Yeah. Thank you. Bye bye.
Charity: [00:41:48] My pleasure. Bye.
Michaela: [00:41:51] I hope you enjoyed another episode of the software engineering unlocked podcast. Don't forget to subscribe. And I'll talk to you again in two weeks. Bye!
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