Track: Culture as a Differentiator


Day of week:

Culture influences every action and interaction at a company. Savvy leaders recognize this and focus on defining their company’s culture, as a strong culture will guide a group better than any individual can. Culture is also an emergent property of people working together. It evolves as a company grows, shifts, and experiences the ups and downs of its market. Strong leaders recognize this, too, and are intentional with adapting their culture to a changing environment.

In this track we’ll hear about a diverse set of engineering cultures and experiences. We’ll learn how engineering cultures get defined, lived out, and adapted over time. We’ll highlight the similarities between cultures but also the differences, as those provide insight into the unique elements that drive a given culture. Attendees will be informed, challenged, and empowered to shape the engineering culture in their workplace.

Track Host:
Philip Fisher-Ogden
Director of Engineering @Netflix
Philip Fisher-Ogden is the Director of Engineering for Playback Services at Netflix, responsible for systems that ensure every play-request to Netflix results in a play. His systems are the front door that supports the delivery of over two billion hours of streaming video per month, accounting for one third of US downstream Internet traffic. Prior to Netflix, Philip explored the impact technology could have on education as a Teach for America teacher, and then traveled from startup to national lab to graduate school before his love for movies won out and brought him to Netflix. Philip received a BS degree from UCSD and MS degree from UC Davis, where he focused on databases and information systems.

Trackhost Interview

QCon: Philip, could you tell us a bit about your background?

Philip: The connecting theme across the roles and domains I’ve worked in over my career is a mix of technology, leadership, and education.  From being a teacher in an underprivileged area to being a part of a start-up and from a federal lab to now being a part of Netflix, I’ve gotten to see leadership in various different forms. I’ve also had the chance to see technology  in various forms, including technology in a classroom, technology for the community, and now technology for consumers at Netflix. 

I’ve enjoyed all of that, and love my current role at Netflix with its focus on technology and leadership. So I’m happy to be a part of QCon's Culture track, blending these two dimensions (leadership and technology) together.

QCon: Could you tell us a bit about your QCon San Francisco track?

Philip: The overall theme is Culture as a Differentiator, which means, "How do you see culture as a key part of what your organization or group needs to succeed?" 

It’s not just the things that you’re working on, but it’s how you are working together. It’s the implicit relationships and the expectations that are set between people. 

I want the track to tell a story across our industry, looking at how both small and big companies approach culture, how they shape it and grow it over time, and how it’s become a competitive advantage to them.

To give you some examples of the type of talks we’ll feature, we have an engineering manager from Google confirmed, who has been a part of their people operations research and has been looking at what are the data-driven ways that they can create the elements of a successful team. He’s going to speak on his experience as well as what Google’s been able to do.  

We’ve got somebody from a start-up who’s seen a 10x growth from the size they started with, and he will look at changes you make as you grow while keeping an innovative spirit. He'll also be looking at how you can have an environment that works with a successful, highly geographically-distributed team. Most of his company doesn't work in the same physical location and that creates unique challenges, such as how do you create an environment that it’s inclusive in that kind of a space?

Those are a couple of examples from the track.

QCon: What are some of the things that the engineers coming to your track would walk away with?

Philip: My goal is that engineers walk away with two things. The first is being informed and the second is being empowered. 

By informed I mean that I want them to gain an understanding from experts or leaders in the field of what they’ve done at their companies and their career journeys to be successful. This provides a picture of what reality could be for them.

Empowered means I want everyone to walk away feeling like they can bring change to their company. I’d like them to feel they can be somebody talking about the importance of culture and providing examples that their company can learn and grow from. 

This way, we can extend the learnings and impact outside of the track to help people that come to QCon be able to improve their environments and be more successful.

10:35am - 11:25am

Open Space
11:50am - 12:40pm

by Jim Plush
Sr Director of Engineering @CrowdStrike

In many startups innovation abounds… until you get customers. Customers have practical needs that don't always line up with working on the exciting projects that made you join a startup in the first place. Balancing both is crucial to succeeding.

CrowdStrike is a big data computer security startup that has seen rapid growth in the past few years launching from 30 people to over 450 people across the globe, processing petabytes of data at millions of events per second, backed by...

1:40pm - 2:30pm

by Matt Sakaguchi
Site Reliability Manager @Google

Over the years, researchers have conducted numerous studies on team dynamics. At Google, our People Analytics sought to identify those attributes that set effective teams apart from ineffective ones. The driver was that while so much of work at Google is done on teams, Googlers are rated individually; there was a gap. We felt that if we could distinguish the good from the bad, we could embark on a program to improve.

We made some surprising discoveries; many of our "common sense"...

2:55pm - 3:45pm

by Neha Batra
Software Engineer @Pivotal

The benefits of pair programming are well-known but enabling it is hard. It is clear that incorporating it into the workplace sustainably requires a fundamental shift in culture. After working at 2 startups who implemented different versions of pair programming, I came to Pivotal Labs with my own stories and preconceived notions. Pivotal Lab's engineers (and sometimes designers and product managers) pair program 8hours/day every workday and help enable other companies to practice it with us...

4:10pm - 5:00pm

by Nam Nguyen
VP of Engineering @Facebook

When personal motivations trump company goals, it can hinder a company’s ability to get things done. Since our earliest days at Facebook, we’ve been mindful about not letting office maneuvering poison work life. We’d seen the negative effects that certain kinds of political behavior can have when they creep into office life, and we wanted to make sure we didn’t let them creep into ours.

This presentation will go over the Facebook stories of the past and present on how we have managed...

5:25pm - 6:15pm

by Alexandre Freire Kawakami
Agile Coach @IndustrialLogic

The workplace idiosyncrasies of highly successful companies, like Google, Facebook and Netflix, suggest that culture is the great differentiator. However, despite the tantalizing example set by these innovators, too many companies still manage teams and people as if it were the 1800s, treating workers like substitutable cogs in a factory. Others struggle, copying rituals like "20% time" without getting the benefits they seek.

What if our industry's working cultures changed at the same...



Monday Nov 7

Tuesday Nov 8

Wednesday Nov 9