You are viewing content from a past/completed QCon -

Presentation: Am I a Brilliant Jerk?

Track: The Whole Engineer

Location: Ballroom BC

Day of week: Tuesday

Slides: Download Slides

Level: Beginner

Persona: Architect, Chaos/Resiliency/SRE, CTO/CIO/Leadership, Data Engineering, Data Scientist, Developer, Developer, .NET, Developer, JVM, DevOps Engineer, Front-end Developer, General Software, ML Engineer, Mobile Developer, Security Professional, Technical Engineering Manager, UX Designer

What You’ll Learn

  • Why brilliant jerks are devastating to teams.
  • How to tell if you’re a brilliant jerk.

Abstract

Netflix’s culture memo famously says, “On a dream team, there are no brilliant jerks. The cost to teamwork is just too high.” Well, what is a brilliant jerk? If the cost to teamwork is high, what are some examples of the cost?

This presentation will focus on the jerk part of “brilliant jerk” and leave the brilliant calculation for another talk. We will spend a majority of the time on Emotional Intelligence and why it matters in developing and operating software systems effectively. Opinions and perspective will be drawn from my experience as an engineer and then manager at Netflix. I’ll provide my answers for the first two questions: what is and why you can’t afford to have a brilliant jerk. I’ll also provide criteria I’ve used to self-assess and answer the most important question: “Am I a brilliant jerk?”

Question: 

What is the focus of your work?

Answer: 

I manage a team called playback API. When the customer sits down in front of their Netflix device and presses the play button, what they see and hear on the screen is our responsibility.

Question: 

What is your motivation for this talk?

Answer: 

When I joined Netflix seven years ago, I read the culture deck, the point about brilliant jerks really stood out to me. At the time, I had an intuition of what I thought the phrase meant, I had worked with people you might describe as challenging. But, I didn't fully appreciate the wisdom behind the statement.

Throughout my time at Netflix, first as an engineer then as a manager, I’ve built up an appreciation for why “no brilliant jerks” is so important to our culture. The motivation for my talk is to share my experience with others, so they can fully appreciate the wisdom.

Question: 

Who should come to your talk?

Answer: 

Anyone who works on a software team and wants to improve their culture. Or if you think you have a brilliant jerk on your team or have a secret notion that you may be a brilliant jerk yourself.

Question: 

What can people take away from this talk?

Answer: 

I’m not just presenting an argument for why you don't want a brilliant jerk on the team, but I’m also going to talk through what to do if you have one or if you are one. People can change, we can rehab brilliant jerks.

Question: 

What keeps you up at night?

Answer: 

On the playback API one of the things that we've been considering is moving from a stateless to a stateful architecture. The motivation for us to move in that direction is to achieve sublinear scale. But, moving in that direction is not an easy trade off. Stateless systems tend to be simple versus stateful systems which tend to be more complex. Managing state is a hard problem. Moreover, we've built up best practices and lessons learned for stateless, we're going to be throwing away a lot of these if we transition to stateful.

Speaker: Justin Becker

Engineering Manager @Netflix

Justin Becker is an Engineering Manager for the Playback API team at Netflix. He has worked at Netflix for 7 years, the first 5 years as an Engineer. His focus is building scalable, high availability, services running in a cloud environment.

Find Justin Becker at

Last Year's Tracks

  • Monday, 16 November

  • Architecting for Confidence: Building Resilient Systems

    Your system will fail. Build systems with the confidence to know when they do and you won’t.

  • Remotely Productive: Remote Teams & Software

    More and more companies are moving to remote work. How do you build, work on, and lead teams remotely?

  • Operating Microservices

    Building and operating distributed systems is hard, and microservices are no different. Learn strategies for not just building a service but operating them at scale.

  • Distributed Systems for Developers

    Computer science in practice. An applied track that fuses together the human side of computer science with the technical choices that are made along the way

  • The Future of APIs

    Web-based API continue to evolve. The track provides the what, how, and why of future APIs, including GraphQL, Backend for Frontend, gRPC, & ReST

  • Resurgence of Functional Programming

    What was once a paradigm shift in how we thought of programming languages is now main stream in nearly all modern languages. Hear how software shops are infusing concepts like pure functions and immutablity into their architectures and design choices.

  • Tuesday, 17 November

  • Social Responsibility: Implications of Building Modern Software

    Software has an ever increasing impact on individuals and society. Understanding these implications helps build software that works for all users

  • Non-Technical Skills for Technical Folks

    To be an effective engineer, requires more than great coding skills. Learn the subtle arts of the tech lead, including empathy, communication, and organization.

  • Clientside: From WASM to Browser Applications

    Dive into some of the technologies that can be leveraged to ultimately deliver a more impactful interaction between the user and client.

  • Languages of Infra

    More than just Infrastructure as a Service, today we have libraries, languages, and platforms that help us define our infra. Languages of Infra explore languages and libraries being used today to build modern cloud native architectures.

  • Mechanical Sympathy: The Software/Hardware Divide

    Understanding the Hardware Makes You a Better Developer

  • Paths to Production: Deployment Pipelines as a Competitive Advantage

    Deployment pipelines allow us to push to production at ever increasing volume. Paths to production looks at how some of software's most well known shops continuous deliver code.

  • Wednesday, 18 November

  • Java, The Platform

    Mobile, Micro, Modular: The platform continues to evolve and change. Discover how the platform continues to drive us forward.

  • Security for Engineers

    How to build secure, yet usable, systems from the engineer's perspective.

  • Modern Data Engineering

    The innovations necessary to build towards a fully automated decentralized data warehouse.

  • Machine Learning for the Software Engineer

    AI and machine learning are more approachable than ever. Discover how ML, deep learning, and other modern approaches are being used in practice by Software Engineers.

  • Inclusion & Diversity in Tech

    The road map to an inclusive and diverse tech organization. *Diversity & Inclusion defined as the inclusion of all individuals in an within tech, regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, race, age, sexual orientation, and physical or mental fitness.

  • Architectures You've Always Wondered About

    How do they do it? In QCon's marquee Architectures track, we learn what it takes to operate at large scale from well-known names in our industry. You will take away hard-earned architectural lessons on scalability, reliability, throughput, and performance.