rtyler

Zooming out to Platform Engineering at Scribd

The team that I joined Scribd to build, Core Platform is now up and running with five incredibly talented people. I could not be more pleased with the very friendly and highly functional group of people we have been able to assemble. With that team’s projects underway, my focus has been shifting, zooming out to “Platform Engineering” as a comprehensive part of the engineering group. In this post, I want to expand on what Platform Engineering is planned to be and discuss some of the teams and their responsibilities.

I was hired as the “Director of Platform Engineering”, which at the time was an especially ostentatious title considering an entire group didn’t yet exist. It was so wacky that “Director” has been something I’m almost ashamed to reference. It is not in my email signature and it doesn’t show up in Slack; I don’t want it to interfere with my ability to discuss ideas or hack on something with my colleagues. The role did however have intent behind it: for me to focus on growing the organization. A big challenge which I’m fastidiously working towards addressing. As currently scoped the teams which compose Platform Engineering are:

  • Core Platform, provides foundational infrastructure to help Scribd scale applications and data.
  • Data Engineering, treats data as a product, ensuring that high quality data sets are accessible to internal users.
  • Ruby Infrastructure, helps Scribd adopt or upstream major ecosystem changes which will improve organizational and operational performance of Ruby and Rails.

Defining the scope and charters for these team has been a rather interesting exercise. Figuring out with the Infrastructure, Data Science, and Internal Tools teams where the edges of our respective responsibilities lie is one of those good healthy debates every organization should have as it grows. A year ago much of engineering was flat with lots of generalists, compare that to today where both Product and Engineering groups are learning that specialization when appropriately applied can be quite helpful.

What has also been personally challenging about hiring in Data Engineering is my relative inexperience in the field. My jam has always been backend service infrastructure. Across the industry we’re seeing data infrastructure melt into backend production infrastructure. Scribd is no different, but we have a lot of work to do, changing from a mindset of “dumping in the data lake” to where Product and other parts of Engineering are viewing data as a more integral part of their work. Both in generating clean data but also by utilizing derived data sets to make more personalized or responsive user experiences.

The barriers between “data platform” and “production engineering” remind me of the now outdated silos between application developers and operations engineers. I’m not sure what to call it, DevDataOps? Maybe DataDevOps?

I’ll have to figure out the hashtag later.

Anyways, like Core Platform, Data Engineering and Ruby Infrastructure are also intended to be fully remote teams. I maintain that it is better to hire the best people available rather than the best people “around here.” Hiring remotely forces the organization to confront all of the collaboration and communication problems that many growing companies ignore until it’s too late. Recording meeting notes, sharing knowledge, pair problem solving, capturing decisions, discussing project roles and responsibilities, all of these are crucial for effective remote work and they are all unsurprisingly qualities of effective colocated teams too.

The work we have done thus far in Core Platform I believe sets a strong precedent for other teams within Platform Engineering and outside of it. We have patterns of work defined and documented, which will make each successive remote team we hire at Scribd that much easier to get up and running.

While we’re hiring across the board (who isn’t) the folks I am specifically hiring for are:

We’re also hiring an Infrastructure Team Manager who I would be working heavily with.

If you’re curious about these roles, or Platform Engineering type things, please email me: rtyler at brokenco.de

If you’re not curious about those roles, but want to share thoughts on remote engineering, you can also email me for that too! At some point I want to write down all the patterns and practices I have learned, adopted, or stopped using over the past five years for building successful remote engineering organizations. That idea is pending a surplus of spare time which isn’t currently in the budget however. :)


I have been afforded a lot of leeway by my boss to publicly discuss not only the projects that we’re working on, but a bit of the work we’re doing behind the scenes. Over the coming months I’m looking forward to sharing even more about what scaling up an organization like Scribd requires, where we’ve failed, and where we’re succeeding.