How to build an engineering-first culture

24.10.19

by Hermione Wright

We hear the term bandied about all the time, but what does it mean? Deltatre’s Max Ramsay and Dominic De Lorenzo have their say – and explain how a true engineering-first culture is integral to Deltatre’s success

24.10.19

by Hermione Wright

We hear the term bandied about all the time, but what does it mean? Deltatre’s Max Ramsay and Dominic De Lorenzo have their say – and explain how a true engineering-first culture is integral to Deltatre’s success

‘Engineering-first culture’. It sounds good, doesn’t it? We’re not the only ones to think so – almost everywhere you look, the term is blazoned like a badge of honour across tech company websites, LinkedIn profiles, and job specs.

But, it’s all very well to say a company functions in a certain way. What does this so-called ‘engineering-first culture’ actually mean? Why is it important for a tech company to have it? And finally, how does it transcend the in vogue buzzword to become a tangible reality within Deltatre?

What is an engineering-first culture?

#1. Products and services at the centre

It sounds simple – and it is. A true engineering-first culture does exactly what its name suggests; it places engineering at the heart of the company. “We’ve geared our business around our products, services, and the engineering that’s around them,” says Deltatre’s OTT Division | Chief Product & Technology Officer, Max Ramsay. “If we get the products right, then customers will always be happy.”

And once a successful product or service has been created, everything else – from sales to marketing, to operations, just “flows”, says Max. It’s only when a company deviates from this culture that the results can be “cataclysmic” in terms of quality of output, he says.

#2. Smashing silos

“I think it even goes deeper than that,” says Dominic De Lorenzo, Senior Vice President of Products of Deltatre’s OTT Division. For Dominic, this emphasis on products, services, and the engineering that underpins them must be a company-wide philosophy. “Having an engineering-first culture at the heart of the business helps to permeate all other processes,” he says. The importance of engineering must not be a view held by engineers alone – it should be a belief that breaks silos and infiltrates every industry sector.

#3. Being able to adapt

A truly engineering-first culture avoids strict structures or ways of working, instead encouraging engineers to adapt to evolving technologies. This belief that there is another way – and that following the same tried and tested route is not the right answer – must be entrenched at the highest level. “It must be in the management culture,” says Dominic.

Experimenting with new techniques prior to solving a problem is one step, but the company must then continue to evolve once the products or services have been built. “When products and services are released, it really does affect the way the rest of the business adapts – even down to billing cycles,” says Max.

It’s always an incredibly challenging environment to hire really good software engineers – that’s no secret. But, emphasising how much we believe in an engineering-first culture can really help people to understand who we are.

Max Ramsay
OTT Division | Chief Product & Technology Officer

Why does it matter?

#1. Grows customer satisfaction

Placing emphasis on the creation of products can also boost quality. “Customers end up with better products and better delivery of those products into their environments,” says Max. “It’s a busy market and you can’t really put that to the side and still expect to succeed.”

#2. Improves profitability

Ultimately, creating better products and services will go some way to securing more business. “It helps you to get your technology right – and to sell it,” says Max.

#3. Builds transparency

If the people within the company are dedicated to building the best possible products, then a natural consequence is building customer trust. “People trust us because we’re transparent about what we’re doing,” says Max. It means both the company and the client are united in the same goal. “Being transparent really helps to strengthen customer relationships,” says Dominic.

#4. Attracts and retains talent

A culture that welcomes experimentation will also inevitably encourage the best engineering talent to apply – and stay – at a company. However, even with a strong engineering-first culture, this can be difficult to get right.

“It’s always an incredibly challenging environment to hire really good software engineers – that’s no secret,” says Max. “But, emphasising how much we believe in an engineering-first culture can really help people to understand who we are.”

If people feel like they’re supported, an engineering-first culture is being cultivated, and they feel at home in their environment, the output is astronomically higher.

Dominic De Lorenzo
OTT Division | Senior Vice President of Products

How to foster an engineering-first culture

#1. Encourage innovation

Especially in the technology industry, answers are rarely set in stone. By encouraging experimentation and innovative thinking, you’re more likely to foster the best ideas. “We explain which part of our products are locked, and which areas should be extended, customised, and configured for our customers,” says Dominic.

Knowing that the engineers within the company are free – and encouraged – to come up with their own creative approaches helps the company to remain at the forefront of innovation.

#2. Champion autonomy

The best leaders give their teams the freedom to come up with their own ideas. However that atmosphere is fostered, giving engineers the tools to make independent decisions can be beneficial.

At Deltatre, agile squads are formed of engineers, designers, business analysts, testers, and product owners to encourage different ideas and points of view. “What’s critical to that is ensuring those squads have autonomy,” says Dominic. “They run like individual start-ups,” says Max.

#3. Hire the right people

Most businesses are only as strong as the people within them, and so hiring the right people – even within a challenging hiring climate – couldn’t be more important. “If people feel like they’re supported, an engineering-first culture is being cultivated, and they feel at home in their environment, the output is astronomically higher,” says Dominic.

#4. Let your engineers inspire others!

Whatever internal structures are in place to build a strong engineering-first culture, the most important asset are the engineers themselves. “Engineers inspire other engineers – it’s all about snowballing opportunities to share work, etc. without having to force it,” says Dominic.

What do you think it means to have an engineering-first culture? Why is it important? How do you think this culture can be fostered? Let us know on LinkedIn or Twitter @deltatre.

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