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The Surprising Challenges and Joys of Building a Software Development Team in an NREN

Time 10/16/17 02:30PM-03:20PM

Room Seacliff D

Session Abstract

Most technologists would probably agree that the future of NRENs revolves around Software Defined Networking, OTT / above-the-net style products and increasing levels of automation. These all demand increasing breadth and depth of software development capabilities.

As it stands, however, Software development for many NRENs follows the old-style pattern of one or two people with good programming skills, massive organizational and contextual history and deep networking knowledge (this not being normally present in off-the-shelf coders). But this approach doesn’t scale – project work just backs up in year long queues waiting for availability. How to grow from those skeleton outfits to proper software development teams? Does it suffice to “just add more developers”?

Well, it seems not. At AARNet, we’re one year into a three-year journey to scale out the depth and breadth of our software development team. We never expected it to be a “just add water” solution, nevertheless we had plenty of surprises along the way. In AARNet’s past, most projects were a one-person job (even if they really weren’t!) and that one individual was the product owner, developer, tester, maintainer, ops person, project manager.

As we began upscaling projects to team sizes of 3-5-8 people, the major scaling quirk we stumbled on turned out to be communications. Specifically, the Babel that ensues when old guard team members (the ones with 10+ years of convoluted Rube Goldberg machine business logic in their heads) suddenly have to communicate appropriate context to developers who are smart but still newly recruited.

What follows initially is a comedy of errors of misaligned assumptions (“why did we build a usage quota system that turns off an interface but never turns it back on?”). But, as we progressed, this transparency and injection of new ideas revealed previous hidden problems with the way things had been done and proceeded to lift the entire organization’s maturity – how we develop new products, how to better understand true needs of our researchers, how to empirically measure success of new products or features, and when and how to transition a product or feature from best-efforts to loose SLAs to bullet proof carrier-grade service.

AARNet will share its learnings so far for other NRENs who may be about to embark on similar journeys.


Speaker Hindrik Buining AARNet (Australia’s Academic and Research Network)

Presentation Media

Primary track Web-Scale Computing

Secondary tracks Applications for Research

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