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Leveling up people, process, tools, and documentation

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Company Type
Ad tech
Location
Durham, NC
Challenge
Scaling platform automation for enterprise market
Solution
Upskilling team, process improvements
Outcome
Evolution of engineering team culture, practices

Adwerx was launched in 2013 in Durham, North Carolina to revolutionize digital advertising for real estate professionals. The team at Adwerx, ranked one of the fastest growing private companies in America, is committed to providing digital marketing tools that are affordable and accessible to small businesses.

Adwerx reached out to thoughtbot Raleigh-Durham to help revisit some of their more complex product architecture and look for ways to optimize code to handle their rapidly scaling customer base. What they didn’t anticipate was how mentorship from thoughtbot would transform their engineering team culture, processes, capabilities, and ultimately, output.

“ We had a great nucleus of talent that was missing out on senior mentorship around tools and best practices. Working with thoughtbot not only activated the potential within the team, it accelerated it. ”

Josh Bielick, CTO, Adwerx Josh Bielick, CTO, Adwerx

Challenge

Leading up to working with thoughtbot, the Adwerx advertising platform was at an exciting and critical point in it’s evolution - they were just starting to scale their enterprise automation to new levels. This meant an incredible 10x increase in the campaigns they were running for users which calculated to a 100x jump in technology impact as far as the number of API calls.

It was obvious that Adwerx engineering, a team of about 20, had done a stellar job of building the solution to reach this impressive milestone of capabilities and growth. Engineering leadership had the foresight to understand the next phase of work and growth would not only require revisiting the stability of their architecture, but also the culture of the engineering team itself.

The Adwerx engineering team values fostering a healthy, supportive, and collaborative team, rooted in continuous learning of best practices. Because of those values, Josh Bielick, CTO, and Reed Emmons, VP Engineering, questioned whether they could be doing better, and worried that a period of extreme high-growth and the pressures for speed of delivery at scale could threaten practices around quality.

Solution

The thoughtbot team met with the Adwerx engineering leadership to start digging into the product architecture, testing systems being used, internal documentation and processes, as well as meet with individual team members working on the product. What emerged early on in the engagement was the realization that the best return on investment that thoughtbot could offer was to focus on pain points in the ecosystem around the product - the people, processes, tools, and documentation.

thoughtbot and the Adwerx engineers practiced pair programming, an agile development technique in which two programmers work together at one workstation, and ran code reviews together. thoughtbot also led lunch and learns for the team, reviewed pull requests, and emphasized a focus on test driven design and documentation for testing.

thoughtbot and Adwerx worked on lowering the barrier to running tests. The team had an existing test suite of 6,000 tests but no one felt comfortable updating the code and the tests had become very difficult to work with. This made it hard (and intimidating) to write new tests.

Outcome

Bringing in thoughtbot doubled Adwerx’s capacity for code reviews and training but more importantly, the team became aligned around the engineering leadership’s vision and the best practices needed to work towards that vision - including methods for respectful and productive communication when working through complex challenges.

“ thoughtbot taught us how to be vulnerable as a team, because that’s the only way to learn and grow as an organization. ”

Reed Emmons, VP Engineering, Adwerx Reed Emmons, VP Engineering, Adwerx

They also bootstrapped a completely new, fast, low-barrier test suite which has led to a higher standard for code quality. The discomfort of using the old test suite has been replaced with confidence throughout the team to write and use tests that elevate the quality of the product.

Across all levels of the Adwerx developers, from Junior to Senior, the feedback has been consistent - thoughtbot helped them become better developers.

“ We started out just wanting another senior developer to plug in and I’m glad we ended up with an expert mentor who leveled-up our whole team. thoughtbot doesn’t want to just make a product and leave, they’re passionate about improving your whole organization while they help you create something new. It’s really unique. ”

Reed Emmons, VP Engineering Reed Emmons, VP Engineering

In 2018, Adwerx was named one of Inc. Magazine's best places to work. thoughtbot and Adwerx continue to collaborate on the ever-growing Adwerx platform.

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