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Transforming Medidata with DevOps and simplicity

Metadata is a US organization that  focuses on the digital transformation of Life Sciences by developing SAS products for clinical trials.

In this webinar, Erik Johs, Senior Director of software engineering, takes us through Metadata’s journey of changing the impact and culture of their dev teams.

Read on for some highlights.

Key highlights

Erik starts the webinar by painting a pretty recognizable picture of what it’s like to create, control and iterate in a large, heavily regulated organization. If you work within industries such as finance, medical or data security, the setup and challenges may sound familiar.

“We were releasing about once a month, maybe once every two months with most of our services,” says Erik. “That was causing a huge number of challenges. Just the breadth of what we returned during the release made them very tedious and very scary.”

The burden of perfectionism in DevOps

With so many dependencies across monolithic applications, the necessary pressure for “driving for perfect” meant Metadata’s teams can face an intimidating number of JIRA steps to validate every single release, and prove each release safe. 

“Keeping things in sync was a lot of manual steps with a lot of people trying to keep things in sync,” Erik says. “Meaning lots of error, error prone pieces and processes as a whole. With that fear of trying to deliver perfect and knowing, oh, you know, we could mess things up. And we don’t want that.”

Alongside heavy, high-pressure processes, the desire for absolute perfectionism in each release was creating arguably one of the most frustrating problems of them all: Significantly reduced speed.

“Having people sit around waiting for something to redeploy for 30 minutes was just  adding to the additional stress of these big scary releases,” shares Erik.

The safety of a mature organization with the speed of a startup

“We want small frequent releases, we want to be able to target a subset of our customer base…and continue to expand with a way to safely roll that back,” Erik says. ”Fast, iterative: The way a startup works.”

When evaluating different solutions to help them get there, data security was at the forefront of Erik’s mind.

Working with a technology provider they can trust and have an open, collaborative relationship with was key. That’s what stood out to Erik when he started working with Unleash.

“[It’s] the partnership, and that trust aspect, and knowing that we were going to be heard. We weren’t just another customer,” Erik says.

This relationship looks like a two-way collaborative approach to finding the right solutions for Matadata’s specific needs and goals.

“It’s gotten me away from (asking), ‘What does the solution look like?’, ‘But where should we get to in the long term?’, and, ‘What does that perfect developer experience look like from our side?” Erik shares.

Real change means a change in culture

A lot of the success that Erik and his team has achieved comes from working with Unleash to establish an internal rollout that will work for them. The company was receptive to how Medidata worked already and an understandable unease about change.

“How do we get people to champion this into the organization?” asks Erik. “Remember, our organization is striving for perfect, right? You know, change is scary.”

Starting with a core team of developers, Erik focused on getting them onboarded so they could enable surrounding teams, like QA.

Bi-weekly meetings with Unleash meant any rollout road bumps could be solved together as they came up.

“There’s still cautiousness around what we do, but Unleash is a tool that has helped us change the culture,” says Erik. “We’ve been able to get people interested in leveraging this technology and trying to do things differently. That speaks volumes to the power that we’ve been able to achieve here: Helping to accelerate the broader organizational change.”

“Start out small, don’t be afraid of failing”

One of the biggest takeaways Erik shares is how much impact can come from having both a safety net to make small mistakes, and the ability to iterate at speed. It’s a unique combination.

“We’re going to constantly iterate and evolve and just getting people comfortable with that has been very important to this journey,” says Erik.

We asked Erik what his advice is to others who want to change their development culture: 

“I have this mindset of trying to fail fast,” Eirk shares. “Let’s adopt, let’s try something else that didn’t work. Let’s try one more time. Don’t be afraid of failing. Start out small.”

A closer look behind the scenes: Webinar Q&A

From working with a bottom-up approach, to what changes mean for mindset and happiness in the dev teams, the Q&A part of the webinar allowed us to deepdive with Erik a little more on their journey.

Want to hear Erik’s answers? Jump straight to the Q&A section of the webinar.

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