How we built a company & culture around continuous change

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Written by Akvile Marciukaityte & Charlie Egan


			How we built a company & culture around continuous change

Published on our Cloud Native Blog.
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Jetstack has tripled in size over the last 3 years. Our team is now 35 strong and works from 7 countries - 4 more than this time last year. On top of this, we have also joined forces with Venafi to deliver a wide range of modern, cloud-native security solutions.

We are known for our extensive Kubernetes knowledge, experience, and the development of the hugely popular open-source tool, cert-manager. We attribute much of this success to having a culture that encourages continuous improvement.

The only thing that is constant is change. We’ve had to learn how to take on suggestions, try new ideas, and build a system together to support ourselves as we grow. This post explores the history of our change culture as well as some selected initiatives which have helped us build Jetstack into the company it is today.

At the end of 2018, the company met in Dublin, and held our first ever company retrospective. We might not have realised it at the time, but this was the beginning of our culture of self-reflection and continuous improvement. This event prompted follow-on company retrospectives as well as other important changes in the way we thought about change at the company.

During our 2019 All-Hands event in Oxford it became apparent that we needed a name for the work we were doing, we settled on ‘Building Jetstack’. With the Building Jetstack platform, we wanted to create a space with dedicated time to address feedback and discuss new ideas. Our goals for the platform are to:

  • Create a feedback culture by asking for, receiving, and acting on feedback.
  • Allow Jetstackers to participate in and give feedback on decisions that impact them.
  • Show that building trust and shaping our workplace is a shared responsibility. We want to encourage people to initiate change and improvements and take ownership of it.
  • Create a space for learning and experimenting with new ways of working (e.g., how we structure teams, make decisions, run meetings, etc.).
  • Help make Jetstackers happy in their work.

So how does Building Jetstack work?

We started with an open, fortnightly meeting where everyone was encouraged to join, listen in, and contribute to any of the tickets on the Building Jetstack board. The Building Jetstack board is a place we use to keep track of feedback and ideas. Over time, we added guidelines so people could initiate change themselves or join the existing working groups. There were no strict deliverables or deadlines. Each working group (or individual) set these themselves with input from the others. Some of the organisational areas that we’ve been focusing on include information and knowledge-sharing; recruitment and personal development; internal policies, and Jetstacker-friendly processes.

Here are some examples of the successes we’ve achieved as part of Building Jetstack so far:

  • Introduction of a new holiday booking system

    • At the end of 2018, our home-grown mess of spreadsheets and calendar invites for tracking employee holidays was getting out of hand. Timetastic was proposed in a company retrospective and was soon rolled out to the whole team after glowing reviews from our trial. Now we all use Timetastic to book holiday and personal development days more efficiently.
  • Creating a personal space for each Jetstacker in our company documentation

    • Although we have all been working remotely since March last year, we have always been a distributed team within the UK as well as more recently from places such as Seville and Stockholm. Working with distributed teams can sometimes be a challenge, especially when a team is fairly new and doesn’t have any shared experiences. To help Jetstackers get to know each other better, we launched User Manuals at the start of last year as a way to share more about ourselves, talk about our hobbies. Here’s an example Personal User Manual intro from our joiner Maël! Jake’s also got a fun user manual. You can see our guidelines for new joiners here.
    Example personal user manual
  • Improvements to our time tracking system for a growing team

    • Jetstack’s background as a team who predominantly deliver billable work to customers led to our unique take on time-tracking. Team members post their hours in a Slack channel and these updates are processed by ‘JetBot’ into a structure used to build invoices.

      A number of changes in the work we’re doing (more product work), and where the team works from (home) has pushed us to make changes to the way JetBot operates. Deadlines are now more flexible and debts can be paid to charities instead of as drinks for teammates.

  • Learning and Development program

    • As we have always worked with cutting-edge technology (Kubernetes, Istio, etc.), continuous learning, experimentation, and curiosity are core to our identity as a company. To encourage lifelong learning and discovery, we initiated a Learning and Development program with two tracks - ‘Staying Curious’ and personal ‘Development Days’.‘Staying Curious’ grants individuals an annual budget of £1,000 to engage in self-directed learning. Jetstackers are also entitled to paid leave to attend work-related conferences or training courses of their choice for a maximum of 5 days per calendar year.
  • Development Days

    • Jetstack has completed many projects where we have delivered new technologies such as Istio to demonstrate their value early. With the expanding cloud-native landscape, it is crucial Jetstack remains one step ahead, and is aware of the latest solutions which might help our customers. Keeping track of this is too much for any one person, we realised that discovery of new technologies needed to be bottom-up. Dev-Days were proposed as a mechanism to support this research on the terms of the engineering team. 10 Dev-Days per year are now available to all Jetstackers and are there for us to experiment and learn.
  • Working together on our shared values

    • At our 2019 Winter All Hands event, we worked in small groups to discuss workplace values which are important to each of us. Each group had to come up with a list of values, present it back and explain why they chose it. One of the values that each team had in common was autonomy and the ability to shape and contribute to Jetstack’s growth by trusting each other and creating a culture with minimum viable bureaucracy. After the team’s exercise, we initiated a working group to further shape the values and principles that could help us make more informed decisions and engage in work that is aligned with our mission. Exactly how we use our values from this session is something we’re thinking about all the time and is still changing.
  • Making teams and their work visible

    • Each team at Jetstack now has its own page where they list team members, guidelines on how they work, meeting links and notes that anyone within the company can access and contribute to. We value both transparency as well as open communication, and it is our belief that working in this way can help us both share knowledge and inspire new ideas for products, services & collaboration.
  • Mentoring & supporting each other

    • At the end of 2019, there were concerns about scaling the support network for our growing remote team. At our winter all-hands event (when we were still able to meet in person) the idea of a Mentorship programme was proposed. This became a new way for Jetstackers to opt-in to support based on who they thought could best offer it. We believe that 1-to-1 time is really important and doesn’t come by default in a switch to fully remote working.We have also recently introduced ‘random coffees’ where Jetstackers are matched in pairs randomly each week to encourage more distributed support and collaboration.

Our plans for the near future…

We now have a dedicated team working on Building Jetstack initiatives and ensuring that we continuously improve, share feedback, and iterate on our ways of working as we grow. Some of our colleagues are currently working on a progression framework and are very excited to roll it out across the engineering team soon! This is yet another example of great cross-team collaboration and joint effort to make things happen at Jetstack. On a final note, we want to say a huge thank you to our founders and our colleagues for taking part in this initiative, contributing, and helping us make it what it is today.

Cover photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

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