More and more companies are beginning to examine the role developer experience has in improving engineering productivity and morale. And one company often referenced as a model for developer productivity engineering is LinkedIn—its engineering leadership has invested heavily into reducing time-consuming developer tasks and constructing an internal platform to gauge developer satisfaction on the tools they use.
Engineers at LinkedIn recently shared how the company has invested in measuring developer productivity and happiness as well as their strategies for automatically cherry-picking commits. I also met with LinkedIn engineering leadership for a closer look at how the organization is working to improve the developer experience across its internal platform.
Below, we’ll take an inside look at LinkedIn Engineering’s efforts to enhance developer happiness. We’ll explore their approach to improving their internal software development trends and consider the benefits LinkedIn has gained throughout the process.
A Look at LinkedIn Internal Developer Solutions
Productivity is challenging to measure, said Jared Green, VP of engineering, head of developer productivity and happiness at LinkedIn. So, the company opted to take a different approach by including happiness as a variable in the equation. Thus, they measure not only how fast a workflow is but continually monitor how enjoyable the process is to ensure developers have a delightful experience.
“We don’t just strive for productivity, but for productivity and happiness,” said Green. And to his point, on-the-job satisfaction can have real-world results—on average, happy workers are 13% more productive, according to a University of Oxford study.
LinkedIn now oversees a custom-built internal platform for evaluating the sentiment of developer tools. The platform, known as iHub, is a holistic listening channel to gauge developer satisfaction across various tools. It collects real-time qualitative feedback from users and correlates it with objective quantitative telemetry. It then surfaces this data in a UI dashboard for team leads and individual contributors to view.
But there’s an art to engendering the trust required to collect accurate feedback, says Max Kanat-Alexander, principal staff software engineer at LinkedIn. For example, individual contributors need to be sure the data won’t be used for performance reviews. Once that trust is established, folks are more willing to give genuine feedback, he said.
Benefits of Investing in Developer Enablement
The benefit of centralizing developer experience metrics with a shared platform means that tech leads can make data-backed decisions on how to improve their DevOps processes. “It’s really about thinking about giving people insights versus giving them data,” said Green. The idea is that frontline engineers can rapidly investigate any metric to expose problems and see trends. “The optics have given leaders ways to improve various parts of developer experience,” he said.
Through their investment into developer experience, LinkedIn Engineering has discovered and streamlined hangups in the Git flow, exposed inefficiencies in their code review processes, and fixed specific developer build times. LinkedIn Engineering reported it has reduced time spent on certain time-consuming developer tasks by 99.6%.
To construct iHub, LinkedIn Engineering wrote its own front end. The hub pre-computes data dimensions and stores them in an offline data store, increasing speed, said Kanat-Alexander. The system uses a sophisticated survey technology to collect the data and hides the complexity of manual collection in a sleek dashboard.
LinkedIn managers have already leveraged iHub data to identify macro trends and resolve specific points of friction. For example, Kanat-Alexander describes how one director noticed that developer build time was worsening in their organization. They were able to isolate it to a single developer who wasn’t using remote development, which was spiking the metric. Leaders then assisted in unblocking them.
Takeaways For Your Organization
Most companies could benefit from a UI like iHub, explained Kanat-Alexander. But, you really must have a large engineering organization to see the benefits of the work. Plus, up to 80% of the legwork is simply data integrations—this involves hooking into systems, cleaning up data and deciding how to measure certain metrics. “Whatever you can measure, you can improve,” said Green.
LinkedIn Engineering has flirted with the idea of open sourcing iHub, but it’s a bit too custom to LinkedIn to be valuable to other enterprises. “There’s a lot of variance in build technologies nowadays, and large-scale engineering systems are bespoke,” said Green. Implementing such a dashboard also requires a deep understanding of developer personas and how people work, which can be entirely unique for each organization.
Although other organizations can’t fork LinkedIn’s efforts, there are some takeaways that could help others invest in their internal DX. First, Green recommended starting with the fundamentals. “Having a core of understanding about what you’re trying to move the needle on is important, as is coming up with ways to talk about it consistently.” This forethought should help establish what you want to measure.
Turning DX Metrics Into Action
Studies indicate that more companies are seeking to implement platform engineering or similar developer productivity engineering initiatives. The end result of these efforts should be to empower people and ensure they are satisfied with their work and not just a cog in the system.
On that note, it’s critical that there are mechanisms for action to happen on the data that is collected, said Kanat-Alexander. Someone needs to monitor the insights and make changes to improve the metrics over time. “Then you can win hearts and minds.”