Idempotency  

An unremarkable reflection on what makes remarkable teams15 January, 2021 | Joel Worrall | No comments
Idempotency

With appreciation for an imperfect 2020 soundtrack fit for a stripped-down word of thanks, and Seth's timely post.

First, rather than bury the lead. I'll get to the news.

This month, I'm completing my time as the head of open source at New Relic and joining the Developer Products team at Stripe. If you're surprised by that news, I assure you that you're not as surprised as January 2020 Joel would have been to read it. Thus, the start of 2021 marks a season of change.

And as I'm navigating a new transition, I've been thinking about a concept: idempotency.

If you're not familiar with idempotency, it describes the ability to execute something multiple times without impacting the intended result. Something that is idempotent produces a consistent and reliable outcome. In math, multiplying by 0 is an idempotent operation. In everyday life, elevator call buttons or crosswalks are idempotent. Once you push the button or call the operation, the procedure is going to execute (pushing the button multiple times doesn't make it go faster), and it's going to deliver the same thing.

The work I've been engaged in most recently at New Relic has brought this concept into focus, as my team has been creating a new piece of platform architecture for New Relic One involving the open source command line interface and a contributor-centric library of tasks that are executed by the CLI. Consequently, there's been a lot of team conversation about performing something numerous times and seeing a reliable result.

In that way, the work we've been producing has been a proxy for the character of the team.

Great Teams

Over the course of my life and career, I've had the privilege of being a part of some great teams: groups of diverse people with equally diverse gifts and skills that have delivered some remarkable results in nonprofit, technology, and even volunteer settings. They often achieve more than their numbers suggest, and they've tended to operate in a kind of unity that is seemingly rare, yet welcome and familiar to those that seek and find it.

That's certainly true of the Open Source Engineering team at New Relic I'm leaving behind.

Perhaps the most remarkable characteristic has been how consistent and reliably these teams have operated. Give us a problem and we're going to solve it. Period. In that way, they've been... idempotent. :)

A Reliable Response

That realization has me reflecting a bit on what makes that quality possible and how best to foster and replicate it.

I can point to some key ingredients like a culture of mentored leadership, trust and autonomy, an emphasis on influence vs. authority, and shared vision; but what I keep coming back to is simply gratitude for so many co-workers who've made those consistent and reliable outcomes possible. I've partnered with so many remarkable people, and their character and grit has been the biggest factor in the reliable success we've enjoyed.

I try to live my life within a worldview that recognizes everything good that comes to me as a gift from a generous host, and that certainly includes relationships. Good co-workers are a blessing, and I've received the benison of partnering with many admirable humans.

And it's those people, those gifts, which have occupied my thoughts of late and in particular how idempotent I've found them to be, operating consistently and reliably. I'm so grateful for the many generous colleagues and friends at New Relic who've been a part of this chapter of my journey.

To each of you: thank you for letting me be a part of the team.

So what's next?

After almost 3 years at New Relic, I'm headed towards a new adventure with a new team and new challenges. I'm joining the Developer Products leadership team at Stripe, taking on some cross-organizational initiatives, and once again defining a job that was created to fit my unique (hopefully useful) skills with a remit of authority that will become evident in the year ahead. It's a journey I've gotten used to navigating, and I'm excited and grateful to be invited to do it again in service to another remarkable organization and mission.

My hope and intention is to lead well, help build and support some great teams, deliver reliable results, try to invent something along the way, and - most importantly - make my best contribution to the restoration of the world around me.

But for now, I'm grateful for a moment to reflect on the path that's brought me here and the consistency of the people who've walked it with me.

Applied multiple times, I wouldn't wish for the result to change.