Getting Out of the Building: How An Engineering Team’s Field Trip Helped Them Think Differently

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The AppDynamics BRUM team took a field trip to the Irvine office to meet with sales engineers. What they learned changed their perspective.

The BRUM team in Irvine in October 2018.

On a fall day this past October, a group of software engineers, engineering managers, and product  managers from the Browser Real-User Monitoring (BRUM) team flew down from the AppDynamics HQ in San Francisco to meet the Sales Engineering team based in Irvine, California. Greeted with tree-toppling 33 mile per hour winds, wider-than-ever roads, and a surprising abundance of parking spots, we introduced ourselves to the dynamic Irvine-based extension of AppDynamics.

AppDynamics sales engineers meet with the BRUM team in Irvine.

Our first activity with the team in Irvine involved being pitched our own product. For the first hour, we software engineers became the customers as the sales engineers walked us through what they do with clients every week. They showed us how to deploy the product in our environment, generate some traffic, and take a look at the insights that populated in the AppDynamics dashboard. We answered a questionnaire about our system architecture, and in return, sales handed us a set of recommendations on how to best set up our system to work with the BRUM Agent, the tool used to capture browser data.

Then, we explored some sample use cases. We inspected a user session, visualizing the entire minute-long user journey and picking out a page view that was flagged due to a slow load time. We got a good glimpse into the resources loaded for this page view, as well as the analytics for the page in general, reviewing metrics like response time, requests made over time of day, and geographic location. This was solid investigative data for us to gather to help us get to the bottom of what was causing a sluggish user experience.

Switching out of the role of customer, we moved on to discuss the highs and lows of the BRUM product. The software engineers were excited to hear that the projects they’ve been working on for the past year have been positively received by customers. In particular, many more clients have been reached through the recent support for Single Page Applications, now monitoring framework agnostic.

Customers also appreciated being handed the tools to powerfully slice and dice user data across browsers, devices, geography, and other cross-sections made possible through Analytics.

BRUM Agent development lead, Nicole Hu noted, “The trip is to help everyone build the connection between our daily work, the product and the customer problems it solves. Today, I really felt the impact of my work and my team’s work. Never knew that SPA2, which we delivered, was so key. Really proud of the team!”

Nicole Hu and the BRUM Agent development team during a session.

Of course, we don’t get the full picture of the customer experience without understanding their pain points, and so we tackled head-on the biggest issues that were holding our customers back. Our goal in a few words: fewer headaches and fewer clicks. From the developer’s point of view, it can be tough from behind a veil of computer screens to know what’s really happening when the customers log on. Talking with the sales engineers on the frontlines helped us to clear the fog and pinpoint where to patch holes.

The BRUM team was inspired to hear product feedback from the field.

Staff software engineer, Jim Mei, remarked about the trip, “It’s inspiring to hear the feedback from the field on our product. It helps me to look at our product from the field and customer perspective. It sure will help and motivate my future design and implementation of our product.”

Of course, a team field trip wouldn’t be as meaningful without some bonding time. A few of us from the BRUM Agent team caught the sunset at Crystal Cove, snapping some photos and sharing our stories. We also took the opportunity to grill up some Korean BBQ while in SoCal. It was well worth the hour-long wait.

The team enjoys some bonding time.

The team trip to Irvine will have a significant impact on our roadmap in 2019. Senior product manager, Ganna Boiko, wrote, “This trip helped me understand better what customers’ struggles are and what potential areas of opportunity are for BRUM.”

Principal product manager, Emily Wang, agreed. When asked what she learned from the day’s activities, she replied, “Everything! Just kidding.  From a new PM’s perspective, it was really great to get a consolidated list of pain points and killer features from the field to get a holistic sense of where we stand with our customers and our competitors.”

Emily Wang discusses sales feedback with the BRUM team.

As for me, the new grad on my team, I’m grateful to start my career at a place where I can work closely with mentors in so many areas of the product. This trip gave me a clear picture of what a team with all the players active and ready looks like: the PMs breaking down the tasks bit by bit, the software engineers writing lines of code, the sales engineers shaking hands with the customer. And I’m glad that I, too, can be placed in this journey. I look forward to going home and getting back to the drawing board to make BRUM absolutely killer for our users in the upcoming year. Oh, and have a few laughs while we’re at it, too.

Michael Ma

Michael Ma

Michael Ma is a software engineer on the Browser Real-User Monitoring team at AppDynamics in San Francisco, CA. He develops the BRUM Agent for SPA frameworks. He graduated from University of California, Berkeley this past spring. In his free time, he enjoys volunteering at his church, making short films, and taking photos.