Season 1, Episode 7: "How do I up-skill my team for digital transformation?" with Thomas Sweet, VP in IT Solutions @ GM Financial
How would you enabled your infrastructure fundamental change over the last five years and partnering a business is critical tools exist on the cloud change at the rate necessary to secure by designing this where this low. Hey, it's Andrew and welcome to network disrupted where I T leaders talk about navigating the disruption in our industry in this episode. We talked with our guests. Tom sweet over a GM Financial about how he's transforming his QA team into part of a unified engineering team and empowering his team to stay along for the ride. Tom is a VP and IT solutions at GM Financial and he's got a real focus on lifting people up in the workplace and to give credit to where credit is due. It also like to thank our friends at Linux Academy or rather a cloud Guru for introducing us Tom gets into the Tactical weeds explaining how he's doing what he's doing which is really valuable Kristoff. Thanks for that. And before we get into the show, I've been asked to say Tom's opinions are his own and do not reflect those of GM or dead. Financial let me know what you thought of this episode. You can tweet me at Network disrupted leave a review on Spotify or apple podcasts or email me at Andrew at Network disrupted, So Tom tell me a fact about yourself. I know you're GM Financial and you're very much involved in in the transformation of of Technology, but I'd love to hear it from you sure. I started off an it back in nineteen ninety seven prior to that. I worked in civil engineering which is traditional engineering roads and bridges worked on that big dig in Boston. I had an opportunity to go to any seed which at the time was NEC computer systems Division. I made his career jump because I just was excited about it back. Then I was really trying to get what you'd call a tester up today, but the recruiting agency recommended I get a key drop over at NEC testing laptops and the windows ninety-eight and n t for free installs right wage. Okay, I'll try that and that was an awesome job. You go back and say one of the David the best I've ever had. It was just a lot of fun to get to go to Japan and I've been in kind of the software divorce topic, uh space ever since I had an opportunity to go to Microsoft for a couple of years work on Office 2010 and SQL Server Kilimanjaro went to work in another country club Tech which was a software for mineral mining. So think of AutoCAD but for geology, right and then in the wild up at GM Financial, they needed someone to come in and take over the QA team and help reduce the growth of the q18 upscale then two more of a software development skill set and that was in 2016. And that's where I've been ever since we had a big project that was in place for about a year and half once that was done then we really started pushing this transformation which will get into and it's been a lot of fun job. And I've had a lot of personal reward from it because I really like investing in people growing them and and helping them become better. That's really one of my passions wage. That's fantastic and and and and transformation is is always fun at least from my perspective and and nowadays, you know, so critical as new skills required to deal with with new computer. And and I think that's that's around practice and and process and and skill sets. And you know, when when I look at it from my perspective, especially on the infrastructure side, I mean, everything is becoming software and software driven and and the quality aspect of that has has changed has changed quite significantly off, but you can give me some sense from from your perspective. I'm how how quality and and the process and practices around quality have have changed over the last few years. Sure. So I'm home. Big fan of jazz humble. I don't know if you know him but he's is active in a devops space and he says if you want to improve your quality, you have to go faster and that may seem counterintuitive. But in order for you to go faster, you must have automation. You must have really good processes in place. And so as we continue to shift the ship left that means more and more automation that's better pipelines for our devops tooling. We want to make sure we have a template or the pipeline of pipelines that everyone can Implement and make sure that we're all in alignment with the different scanning and security fans or sonarqube or check marks or whatever tool that we have in our pipeline, but it's it's shifting left and it's it's off his concept from a finding defects to reduce the introduction at defects. Yeah. I think that's critical and I think a lot of the processes and Tools around that, you know, the, you know build stuff that wage. Works and and that works from the quality perspective of you know, the functional side, but also, of course the non-functional side and security-related requirements and scalability and performance and and and and driving off continuously, right? Yeah, and that's what we really want to get too. And and you know, obviously that leaves a gap in in skills in some cases and I know obviously, you know as you stated before as a huge passion of your so I'm curious how you you know, what what what's your approach to to that skill-set Gap and and how long you working with your teams to ensure that they have the skills they need so they can help move everything left. Sure. We are doing an awful lot around that when I first started here I had about a hundred and Thursday if I team members and five were titled automation engineer and the rest were some sort of QA analyst and when we looked today with total headcount like 1:17 in yep. Be software developers is 63 analysts. So we're reducing the king size because we're getting more efficient and as maybe people who different rules are not necessarily backfilling them, but we're hiring software developers in place of queuing analyst security analyst is a legacy roll this end of life and we're transitioning queuing analyst to software developers were also hiring software developers off the street a lot of companies. You know, when I worked at Microsoft, I was called software development sneering test and I worked alongside the the platform developers working at Office 2010. Will Microsoft has since eliminated the pest control and everyone else towards unified engineering. Well, that's what we're going to do here. So either hiring software developers off the street who have the skills. I need and I willing to work on a QA team until it Blends into this unified engineering model, which were moving to I'm also hiring software developers out of college and they're excited. You know off University of Texas at Arlington is closed you TV, which is Dallas and we're hiring, you know graduates to come work with us. And then we're also training the QA analyst to become software developers and you promoted about 12 right pretty intense training program. That's internal part of what we do is I provide an hour a day for my team to Thursday, which is either used for Innovation. It can be used for Learning and I asked for this from the T I go because it's important that we reinvest wage to create this culture continuous learning and you know some companies, you know, give this time of the companies don't but we we feel it's important to to reinvest in allow team members to get birth. So that's fantastic. Yeah, so is it is do they is there they need to propose how they want to use that time or or is it really just left of them to to to pursue what they think might be interesting? Well, it's mostly free-form, but they have to upscale. So for the QA analyst specifically they need to learn that coding language such as Java and c-sharp, we're standardizing and c-sharp and potentially no j s They have to end they going to have assessment. So one thing I was doing with the QA analyst was I was going to have them do either an official Oracle certification or a Microsoft seat shops or you know provided by the vendor. And in a reason for that was as a third-party the is the perception that there's no bias in the exam because Microsoft and Oracle give this exam to all these different people around the world. Where is when I started looking in-depth at those two exams. There was a lot there were a lot of peculiarities or Oddities of the language. I didn't really find appropriate team. So we're creating the assessments for them that they they have to meet and we just had one at the end of February and we have another one coming up the end of April which has no concept such as audio problems going to design the year inheritance encapsulation polymorphism those Concepts and we're going to quiz them on that the end of April. And help you help them understand where they're at. And where they need to go for the you know, the software developers who are already in that role there. They have requirements for certification. So they have to do to Microsoft certifications this year and a sure so they can use that time to get better in Azure for those through the daisy 400 or the AC 203 certification with a gramming or we're also moving towards doctor and kubernetes so they can use that time towards advancing their knowledge of document kubernetes. So is there any sense that team, you know, you know for instance sometimes so this is happening a lot across many many different types of Tegan's and you know to speak to a lot of people in networking who have as individuals have a great deal of skill and what they're doing and it's not like people who were the traditional QA analyst role didn't have a great deal of skill and what they were doing and sometimes there's resistance and there's religious. Since not because there's not a desire to change maybe the resistance is in. I mean these these individuals have accumulated a great deal of skill and what they do they were intent wasn't to be a software developer, you know, maybe there's fear of change or fear of going from an expert in something to being a beginner in something else. Do you do you mentor and talk to your team about that? Did they reflect back to you with any of of those sorts of individual concerns? Oh sure. I mean that's an ongoing process when you look at a few analysts that that I have some of them come from QA organizations outside of the company others came from different business units and they they showed aptitude and desire and not move it to i, t as more of like a user acceptance testing type approach. I'm taking the team members and helping them completely transform. That's scary for someone and we use it at car approaches like awareness desire and knowledge ability and then repetition off. So my job as a leader is to provide any awareness. They have to provide the desire themselves. But what I do is I also see it with them a lot of what's going on in the DFW area. There's a lot of high-tech down here, especially North Dallas and A lot of these companies I'm not going to list them. But they've either Outsource their QA to India where they've gone to more of a unified engineering approach and they release their q18s and and laid off what I'm telling them is it's we are investing in you we are providing you with the future and this is what the future looks like and you can get on a bus or you can find another bus that goes someplace else but this process moving more towards unified engineering and you're part of that we have a seat for you on this bus we paid for your ticket. We just need you to get on the bus and and for the most part. Both of the team members are excited about that now everyone at a different pace, but some team members have decided. Hey, you know what? I really want to maybe move to a role in the business and that's fine. Right, We'll we'll give them a reference and and help them find a good path for them. Right it is hard and it can be programming can be overwhelming and now I get to them not only programming but we're talking cloud. We're talking command prompt and networking and and a number of different. Different parts of this job. I mean the job now is is a software development is devops. It's automated testing. It's networking it Cloud. If I did not say that there's all these different pieces to it. It's not just one thing and it's not only one language Java and c-sharp. It snowed is angular and they going to have to be able to pick up these different languages. And now we're talking about Go Google Go Lang someone who knows C sharp. Well, he or she just may have to learn go in the next couple of months to maybe work on a different project. So it's having this culture continuous lack of being excited about it. And and what we try to tell the team and we got this kind of a joke. It's like keep up with the cloud passions about the Kardashians cuz we got a we had this meeting like a staff meeting at home twenty questions that we had cloud-based questions that we had Kardashian questions and like everyone got the Kardashian questions, right? But not everyone got the cloud questions. Right and it I can appreciate if someone knows the name of Kim Kardashian small child, but I also need to know what platform is a services and how that differs than infrastructure-as-a-service ya know for sure and wage, you know, but I think I just just highlight a couple of things you said, you know, I think that for one and and I'm actually maybe just turns into more of a question. So often times when there is resistance to change when people start seeing the effect of the change and so that might be in their own skill sets, but it might also be in your ability as an organization to release things faster dog. Or you know to to you know, the the massive reduction of Escape defects cuz you had moved things left or so. What sort of what sort of metrics do you look at? And do you use those metrics to sort of create that enthusiasm and drive success? Sure. So we do a pretty big Matrix program that we're and I always say we're starting it. We always have always used metrics but we've used more of the traditional activity or task-based metrics what we're trying to move to is more into in values to metrics and in one mistake that that I guess I'm responsible for is I kept calling him that box metrics and I should have rebranded them internally as before value delivery metrics where it's your how often how long it takes you to go from checked in code until it gets a customer your frequency of delivery You're a Mean Time to resolve and your frequency of change failure. So the poor metrics that the cold war is going to happen devastated that popped off. We're trying to really move towards into end metrics because it doesn't matter. You know how quickly one person does things it is how quickly they move through the value stream in for example in the old waterfall World. It might look really good. If a development team dropped their time from four weeks to three but they've added six weeks to the QA team and then two more weeks to the monitoring team. Are you really saving anything? There's no but if you would even if but if you were to say hey, look at them being spent one more week and we can save six weeks down Downstream. That's much better. But unless you're really looking at the whole value screen. You don't always see those efficiency gains. I know for sure and I really like, you know using that term value and really driving this as value and and unfamiliar with those metrics and and and appreciate them quite a lot. It's our ability to release. It's our ability to get stuff to customers and and and you know, the faster we can do that the the better assuming we're meeting those quad. Requirements and and you know, so it's all it's all interwoven. But so so are there are there, you know, you you set off over time. You said Targets on these metrics. Is there a a drive to you know release in a week or I mean and I know there's many different platforms. You probably work with that have their own historical construction and other concerns and compliance concerns about changing but but often times or do you do you do you rally the team towards metrics or it's it's more of a month, you know over over-arching theme. It's an overarching theme because we're still trying to find the right way to collect them because we'll use one tool for my blinds in our cash management and such we also have What is that? It's we also have service now for our change management process right in trying to make sure that we have all these these metrics and we also have different schedules for the project intake process. So right now we're trying to find a way to actually collect all this data and make sure that data is correct. And then we can start really getting metrics towards that are working metrics and then work to improve them. And as we move more towards, you know, a product 18 model or something like Toyota calls it a factory team where you have everyone on the team has all the skills necessary to deliver it a product. It'll be a lot easier to focus on, you know for sure to measure now in in absolutely and and you know, I've I have my own share of mistakes in the page asked where where you know the old adage be careful what you measure because you if you don't necessarily know that driving that metric there is going to yield off. Overall quality or or or driving that metric towards that goal could potentially cause problems somewhere else like the example you gave great. We reduce the amount of time it took to code this boss increased QA. So who cares, you know, the net result isn't there and and so I think metrics are are measuring and metrics are very important. We always need to think about Iraq whether or not they they're you know, we should be challenging their their usefulness or maybe better said making sure we're looking at the the whole system, you know, the Gestalt of like this metric might be getting better. But what's happening in general? Yeah, you know and getting to that. Another point is I like it'll Martin Fowler. She's a really good program a much better than I'd ever be he's also won a signed up at the ad y'all made a fesco. He is a blog post about measuring programmer productivity and he talks like a really hard to measure programmer productivity. You can't look at my notes can't look at Dead. X cuz you could have met right so if you can read this post it's not that long but he makes a lot of sense. And so when people say how do you measure with individuals it's hard, right? You can look at rework you can look at attention to detail, but it it's hard to compare one person to another objectively only through metrics. So, you know, there's always Improvement right? No Mark Martin Fowler's great and I appreciate his blog and also his books. I mean the guy I'll miss quote this but like, you know page one line one, or maybe it's a forward introduction of of his refactoring book is you know, like if you can't test the system close this book and put it back on the Shelf, you know, and he's been a proponent of birth of you know, driving driving everything left for as far as I can remember in my career and and and certainly measuring productivity of an individual developer, by the way. Historical like, you know lines of code or something is is is in many ways nonsensical you have to look at, you know, you have to look at broader things. However, I'm not a fan of throwing out all metrics things need to be things need to be measurable for sure. What about different? So so now great. I was a QA analyst and or software developer and so I'm learning either new languages or new practices because now I'm driving, uh, you know, I'm testing with code. I'm building software and building software thoughts along with everything else. But there's also other skills that are necessary, right you mentioned earlier security and both in terms of writing secure code, which is important in that test back as well. But also, you know in ensuring that you're the software itself is meeting security requirements, but also with infrastructures a code and cloud in general there's everything from networking to in all aspects of networking, whether it's it's stuff near and dear to my heart like DNS or load balancing or application load balancing. I mean, there's these other Stacks that have, you know, great deal of you know, knowledge sometimes esoteric sometimes otherwise necessary to understand. So how do you infuse those different knowledge steps in your team's do cross-functional teams or you upskilling in non-programming areas as well? Yeah, exactly. So I have We pushed I started pushing the certifications and cloud back in 2018. And at that point it was a w s and we had about 10 then in 2019 by April 2019. It was a flat. No one had been certified in anything and I was talking my budget analyst and saying yeah, we're going to have to give back some money. We're not using it. Okay, so I came up with this idea for a contest to send people to Microsoft ignite wage, which was later in the year. And then I had to kind of guess like when I be able to buy tickets, which I guess a little bit too late, but I guess by August I can still get tickets for the November conference and I came up with this approach to weigh the different Microsoft Azure certifications based on my perception of how hard they were and give people rapping tickets based on how they starts they got and I opened it up to not only fifteen but the architecture team and some other development groups in the org and I was going to pay for the whole thing. So we wound up scented for people to Microsoft ignite. from the contest and that really drove 60 Cloud search and following that in October the cloud Center of Excellence needed some help because they were creating a system for our public Cloud which had, you know help spokesmodel had A lot of work infrastructures code the networking all those pieces and they say can I borrow a couple of people for two weeks? I'm like, okay, you can do that and two weeks later. They asked for two more people and like sure we can do that. And here it is in March and I have six people that been down in the cloud Center of Excellence since October or so, and they're acting up two of them are setting up the new firewalls. We just want You did something maybe a year ago. They couldn't no one would have considered any you know from one from my team capable of setting up firewalls, but is three people working on the cloud on it? And and two of them fell apart from my team and in one of them is the cloud architect, but the three of them are the ones that setting up firewalls and they've done all the the infrastructures code and terraformed and they're really squishy gone inside this and they've learned an incredible a lot. So even though that the certifications good and help provide them the space education, but the on the job training that they're getting down in that group is amazing and they probably going to want look at five months is a long time. They probably not coming back cuz it's not kidding myself right down the center of excellence until further notice and and that's been really good job. That's actually right back. Yeah for sure, but that's actually a sign of success right? I mean you're you're you're working with the team is everything I've been trying to do a hundred percent and like wage. You know at at my company, we have a support team that is that pushes hard in training in skills and they end up being like it opens up opportunities across the company for them. And so now you see them in Professional Services or sales engineering or the product development team and and and you know, it's a it's a shame when somebody has great at what they do isn't there anymore but it's way better if they're inside the company in a different position that that is exciting to them and also helpful for the company. So I think it's I think it's a great sign of success if off if the individuals are creating value outside of your team. Yeah, I mean and flip at the other side what if they didn't want them write what they said? Yeah take them back. We don't want them here. That's not the case, right? They want to write them. So that that's good. Yeah. Yeah. No that that's fantastic. All right. It was really good talking to Tom. Thank you. Thank you for listening. I'd love to know what you thought of this episode. And I'm all ears. If you have that guest recommendation. You can tweet a network disrupted leave a review on Spotify or apple podcasts or email me at Andrew and network disrupted. Com.