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Train the Next Wave of Innovators with Engineering Residency Programs

15 Mar 2018 6:00am, by

Nick Hopman, Senior Director, Red Hat, Inc.
Nick Hopman is a Senior Director at Red Hat Global Services. Over the past few years, he has established the Emerging Technology Consulting business and Red Hat Open Innovation Labs. Charged with driving the successful adoption of emerging technologies across Red Hat customers, he is leading efforts to define and develop go-to-market, product, and sales strategies for emerging technology consulting. Working across Red Hat with product teams and engineering, Nick’s teams are supporting and driving the accelerated adoption of technologies such as container platforms, microservices, cloud-native application development, software-defined storage and cloud infrastructure.

Some of the biggest technology innovations over the past few years have led to monumental leaps forward in the art of collaboration, yet the fact remains that nothing can take the place of good, old-fashioned, in-person interactions. Indeed, it’s somewhat ironic that the very innovations that allow teams to bridge long distances between each other — the cloud, for instance, or mobile applications — were created by people sitting in a room talking and working through ideas.

The need for interaction has actually increased as new software development practices have become more widely adopted. Open source software was once considered a pariah in the enterprise world, but today it is has become the preferred software for many enterprises. Nascent development methodologies and technologies, including DevOps and containers, are gaining traction with companies that want to accelerate application development so they may stay ahead of the curve.

But putting these practices into, well, practice can be challenging for developers who are used to a particular type of IT culture. Making the leap from traditional development to more modern and agile ways may require knowledge sharing, expert feedback and guidance — human connections to make the development process work.

Opening Doors to Collaboration and Immersion

Software vendors understand this need for connection, which is why many are literally opening up their doors to new collaborative environments. Through concepts such as innovation labs and residency programs, vendors are busily unveiling immersive programs that allow them to share expert knowledge with their customers. Through these forums, they are imparting customers with insights into modern development practices and tools and providing them with the foundational knowledge they will need to build better software.

These initiatives often take physical forms. Some organizations have opened actual buildings, replete with meeting rooms, desks, cafes and other normal office accouterments, where customer engineers can work side-by-side with vendor experts to problem-solve and develop applications. Such collaborative programs are, in essence, actual working labs where vendor and customer engineers can develop, test and produce new software applications in a neutral environment.

Developing Visions and Creating Code

But it’s not a cool building or office space that makes the difference here — it’s the intensive, hands-on experience that truly drives the innovation labs and residency program concepts. Over a set period of time — generally, a few weeks — vendor engineering teams work hand-in-hand with customer representatives to map out an application development strategy. The idea is not only to provide customers with a working application they can take with them once the residency concludes but to also arm them with skills and tools they can take back to their businesses, so they can continue to innovate even after returning “home.”

The process is focused and streamlined, with a heavy emphasis on mentoring and collaboration. It generally begins with a working session where teams from both the vendor and customer sides map out a vision for what the customer would like to achieve. From that initial brainstorming session, the two teams work together to map out and execute a development plan. Over the next couple of weeks, vendor-side engineers teach customer representatives the fundamentals behind a myriad of development methodologies and tools, including DevOps, open source, Linux containers and more. Teams are kept purposefully small — usually anywhere from three to six developers representing the customer side — to maximize the amount of individual attention provided.

While in-person interactions are critical to development, there will, of course, be times when teams are not always in the same room. As such, developers leave the program with a working knowledge of tools and methodologies they can use to continue to work faster, smarter, and more efficiently outside of the residency’s collaborative cocoon. They will gain a wealth of insight into a number of topics, from how to use automation solutions to accelerate development to how to implement pipeline improvements, which can be used as individuals work together or alone.

Accelerating Development Processes by Fostering Knowledge

The length of the residency process is notable. Development is completed over the course of a few weeks, rather than months, as it would be using traditional development methods. Indeed, in many cases, customers are able to produce working features in the first few days of the program and have fully functioning applications completed not much long after.

Learning how to accelerate development can provide enormous benefits to organizations that cannot afford to take months or a year to create functioning applications. For instance, a major international retailer took a significant amount of time developing an e-commerce application in 2016 that ended up being so bug-ridden it cost them customers once Black Friday rolled around.

The company could not afford to make the same mistake in 2017, and, thanks to the seasonal nature of their industry, did not have the luxury of months of development time. The retailer signed on to an innovation lab residency program at Red Hat, where its development team worked with a vendor to learn accelerated development processes and innovative new technologies, including DevOps and open source software. They asked questions of vendor resources and developed a deeper knowledge of the solutions and methodologies that would be beneficial not just in 2017, but in the future. In a matter of weeks, the retailer’s developers had created a working and engaging application ready to handle the onslaught of holiday shoppers.

Innovating to Innovate

The innovation labs and residency concepts were created to fulfill an untapped need. Developers understand the benefits associated with agile development methods and open source software — faster time to market, lower costs and so forth — but many do not know how to employ those practices, or understand the nuances of the tools at their disposal.

Labs and residencies introduce developers to these methods and solutions in highly collaborative environments that allow them to learn from experts and each other. They can ask questions, brainstorm ideas, share concepts and troubleshoot. Most importantly, they can roll up their sleeves and work together to produce applications that will help move their companies forward.

It’s an innovative concept — that is helping developers actually innovate.

Red Hat sponsored this story.

Feature image via Pixabay.


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