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In less than a year since joining Medallia, Senior Software Development Manager Brett Gardner has grown the company’s new office just outside D.C. from three people to twenty-two and counting. In this interview, he explains how the team is tackling a complex architectural overhaul while keeping the platform running smoothly, and how they push each other to try new things—whether it’s a UI development technique or hiking Great Falls.
Tell us a bit about your role.
I’m an engineering manager in our Northern Virginia office, near D.C. My job is to help build a thriving Medallia office while managing our frontend teams responsible for the UI of our core reporting platform. This is a brand new location for Medallia—we started with three people in September 2016 and now we’re over twenty-two in just under a year. We’ve been able to capture the “Medallia” culture that makes the company so unique, but we approach things with our own D.C. flavor.
What technical challenges is your team solving?
Right now, we’re modernizing the entire front-end stack, including full application UI and development infrastructure. Every piece of code needs to be rethought, separated, and examined for ways we can improve it technically. We’re evaluating and applying the latest industry best practices to how we develop, deploy, and implement cloud software. The goal is to take an API-first, service-oriented approach to our legacy architecture, so we can scale up pieces of the platform independently.
Our main challenge is taking this highly complex, highly valued system, which is used in various ways by massive companies, and modernizing the entire interface while still providing incremental value. Our platform is built for hyper-specific configurability, with user interface implementations for every client tailored to their business needs. They can change field structures, calculation methodologies, data visualizations, application branding—everything. When we update the platform, we have to do it in a way that respects existing configurations, and gives every client a responsive, consistent UI experience.
The easy approach would be to ignore the complexity and just build a new Medallia from scratch, right? That would require us to migrate clients over one by one, or wait until we recreate the entire experience before customers could get value from our work. Instead, we’re rebuilding from the center, transforming into a more nimble platform without leaving any of our clients behind during the shift. It’s a cool problem to solve. We’re using technologies like GraphQL and React, which lends itself to iterative, componentized development, and composition services in Node.
What were you doing before Medallia, and what inspired you to join?
I was an engineering manager at the leading cloud-based marketing automation company Eloqua. The company had a successful IPO, and then was quickly acquired by Oracle. Managing through the acquisition was challenging , and a lot of emphasis was placed on integrating and re-skinning the product, removing the focus on growing the culture and people that made the product so incredible. That made me realize my values weren’t as aligned with theirs as I’d hoped—personally, I believe the software you build is a direct reflection of your culture. That’s one of the reasons we get the team together so regularly in this office. It’s important to me that we rally around who we are, talk about improvements we can make, and act on them as a cohesive team.
As for what inspired me to join Medallia, I learned they were looking for someone to take on the challenge of building the new office. Medallia had been doing research on locations that had strong talent pools and good potential to expand the market, and Northern Virginia met the criteria. It was clear the company’s core values aligned with my own, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. This is definitely the biggest project I’ve worked on—I’ve grown teams before, including remote teams, but I’ve never started from scratch. The amount of faith and support I’ve gotten from Medallia HQ has been incredible.
What’s it like working across the country from Medallia HQ?
Right now, we’re in dedicated space at a co-working location, with great atmosphere and amenities similar to Medallia’s headquarters in San Mateo. We get to enjoy things like beautiful furniture, conference rooms, food, a gym, and a game room with a keg, while we’re rapidly growing the team. We recently hired our first talent acquisition lead for the office, and with our goal to hit 40 or 50 hires over the next year, we’re already planning on building out a new space.
As far as workflow, we’ve established a model similar to Spotify’s tribes and squads, where Medallia D.C. is a tribe, and within that are individual squads of specialists. As an office, we’re pushing each other to be at the top of our game in modern UI development techniques, but we can still break off into full-stack work streams and keep daily communication and connection going with the other offices. We’re currently building another engineering team in the office, which will be part of the Admin Suite team. Our team includes engineers based in San Mateo, as well as an extended backend team that’s mostly in our Argentina office. We’re three hours ahead of San Mateo and an hour behind Argentina, so having meetings around lunchtime usually works for all of us. We have excellent tools for online collaboration which helps us stay connected throughout the day.
What makes Medallia D.C.’s culture special?
We do a lot of group activities that are unique to the D.C. area. The team has toured DC visiting museums and monuments, attended Nationals games, and explored Great Falls. The people on this team are passionate about their hobbies, whether it’s hiking or obscure board games, and we get plenty of ideas for team building activities from that. We’re all very involved in the D.C. tech meetup scene too, which is thriving.
We also get together with other Medallians who work in the area, to celebrate company milestones. We just did an off-site barbecue and potluck with the entire office, which was a lot of fun. Many of us have large families, which is another thing that’s unusual about this team. There’s always someone getting married or having a baby! That’s why having a healthy work-life balance is very important to us and a nice thing about being highly connected and collaborative— we’re able to be flexible about working from home.
How is the broader Medallia culture different from other companies?
I think we have a startup feel and culture, but with the stability of an established and successful company. You get to grow and learn from each other, and push towards something great—without the stress of wondering whether you’re in a situation that’s sustainable long-term. We also have more transparency, which makes it easy to see how you’re contributing to Medallia’s overall vision. Our founders hold regular fireside chats, and we’ve started our own version here that we call the “mixing bowl,” which is a nod to our D.C. location and its cultural diversity.
Across all of our locations, it’s a feedback-rich environment. There are those weekly chats, managers have regular one-on-ones with their team members, and we have large team retrospectives. One of the things I love is that we use Medallia’s product to improve Medallia itself—we do internal surveys of our employees to find out how they’re feeling, how we can improve, and whether they’re getting opportunities to grow. And we take that feedback to heart. We go over it as a leadership team and look for themes, and then share with the team what we’ve learned and what we’re doing about it.
What are your goals for the Medallia D.C. office?
Diversity is absolutely a focus. One of the ways we’ve been able to grow so quickly is through networking, but we want to add more outreach to the mix. We’re acting on this now, for example, sponsoring meetups in the area like WomenHack. Instead of insisting on a narrow slice of specific technology or framework experience, we focus on finding smart engineering minds who are motivated, have a growth mindset, and come from diverse backgrounds. We trust they’ll quickly ramp up and find a way to make an impact, and we’ve reached the point as a team where we have the expertise and clear vision to help them get there. This is a successful operation that’s functioning well. What will make the biggest impact now is more fresh perspective.
This story was created in conjunction with Job Portraits, a San Francisco-based creative agency that helps teams scale using culture-focused content.