Christy Lake

Moving to Medallia from one of the world’s largest tech companies gave Deepti a chance to tackle exciting new engineering problems. In this interview with Christy Lake, VP of People and Culture, Deepti explains the technologies she’s using to help our platform scale, describes how Medallia’s company culture supports the Women in Tech group she cofounded, and shares advice she’d give a younger version of herself.
What interesting challenges are you working on right now?
I’m on the Infrastructure team, which is focused on supporting and improving the platform our clients use every day. Medallia is growing fast, so most of our challenges center around scalability. Medallia has been around for more than 15 years, so we need to support legacy code as well as newer microservices. Our infrastructure needs to be robust enough to scale up—the application itself, but also bandwidth, networking capability, and security. We’ve automated lots of our infrastructure to address those needs and to improve reliability.
Medallia must also scale to handle the huge amounts of data our customers are gathering and analyzing. There are three main challenges there—handling a large volume of requests, keeping the data secure, and strengthening our analytics and feedback. Text analytics is interesting because you can interpret data, especially textual data, in several ways; of course, we want to analyze it in a way that gives our clients the most meaningful feedback. And security is critical because we’re collecting live customer data and we need to protect that.
The Engineering team itself is also growing, which presents additional challenges as we get all the correct processes in place. We appreciate the fresh eyes of our new team members, in particular; they have contributed great insights on how we can improve. We’re always incorporating new ideas: we’ve started putting our code into a common GitHub inside Medallia, we’re maintaining a standard code review process, and we’ve made our CICD pipeline more robust. New ways of working will always take some getting used to, but management has been really supportive of those transitions and cultural shifts as we grow.
Why did you decide to join Medallia?
A recruiter reached out to me, and I was a little hesitant initially, just because I hadn’t heard of Medallia before. I was an open source developer at Intel at the time, working on a project called OpenStack, which provides infrastructure as a service. As I learned more about our founders’ vision for Medallia and some of the engineering challenges I’d be working on, I got more and more interested. So I came in to interview and meet people on the team, and that process sold me. From then on I was like, “Okay, I’m coming here.” Everyone I talked to wanted to learn about me as a person; they didn’t just throw questions at me and have me write some code. I felt like they valued things beyond just technical abilities, and that impressed me, because people skills are so important when you’re working on a team. I had another offer that was more attractive financially, but I felt like Medallia was where I was supposed to be. Now that I’ve been here for almost eight months, I know I was right.
What’s different about Medallia’s Engineering team from others you’ve worked on or know about?
I’d say we’re a bit ahead of the curve when it comes to the technologies we use. We use Docker container technologies for pretty much everything. All our shared services are set up as microservice architectures, which goes hand in hand with the container technology because you can split your application and make it a Docker containerized service so it’s easy to manage. We use the same container platforms in testing as we do in production, so we don’t have to worry about whether something will suddenly stop working when we roll it out. And because our infrastructure and service layer is containerized, we can run seamlessly in a public Cloud or private Cloud setup.
We do have growing pains, of course; there are some unique challenges that come from bringing in the cloud on top of an older application. That’s part of what drew me to this job, though—tackling difficult problems is how you learn. They might take a while to solve, and it might be frustrating at times, but it’s critical to your growth as an individual and as a team.
Have other things contributed to your learning here at Medallia?
We have tons of different opportunities. The Engineering team holds lightning talks every two weeks where teams share the technologies they’re using and the challenges they’ve tackled. We also have weekly fireside chats with our founders, Amy and Borge, and we’ve started a mentorship program through our Women@Medallia and Women in Tech groups. Plus, our management team sends out surveys asking what conferences we’d like to attend and skills we’d like to learn. Or I can just go to my manager and say, “Hey, I think learning this would help me in my work,” and they’ll try to make it happen.
Tell us more about Women@Medallia and Women in Tech at Medallia.
Women@Medallia is open to Medallians in every department of the company. This year, I helped cofound Women in Tech, which is focused on engineering. I’d been talking with Lauren Jackman, who heads up Medallia’s Diversity and Inclusion efforts, and she helped us get a budget to start things up.
We had our first meeting in February, and we meet over lunch every month. Our main focus is outreach to middle schools and high schools in the area, encouraging them to consider studying and making a career in STEM. We’ve also started an internal mentoring program, and are planning to to attend more conferences as a group. Management has been so supportive and have really shown how much they believe in our group and this community. And this is just one of many efforts across Medallia to make diversity a priority. People here understand that diversity benefits the entire team.
What’s different about Medallia compared to other places you’ve worked?
From a technical standpoint, I get to see my code running in production within a week. That wasn’t the case in roles I held at previous companies. That feedback loop is a great way to learn because I can quickly see the results of any changes I make and any code I write. I also get to write cloud infra services from scratch; from designing, implementing, productionizing to managing it everyday (on call). It is hard to describe how exciting a feeling it is to completely own a service this way..
From a personal standpoint, I feel like people here are more approachable. Because Medallia is smaller, it’s easier to get to know people, especially people from other teams. We have Q&As with Amy and Borge every Friday; they’re very down-to-earth and easy to talk to. At my previous companies, I don’t think I ever even shook the hand of the CEO.
What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself, when you were just finishing school?
I’d tell myself to take more risks and take on more challenges. When you’re young, you have so much flexibility. I also think I’d try a startup like Medallia first, rather than going to a bigger company. At a big company, even if you’re working on something like an autonomous car, you might end up only contributing to small, unexciting parts of it. It’s easy to get caught up looking for “cool” projects, but I’d tell myself to focus more on the actual engineering problems I’ll get to solve in a company. At Medallia, we get to build core parts of Medallia’s cloud infrastructure—we have these critical and exciting challenges, and we get to have a real impact.
This story was created in conjunction with Job Portraits, a San Francisco-based creative agency that helps teams scale using culture-focused content.