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Case Studies

Case One Etsy Uses DevOps for Rapid Deployment

Looking for a unique gift—such as a personalized, hand-stamped fishing lure or maybe

a vintage gold hairpin or even a crocheted hat for your cat? If so, you might want to join

the 24 million active buyers who turn to the Web site Etsy as their source for handmade

and vintage products—ranging from art and photography to clothing and jewelry to

home décor and furniture.

Etsy was founded in 2005 in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York, by a small group of

people who saw a need for an online exchange where crafters and artists could sell their

handmade and vintage goods along with art and craft supplies. The company, which

views itself as a global community of creative entrepreneurs, shoppers, manufacturers,

and suppliers, now has more than 800 employees and a peer-to-peer e-commerce site

that generated close to $2.4 billion in sales in 2015. Currently, the site has over 35

million items available for sale from 1.6 million active sellers around the world.

Early on, Etsy placed a high priority on developing a sophisticated technology platform

to support its business, with an engineering culture centered around a philosophy that

the company has dubbed “Code as Craft” (the company even operates an engineering

blog under that name). However, as with many start-ups, the development of Etsy’s

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internal structures was not always carefully planned. As a result, siloes and other

barriers to collaboration gradually developed across the company, affecting its ability to

keep its software development efforts on the cutting edge.

Despite those challenges, the company grew rapidly, and as early as 2008, the

company was deploying new releases to its site twice a week—a pace matched by few

other companies at the time. However, each of those deployments typically took over

four hours to complete, and according to Michael Rembetsy, vice president of technical

operations at Etsy, “Deploys were very painful. We had a traditional mindset: developers

write the code and ops deploys it.” That divide often resulted in faulty releases that shut

down the site for prolonged periods, causing real concern for the users around the world

who relied on the site to make a living.

When Chad Dickerson, who had spent years as CTO at Yahoo!, joined Etsy as its new

CTO, he quickly brought in a new technical management team, which pushed the

company to adopt a more agile approach to software development in order to roll out

improvements and updates with greater ease and fewer disruptions. According to Jon

Cowie, an operations engineer at Etsy, “Bringing that group in is what first planted the

seed of DevOps and the move to a continuous rate of delivery, and it’s all really grown

from there. As the company has grown, this idea that the closer developers and

operations work together and understand each other’s problems, the more the company

can achieve, has really taken hold.”

Like many companies, Etsy was attracted to DevOps as a way to create a more

responsive software development process—one that allows for continuous integration

and deployment. However, adopting DevOps practices has also encouraged a more



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collaborative approach to development—a shift that has been both challenging and

rewarding for the company. Notes Cowie, “The hardest part is getting the business

culture right…. You may have to deal with stakeholders at different levels who may not

like this idea of relinquishing some power or giving people access to systems they

previously haven’t had.”

One of the big rewards for Etsy is that its developers are now able to push code to a

production server up to 60 times a day. Often, the first release is to a limited audience of

employees or a small, randomly selected group of users. With testing and feedback, the

code can then be pushed to the entire Etsy community. According to Rembetsy, “We

started to understand that if developers felt the responsibility for deploying code to the

site they would also, by nature, take responsibility for if the site was up or down, take

into consideration performance, and gain an understanding of the stress and fear of a


As Rembetsy notes, “Mistakes happen, we find them, fix them, and move on. The

important thing is to learn something from the process, and never make the mistake

again in the future.”

Critical Thinking Questions

1. It is perhaps not surprising that Etsy was an early adopter of DevOps. It is a relatively small

company, with a start-up culture, and its move to DevOps was championed by company

leaders. Do you think deploying DevOps practices would be more difficult in a larger, more

established organization? How might a company begin to make the cultural changes needed

to move to the more collaborative, rapid-deployment approach that DevOps offers?

2. At Etsy, new developers are expected to begin pushing code to production on day one. That



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expectation is one way Etsy encourages its employees to embrace change—and a certain

degree of risk—instead of fearing it. Would you feel comfortable working as a business

manager in a company that gives individual developers so much freedom and responsibility?

What would be some of the advantages to a business manager of such a culture? What might

be some of the disadvantages?

3. What would be some of the criteria you would use to measure the success of a shift to

DevOps practices within a company?

SOURCES: “About Etsy,” Etsy,, April 28, 2016; Dix, John, “How Etsy Makes DevOps Work,” Network World, February 19, 2015,; Donnelly, Caroline, “Case Study: What the Enterprise Can Learn from Etsy’s DevOps Strategy,” ComputerWeekly, June 9, 2015,; Heusser, Matthew, “Continuous Deployment Done in Unique Fashion at,” CIO, March 12, 2012,; “What Is DevOps,” The Agile Admin,, accessed April 27, 2016.

Case Two British Telecom Spreading Agile Development across the Globe

In 2005, British Telecom (BT) took a big risk: the company dropped its use of the

waterfall system development process and embraced agile development. Previously, BT

had outsourced the gathering of system requirements to a third company, which would

typically take three to nine months to meet with customers and stakeholders and create

a requirements list. Next, the project would move back to BT where programmers often

struggled to interpret the requirements and then develop and test the system within 18

months—although some projects needed more time. In late 2005, however, BT took

only 90 days to roll out a new Web-based system for monitoring phone traffic. The new

system allowed traffic managers to change switches and other physical devices more



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quickly in order to handle shifts in load along BT’s telecommunications network. The

success of this initial project reverberated throughout the IT world, as BT became the

first telecommunications giant to adopt agile development—sometimes developing

products in three 30-day iterative cycles.

The new system development approach had other advantages, too: programmers and

customers communicated closely and teams from different locations around the world,

initially the United Kingdom and India, worked together to develop the system. To

overcome customer doubts, BT invited them to development “hot houses” to see how

the agile development process worked. Many customers became such ardent believers

that they adopted the agile approach themselves. In 2010, BT used its new system

development process to create the 21st Century Next Generation Access Network

process, which enjoyed an 80 percent return on its initial investment within its first year.

Today, BT deploys agile development to service its customers across the globe.

In 2014, for example, BT applied the agile approach to deploy telepresence solutions for

the international energy and chemical producer Sasol, a company with over 34,000

employees based in 37 countries. To oversee its operations and interact with clients,

senior Sasol managers based in South Africa were traveling millions of miles each year,

which was not good for the managers, the company’s budget, or the planet. As an

alternative, BT installed telepresence suites across South Africa and in Houston,

London, Calgary, and Hamburg. Sasol achieved a 100 percent usage rate at each of

these suites, and BT secured a five-year contract to provide continued support.

BT had one major concern about agile development: previously, the company had

conducted 16 or 17 types of tests before deploying a new system. Many feared that a



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shorter life cycle meant compromising on quality assurance. However, BT now

continues testing with customers after system setup and finds that testing the product

with customer involvement has significant advantages.

“The main advantage I see is that you spend more time working on the right [system]

features by talking to customers all the time and working on it,” says Kerry Buckley, a

software developer who worked on the initial phone-traffic monitoring system. Moreover,

software engineers working at BT are excited about working on customer-facing live

applications. As one engineer notes, “All your work matters and will be released to the

public.” Agile development at BT has taken system developers out of their isolated

bubble, inspiring them, and proving to the IT world that agile development can work.

Critical Thinking Questions

1. Are there certain personal characteristics one should look for in candidates who will

participate in or lead agile system projects? If so, what are they, and why are they important?

2. How might the establishment of telepresence suites support the use of the agile system

development process? What do you think are some of the capabilities of such suites?

3. How might extreme programming and DevOps provide further improvements in the BT

system development process?

SOURCES: Hoffman, Thomas, “BT: A Case Study in Agile Programming,” InfoWorld, March 11, 2008,,0; Grant, Ian, “BT Switches to Agile Techniques to Create New Products,” ComputerWeekly, January 29, 2010, switches-to-agile-techniques-to-create-new-products; “About Sasol: Overview,” Sasol, profile/overview; accessed July 8, 2014; “Turning a Far-Flung Organisation into a Single Community,” BT, July 9, 2014,; “Software Engineer, IVR at BT (British Telecom),” The JobCrowd, April 23, 2014,


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