Patent office hosts IT Meetup featuring Etsy speaker

“Culture does not come for free,” Etsy’s Ryan Frantz said during his Meetup talk about his company's efforts to apply the collaborative "DevOps" philosophy to its workforce. “You have to be vigilant about maintaining it.” (Courtesy of USPTO)

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Quirky e-commerce site Etsy made a house call to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Wednesday night.

During a USPTO-sponsored Meetup, Etsy’s Ryan Frantz spoke about the importance of DevOps, a trendy IT philosophy that calls for development and operations teams to work together so they can more rapidly deploy new systems. It’s something that USPTO has been working to apply to its own workplace — and that Frantz said was a major factor in helping his company grow.

“Being in IT, you’re the crossroads of several parts of your organization,” said Frantz, a senior operations engineer at Etsy. “And in order to be successful, you, your team, your business, have to collaborate.”

In Etsy’s early years, the developers, database administrators and operations staffers operated in silos. And indeed, he said Etsy used a program that would block engineers from touching databases. But in 2009, the company started encouraging more collaboration. The results were significant, he said: Etsy’s users made $87 million gross marketplace sales in 2008, and, in 2010, they made $214 million.

During his talk, Frantz discussed something that the USPTO has been trying to encourage: blameless post-mortems, or discussions about what went wrong during a site outage and how that outage was addressed. He asked the audience of about 75 techies how many conducted post-mortems at their offices.

About three people raised their hands.

“Not a lot,” Frantz said.

He said that making these post-outage discussions “blameless” encourages people to explain why they made the decisions they did that led to the outage. “The idea behind a blameless post-mortem is to recognize that people are not a factor in why something failed,” he said.

The talk caps off the patent office’s DevOps Industry Day, where members of the private sector discussed integrating the philosophy into the office. Earlier, IT companies had put up information booths, and USPTO CIO John Owens and members of his team spoke about the importance of DevOps.

At a reception after the talk, attendees from the patent office and various IT outfits at other federal agencies and D.C.-based contractors chatted about the presentation. A few patent office tech staffers, several wearing DevOps t-shirts that had been distributed by the CIO’s office, applauded their agency for making great strides in applying the DevOps philosophy in the workplace.

So far, the patent office has deployed its Trademark Electronic Search System, Trademark Status & Document Retrieval and Trademarks Next Generation using the DevOps mentality. So, Etsy’s button-bedazzled Christmas sweaters sellers and USPTO’s trademark examiners both use online platforms built by teams trying to use DevOps. The recently released beta version of the public website also benefited from DevOps, and one of the next big targets is Patents End-to-End.

Frantz told FedScoop after his speech that the patent office had made strides in trying to improve its processes, particularly as it works to deploy tools — like those that enhance communication or execute rapid updates — to make collaboration easier.

“It’s going to be a while before they get to where they need to be,” he said. “But they’re going in the right direction.”

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Commerce Department, Departments, Government IT News, Innovation, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
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