With GitHub, Canadian company TELUS aims to bring ‘focus, flow and joy’ to developers

With GitHub, Canadian company TELUS aims to bring ‘focus, flow and joy’ to developers


Katie Peters could have used a lawyer when she embarked on her technology career.

During his freshman year at the University of British Columbia, Peters’ computer classes were divided almost equally along gender lines. But most of her classmates soon changed careers, and in Peters’ senior year there were usually only two or three women in those classes. She felt more and more isolated and was uncomfortable asking for help.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2012, Peters worked as a software developer for TELUS, a Canadian telecommunications company. By joining an organization with more than 90,000 employees, Peters initially found it challenging to move forward in its procedures and structure. So when the position of staff developer in TELUS ‘new engineering productivity team opened last fall, Peters seized the opportunity.

“I wanted to be the person I wish I had helped,” says Peters, who started in the role last October. “There are so many complicated processes in a company as big as TELUS and it’s very difficult to navigate. You end up being stupid most of the time and you have to ask a lot of questions. I don’t want other people to have to experience this. I want to do better. “

TELUS staff developer Katie Peters sitting at a conference desk at the company's headquarters, the sky and mountains reflected on the shiny surface of the desk.
Peters is “a brilliant developer and a brilliant technologist,” says Justin Watts, head of TELUS ‘engineering productivity team.

Peters is now helping lead an initiative to change TELUS ‘culture to better empower its developers. Much of this effort is focused on encouraging widespread adoption of the Microsoft GitHub code hosting platform to help automate software development at TELUS and facilitate the collaboration of the company’s approximately 4,000 developers. Recently, TELUS made GitHub available to the entire enterprise and signed an agreement with Microsoft to help it manage enterprise-wide platform usage and provide GitHub training to developers.

Justin Watts, TELUS’s Head of Developer Experience, says Peters ‘experience as a developer and former member of TELUS’ business architecture team makes it ideal for helping to redefine the company’s focus on software development.

“All of this is driven by Katie and the vision she has,” says Watts, who leads the engineering productivity team. “Katie is great at capturing this relationship with the developer and what our goals are. She’s a brilliant developer and a brilliant technologist.

“He has been seen as a very senior and influential mind in business.”

Justin Watts, head of TELUS 'engineering productivity team.
Justin Watts.

Peters is already shaking things up. Inspired by “The Unicorn Project,” a 2019 novel by Gene Kim about a group of renegade developers seeking to overthrow the existing order and make the job more satisfying, Peters has replaced the usual presentation boards with others with swirl, pink and purple designs. cartoon tones and unicorns, and adopted the book’s mantra to bring “focus, flow and joy” to developers.

Transform recently spoke with Peters through Microsoft Teams from her home in Vancouver, where she lives with her husband and 2-year-old daughter. The interview has been condensed for clarity and length.

TRANSFORM: Why was the engineering productivity team formed and what is its mission?

PETERS: We’ve been transitioning to the cloud for software development for a long time, but it’s a challenge. It greatly simplifies the activities of very complicated operations and turns them into code. Thus, instead of needing an operations professional to manually create a custom server for the developer to host their application, the definition of that server is standardized and coded so that it can be stored and managed along with the code. of the application.

This makes it easier for a developer to manage it himself, but is now expected to own this server definition, where sometimes they had never had exposure to the operational side of software development. It is a very difficult transition for people. And many legacy processes have not yet been updated with the development of the cloud. We’re giving developers a lot more freedom, but it’s also a lot more responsibility in different areas than they may have had no experience before. So we have to make this not a burden for them.

Our team exists to help developers make this transition to the cloud and to upgrade all of this legacy process baggage to align with the new cloud paradigm.

TRANSFORM: Why did TELUS see the need to change the way software development is done?

PETERS: We have to be innovative and creative. We need to be able to react quickly to the market, and if we want to be able to do that, we need to give developers the time, space and security to do so while making sure that what they are building is safe and secure. reliable.

Street photo showing the exterior of TELUS headquarters in Vancouver, BC
TELUS headquarters in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia.

To allow us to move quickly without sacrificing security and reliability, we need to really focus on this developer experience. Dealing with how developers are my customers, and what experiences I can give them to inspire them to keep pushing and innovating, and just unlock them as much as I can, to make it as simple and fast as possible. that they can continue to innovate.

TRANSFORM: What role can GitHub play in helping developers switch to this new cloud paradigm?

PETERS: GitHub used to be just for storing source code, but now it has many other features. When writing code, for example, you should be able to plan this work and distribute it to people. We can use GitHub projects for this.

Once you’ve developed the code, there are tools you can use to tell you if there’s a problem with how you typed it. In the past, we waited until we tried to release this code to our customers before running these tests. So when things went wrong, it was very expensive. Developers can now resubmit their code to the public GitHub repository for the rest of the team to see. Then we can run all these automated tests and security scans, so it’s easier to make solutions at that time, while in the old world, it might be months later that they would receive these comments.

With GitHub taking over this developer lifecycle, this allows us to incorporate a lot of automation, so that we have end-to-end visibility into where developers spend their time and what they’re doing. This is good for metrics on how we can improve this experience and improve it for people.

TRANSFORM: GitHub is definitely a tool. What other components are you considering to drive this cultural change at TELUS?

PETERS: As a large company, TELUS can be a little formal. It’s hard for people to ask for help. We really wanted to change that culture. We wanted to be open and accessible and let people approach us in a psychologically safe place to share their problems. That way, we can understand all the little things that add up to so much work.

Photo of Katie Peters working on a computer at TELUS headquarters and showing a slide with a unicorn on one of its display boards.
Peters is inspired by ‘The Unicorn Project’, a novel about a group of renegade developers.

We have a lot of very creative people at TELUS, a lot of talented developers, and they find really interesting ways to deal with the status quo that don’t really solve the problem for anyone else; it’s just an alternative solution that they’ve developed. drive this improvement at all levels.

TRANSFORM: How did your interest in computing begin?

PETERS: My parents really wanted me to be interested in computers, so when I was little they bought me my own computer. They took me to robot building camps and software development camps and all sorts of things.

I started playing video games when I was 4 years old. I played Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon and Fatty Bear’s Birthday Surprise. I loved all kinds of video games. Morrowind was another great game for me. They had a modding community, and I learned a lot about computers in general participating in that community. (Modding refers to the practice of altering content or creating new content for video games.)

I wanted to work in the video game industry, but when I applied for a college internship, I joined Sierra Wireless (a Canadian IoT solution provider). When I was exposed to this industry, I liked the consistency and stability of the telecommunications industry and the feeling that you are contributing to something important. Providing the internet to people is very important.

TRANSFORM: You said that sometimes you felt like you had the imposter syndrome. Did you feel that way especially as a developer?

PETERS: I’ve always had a lot of imposter syndrome, which I think is true for many software developers. I am not alone in that. I think it’s worse as a woman, but I think it’s common to have these kinds of feelings in software development. The industry is a bit steeped in this mythology of very smart geeks who live and breathe computing and build Google or Microsoft in their basement, and they are all geniuses and always know everything.

Photo taken at TELUS headquarters in Vancouver, BC, showing two interior offices with chairs grouped around tables and views from the windows.
TELUS, which employs about 4,000 developers, is using GitHub to transform its approach to software development.

There are very high expectations in the software industry in general, and I think everyone is experiencing it, but I think it’s amplified for a woman. Because the expectation, I think, at least when I started in the industry, was that I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’m a poser and I just got my place because I’m a woman. So I had to work really hard to look smarter.

TRANSFORM: Is it important for you, as a woman in this role, to attract more developers to the field?

PETERS: Absolutely. When you’re the only woman, it can be really challenging. And when you have one or two women in a large group, you can sometimes be forced into this strange sense of competition with them. People always compare you to other women.

But when there’s a critical mass of women, you really feel comfortable working with other women who typically come from the same kind of experiences. You get to open up a little bit in a way that you might not have been able to do otherwise. Most of the women I meet in computer science are so supportive and kind.

It always makes me happy to see more women in the industry. Any opportunity I have to try to make it easier for someone or help someone go in that direction, I am very happy to be able to do that.

Top photo: Katie Peters is on the roof of TELUS headquarters in Vancouver, BC (photo by Justin Watts courtesy of Justin Watts; all other photos by Jennifer Gauthier)





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