Build resilient systems at scale
May 27–29, 2015 • Santa Clara, CA

Changing the laws of engineering with pull requests

Ralph Bodenner (New Relic)
11:50am–12:30pm Friday, 05/29/2015
Location: Ballroom CD
Average rating: ****.
(4.50, 10 ratings)
Slides:   external link

Prerequisite Knowledge

Knowledge of how software teams work, from the perspective of anyone who works in or with those teams, is the only prerequisite. Knowledge of git and GitHub is helpful, but not essential.


Every engineering team has processes they follow to get things done in the way that works best for them. Whether they’re in someone’s head or formally documented, they have to be communicated and shared because they are an implementation of the team’s culture at that point in time. But for a company and its engineering team to sustain its culture as it grows, even more important than what those processes are or how they’re recorded is how they undergo change.

At New Relic, we have a culture of openness and inclusivity that we intend to keep, so we’ve been using the same process to change our culture that we use to change our code: GitHub Pull Requests. We’ve learned some advantages to this approach over what we had used before: meetings, email, and wikis. These advantages include:

  • A workflow that is a natural fit for engineers
  • Less discussion happening in exclusive settings like meetings
  • The “Why” for every change recorded in one place
  • Freedom of thought that arises when you can clone the entire “book of laws” and reimagine it as you think it should be

Our entire engineering team, and others in the company we collaborate with, are now contributors to shaping our process in real time. We are closing the gap between our culture and our processes every day as engineers and managers alike propose and debate changes. We’ll share what’s worked well and what still needs help.

After this talk, you’ll be thinking about your culture and process, how to keep them in step, and most of all why its important to do so.

Photo of Ralph Bodenner

Ralph Bodenner

New Relic

For more than 15 years, Ralph Bodenner has shipped customer-focused software, starting at, and then building developer tools at two reconfigurable hardware startups. Since his arrival at New Relic in 2009, he’s been dedicated to building effective software teams. As director of engineering, his experience crosses all aspects of software development, enabling his team to provide continuous delivery in a complex, software-as-a-service environment for a customer base that has grown to 90,000 in six years. Ralph holds an AB in Computer Science from Duke University.