Edmunds' Own John Martin is Tapped at InfoWorld 2013 Technology Leadership Awards

The InfoWorld 2013 Technology Leadership Awards

Creativity and execution are hallmarks of great leadership, as these eight technologists proved in pushing their organizations in bold new directions

By Galen Gruman | InfoWorld | Published June 10, 2013


Leading technology – as a creator, manager, implementer, and business catalyst – is no small feat even in the course of running IT or a business. Technology changes rapidly, and it often becomes increasingly complex. The problems and opportunities to which it is applied are equally variable, messy, and involved; the easy “just add automation” problems have already been addressed.

Technology leadership in its four key forms is at the heart of InfoWorld.com’s mission, and the InfoWorld Technology Leadership Awards honor those who have been exceptional technology leaders over the past two years. No “we did it in six weeks” projects here – true technology leadership spans constituencies and technologies, and it’s often exemplified by projects months in the making.

The TLAs have a broad mission to recognize two key shifts in IT.

First, deployment is no longer the main game for IT, even if it remains the bulk of effort spent. Instead, creating value through technology – within IT, of course, but also by helping the business grow – is where leadership matters. As technology increasingly permeates the business, IT is providing more businesswide inspiration. And it’s not just the CIO or CTO; IT project managers, admins, architects, and the like are equally capable of contributing, so the TLAs now honor leaders regardless of title.

Second, technology is no longer the sole province of IT. Nearly every businessperson today has been using technology at work and at home for two decades, and most are more than passably familiar with a variety of computer technologies. Thus, limiting technology to the high priests of IT is untenable. But so is the notion that the business is simply a customer of IT; that too suggests a “father knows best” mentality. It’s no accident that the main technology drivers of business change were pushed not by IT but by businesspeople in the past two decades: the PC, the Internet, cloud computing, mobile computing, and increasingly social technology. Thus, the TLAs look for technology leadership anywhere in the business, not just within IT.

The 2013 TLAs showcase such leadership across the business and IT, as well as across roles. IT professionals remain the heart of technology leadership – no surprise to us, given the passion and creativity many technologists bring to the table. Our winners, selected by a panel of InfoWorld editors from nearly 100 nominees, fall into four categories of leadership:

  • Business management, which honors technologists who assert leadership in the business itself. This leadership involves technology, but it’s less about the technology and more about driving business growth or innovation. The fact that the person is in IT is irrelevant; as with sales, marketing, finance, manufacturing, and so on, IT employees are first and foremost employees, and these technology leaders act accordingly.

  • IT management, which honors technologists who assert leadership in the realm of IT, typically around management and enablement of IT as a whole.

  • Technology creation/enhancement, which honors the creative side of technologists. Here, leadership is about vision and execution, setting a new course for technology, and coming up with novel approaches to make it happen. We don’t honor vendors’ creation of innovative products here (that’s what our Technology of the Year Awards are for), though we honor internal products created as a by-product of IT innovation, as well as broad technology innovation at vendors.

  • Technology deployment, which honors the most exceptional leadership in the types of challenges IT faces day in and day out (it’s no surprise this category had the greatest number of nominations): designing, deploying, and maintaining the technology systems that the business depends on to succeed.

The TLAs have no set number of winners, nor need there be honorees in each category. We’re looking for the best, period. (For details on the criteria and how to enter for 2014, go to the InfoWorld Technology Leadership Awards page.)

We’ve found it, as the 2013 Technology Leadership Awards winners show. We present them in alphabetical order within each category:

Business management

  • Anthony Ricco (Citrix Systems)

IT management

  • Tim Bell (CERN)
  • John Martin (Edmunds.com)
  • Chris Whyde (Capital One)

Technology creation/management

  • John Basso (Amadeus Consulting)
  • Brian O’Neill (Health Market Science)

Technology deployment

  • Craig Brown (STEM Resource Partners)
  • Babette Davis (California EDD)

TLA 2013: IT Management

John Martin, senior director of production engineering, Edmunds.com

“In October 2010, I walked out of what had turned into a particularly gruesome war room. We had just launched a project that we called Edmunds 2.0, which basically involved re-architecting our application around SOA principles, and we had found some problems in the production runway. We had been in the war room for days, and it was starting to smell. As I left the room that day I thought to myself, ‘There has to be a better way,’” recalls Martin.

That better way is devops, which Martin spent the next three years building with the business leadership, development teams, and IT operations teams at the automobile information site Edmunds.com.

Before the devops approach was implemented, ops wasn’t involved in a project until just before it was due to go live. “This meant that we often ended up with software that dev had spent months working on that wasn’t going to fly in production. Ops would double the infrastructure and it would work OK, but that wasn’t really good enough,” Martin recalls.

“Worse, new features and apps from development often don’t work as advertised, and our solution was typically to throw more infrastructure at the problem. This is not only expensive, but time-consuming,” he says. There was no automation in place to help the necessary testing and deployment work. As a result, dev and ops spent a lot of time fighting in war rooms, rather than delivering working systems.

“What we needed was better alignment of dev and ops – in short, devops. It wasn’t difficult to justify this project to our leadership, but it was difficult to effect change in an organization where dev and ops are basically pitted against each other: Dev wants to release lots of features very quickly, and ops wants to minimize change to keep the app stable,” Martin says.

Martin addressed that challenge by creating an intermediary team that he led to unite the tooling and processes that dev and ops use, such as deploying Chef for configuration management and application deployment, and AppDynamics and Splunk for app deployment, as well as using common QA tools across dev and ops.

Although the use of an intermediary wasn’t an ideal approach, Martin didn’t believe that his older organization could handle more-drastic changes. “As usual, the technology was the simple part. Changing the culture turned out to be far more difficult. The only way to improve the performance of our site while meeting business requirements for new features was to start entering each other’s worlds. Ops needs to be involved in new initiatives to provide guidance from a performance perspective, and development needs to be responsible for deploying and maintaining their code in production. Getting to this point would require everyone in the organization to start thinking differently about their roles, and to start taking on tasks that weren’t in their job description,” he says,

Martin decided he had to show it was a joint effort my making a developer his partner in the devops experiment, even providing him production-level access. That made Martin nervous, but he knew he had to walk the talk if he expected others to. “The best way to effect cultural change is to find your champion on the other side and to bring them into your world, and this is what we’ve been doing – with great results.”

From a productivity perspective, Edmunds.com spends significantly less time finding and troubleshooting performance issues in production than it did before. It spends about two fewer hours per week fixing problems, and estimates it has saved about $1.2 million through improved uptime and increased productivity by aligning dev and ops and unifying its tool set.

Congratulations, John! 

Inforworld.com

John Martin is senior director of production engineering at Edmunds

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At Edmunds we’re not just about making car buying easier, we're also passionate about technology!

As with any website that has millions of unique visitors, it's a necessity that we maintain a scalable and highly-available infrastructure with reliable services.

We are excited by software design and strive to create engaging exper-iences while using coding practices that promote streamlined website production and experimentation. We embrace continuous delivery, dev ops, and are constantly improving our processes so we can stay lean and innovative. We also prioritize giving back to the community by providing open APIs for our auto-motive data and open sourcing projects whenever possible.

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