This month is a big month for PagerDuty—we turned 10 on February 18! I never imagined we’d reach this milestone, honestly. A lot of Dutonians...by Alex Solomon
February 21, 2019
At PagerDuty, I feel safe. Why? Stay a while and listen as I tell a few stories that tie my personal experiences into how PagerDuty works to develop a culture of inclusion.
During my first week at PagerDuty, I noticed the semi-random ID for my internal PagerDuty account, and my stomach twisted. I told my manager, Arup Chakrabarti, that I was uncomfortable having that sequence of characters associated with me. Without hesitation and without asking any questions, he immediately set about changing it. While changing the ID, he talked to me about how it is used to connect internal systems, which both grounded me in the moment and taught me something relevant to my job.
I never explained to Arup why I asked him to change that ID. And he never asked me. Months later, I told him how much his actions in that moment meant to me. I also asked him why he helped me without any information, any reason, or any question. “Because I trust you,” he responded. “I trust that you wouldn’t ask me to do something if it wasn’t important to you.”
As a queer woman in tech recovering from employment-based trauma, queer-based trauma, and my own #metoo experiences, psychological safety at its most practical means a space where the trauma ends and recovery can begin.
Psychological safety means knowing what other people expect of me, knowing what my teammates and manager commit to, and trusting that they will follow through on their commitments. The hardest part of psychological safety for me is feeling that I will be safe if I’m not perfect. What happens if I make a mistake? Will my mistakes be treated more harshly than those of others?
I was looking for a blameless postmortem: the idea that the resolution of every incident is a learning opportunity and an investigation focused on understanding the why and how in order to prevent future similar incidents. PagerDuty employees write and talk about blameless postmortems, in blogs, in documentation, in interviews, and in team meetings. It’s one thing to hear it, but sometimes I still struggle to believe that I, as a queer woman, would receive the same compassion, opportunities, and leeway afforded to every other PagerDuty employee.
Every person does their best work and presents their best self when they feel psychological safety—and explicit expectations are one cornerstone of how PagerDuty builds a space where I feel safe.
Before my first week at PagerDuty, I was anxious about being a new Security Engineer on a team where every member of the team had 10–20 years of experience. I asked my manager, Arup Chakrabarti, what I could do to prepare for my first week. “Relax,” he said. “Finding a job is hard enough. I need you ready and excited for your next adventure with us.”
That interaction set the tone for my experiences at PagerDuty. And as the company grows, we strive to set explicit expectations. Arup writes expectations for direct reports and for one-on-one meetings, our team maintains a page of on-call expectations, departments are developing more general expectations via role descriptions and levels, and I’m working with our People team to develop explicit guidance on how PagerDuty employees can bring PagerDuty values into our work.
Every new employee has a detailed and personalized onboarding checklist, including suggested Slack channels and notifications settings, links to relevant and useful internal wiki pages, introductions to engineers on other teams, and feedback on onboarding.
My team named one mentor, Franklin Mosley, to be my go-to person for onboarding, and he has been my best resource for ramping up. But it’s not just him: it’s been easy developing helpful connections with other engineers and with employees across departments.
PagerDuty invests in people. Our first value as a company is “People First.” PagerDuty hired me as an investment in my future growth—in the engineer I will become as I learn from my teammates and from my colleagues across the company.
I’m proud to be part of an organization that reviews our procedures regularly with an eye toward reducing bias, prioritizing hiring of under-represented minorities, and widening our recruiting efforts to source candidates from non-traditional backgrounds.
Developing a diverse and inclusive culture only begins with hiring. One way that PagerDuty invests in developing an inclusive culture is through our Employee Resource Groups, such as SisterDuty, our group supporting women at PagerDuty.
It was through SisterDuty that I found community and a sense of belonging at PagerDuty. It was through SisterDuty that my trust in PagerDuty’s commitment to our values was first challenged. And it was through SisterDuty that I found the confidence, teamwork, and leadership to rebuild trust.
Managers at PagerDuty build trust in part by setting explicit expectations. Trust also means following through with our commitments. PagerDuty builds a product that our customers rely on. We can only follow through with our commitments to our customers if we follow through on our commitments to each other.
The hardest test is what we do when we realize that we made a mistake. PagerDuty embraces the concepts of continuous improvement and blameless postmortems—and these concepts guide not only our drive toward technical resilience but also our interpersonal resilience. The growth and resilience of our product depends on a blameless postmortem, which prioritizes improving processes and learning from our mistakes. Similarly, the growth and resilience of our community and of our culture relies on the trust that we have for each other acting in good faith. When a technical incident occurs, a postmortem guides us to improve our product, and widely sharing details on the postmortem rebuilds our customers’ trust in PagerDuty.
PagerDuty works hard to create psychological safety, but we still have room for improvement. To that end, we are building a program to hold us more accountable to continuous improvement of our inclusivity efforts. And I encourage other companies to do the same.
Look for another blog post in the coming months on how we leverage our expertise in compassionate DevOps culture to guide hard conversations and support development of inclusion processes that are integrated with our cultural values at PagerDuty.