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The software behind the scenes at Food Network and HGTV

Matthew Heusser | Dec. 23, 2015
A cable television network requires round-the-clock programming, an agile development team, some impressive software and a whole bunch of project management.’s Matthew Heusser sat down with Tara Nicholson at Scripps Networks Interactive to find out how this complicated operation works. What are some of the challenges you face in program management?

I believe we have great talent in Digital: software engineers, architects, editors, designers, etc. Each of the programs focus on their unique brands and demographics. However there are some similarities, such as the service we use to create servers – our cross-team PaaS toolset, scheduling or monitoring tools, and test automation frameworks, where sharing knowledge offers some big wins. Focusing on individual brands has the potential to create the silo effect many program managers are familiar with. With busy roadmaps, differing processes and schedules, it’s challenging to share meaningful and actionable time together. Do you have a solution for the silos?

First of all, it’s a journey to integrate siloed teams, not a destination. I don’t claim to have a solution, but I think it is important to build habits in individual and team behaviors that seek the desired information sharing. This can be in the way of structured meetings, like our “CrossWise” series. To draw participants’ attention out of their laptops and into the conversation, the leader(s) of this meeting has to think about what’s in it for the people participating. If the area of expertise is test automation, invite the test engineers, get them talking about recent findings, pain points and ideas. Let the discussion get technical, let them problem solve. Simply knowing who your counterparts are within the other areas of the company and what they excel at helps us see each other as resources.

It’s interesting what a good coffee machine a reasonable distance away will do for cross-pollination of teams. We also do movie days where we code and watch movies, corn-hole tournaments and we are about to try out a board game day.

The project and program managers have a big part to play, with each category in varying size, organization and location, connecting individuals with similar skills in a casual format.  Getting the project managers together periodically to talk, we provide that bridge.

One of my favorites, though it’s only once a year, is our two-day internal tech conference. Our own employees present on topics they have a passion for, and attendees block time out of their busy days to learn something new. We call it Techtoberfest (it’s in October), and we’re in our sixth year. We have more fantastic topic submissions than we have time in the schedule. Topics range from video editing, innovation, successful practices, industry trends, etc. You came from a software testing background. Does that still play a role?

Software quality is evolving rapidly. Automated solutions and shared responsibilities are my top two takeaways.

It’s not reasonable for teams to focus on innovative ideas if they’re bogged down by repetitive manual validation. It is time to learn from failed automation attempts of the past decade and move forward. We treat automation like code, make it scalable, manageable, and version controlled. Delivering automation code in high-value iterative pieces is a necessary discipline to avoid mistakes of the past.


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