Case studies

How DX fuels Intercom’s developer experience program

Intercom
Improvement in every DevEx driver measured, with an average improvement of 15%
30 hours/week saved for developers from identified improvements to local development setups
Intercom’s DevEx group gains back 20% of their time

Following a reorg, Intercom’s Infrastructure Services organization had more ownership over the tooling and systems developers use to deliver software. With Iain Breen at the helm, the organization had a renewed focus on reducing toil for developers. Iain wanted to make sure they were strategic about what projects they prioritized. 

However, understanding the challenges faced by developers proved to be complex. Intercom attempted to address this issue in several ways, including a quantitative metrics solution and in-house surveys. While both approaches provided some insights, they had limitations. Surveys, in particular, were difficult to create, administer, and analyze, and they did not provide the detailed information Iain’s group needed. Moreover, neither method generated reports that the entire organization could access.

Infrastructure Services had to go through the process of anonymizing data, creating customized reports, and guiding teams on interpreting the information if they wanted different teams to identify areas for improvement.

All in, Iain says that when they started using DX, the Developer Experience Program gained 20-25% of their time back. On top of that, Intercom improved every DevEx driver measured, with an average improvement of 15%, within the first three months of using DX. 

We didn’t know how much we were missing until we brought DX in. Now, it’s fundamental to the business, and we could not see ourselves operating without it anymore.”
- Iain Breen, Senior Engineering Leader

Intercom had specific criteria in mind while considering solutions. They needed a tool that could automate the work involved in collecting data, be user-friendly for reporting on insights, and allow teams company-wide to access and utilize data independently. 

“It was clear to us that DX is the market leader,” Breen says. “We also appreciated how well-aligned DX’s approach is to how we think about developer experience.” 

Making it easy to identify toil

Within two days of running their first DevEx 360 snapshot, Intercom already had teams with action items and specific items going into roadmaps. They soon adopted DX’s KPIs as their top-level metrics for tracking efforts to reduce toil and improve productivity.

We’ve never had as comprehensive of a view before, which was a big win for us. We now have top-level metrics that help us measure and manage our work.”
- Iain Breen, Senior Engineering Leader

It’s common for teams (not just at Intercom, but across the industry) to deal with developer experience issues that are frequent but not necessarily major. In a specific case, DX insights showed Intercom that development teams were regularly losing time fixing VPN issues on their remote laptops, among other pain points of remote desktops. When DX identified this issue, Iain’s team focused on providing a better local development environment,

This change resulted in substantial benefits. According to their latest DX360 Snapshot, satisfaction with the Developer Environments has increased dramatically, from 47% to 82%. Additionally, with this change, Intercom could reduce their AWS costs due to reduced dependence on their services.

Automating the work to engage development teams

Intercom has also used DX to make it easier for internal and external-facing development teams to access the insights and take action. Today, managers can view their team’s data and pinpoint developer experience issues that their team can focus on. 

Previously, Infrastructure Services manually collected and distributed reports to teams, guiding them on potential actions. DX automates this process and allows Iain’s organization to track the focus areas that teams set, as well as whether they’re having an impact. 

“We never set expectations that teams should drive their own improvements,” Breen says. “But engineering managers have proactively gone into DX to review the data and set their own focus areas. That’s resulted in giant improvements in areas like the on-call experience and deep work.” 

We never set expectations that teams should drive their own improvements. But engineering managers have proactively gone into DX to review the data and set their own focus areas. That’s resulted in giant improvements in areas like the on-call experience and deep work.”
- Iain Breen, Senior Engineering Leader

Internal-facing tooling teams have been using the data, too. For instance, when Intercom analyzed its infrastructure as code platform, the program’s leaders organically went to view the data and planned the next steps based on what they were seeing.

“The democratization of data is genuinely important for us. It’s a cornerstone and a fundamental principle of the program we’re running: we do not want to do this in isolation.” Iain continues: “In the past, we had to anonymize the results and remove all the personal data from data we collected, and then would try to synthesize some kind of outcome or the next steps report from it. The process was influenced by our own opinions and biases.” 

The democratization of data is genuinely important for us. It’s a cornerstone and a fundamental principle of the program we’re running: we do not want to do this in isolation.”
- Iain Breen, Senior Engineering Leader

Raising DevEx to the leadership level

With DX insights, communicating high-level KPIs and projects to senior leadership is simpler. 

“Even our CTO and VPs are actively navigating and reviewing results,” Iain says. “They can easily form their own opinions before I make recommendations. If I need to approach a group director with a suggestion regarding their experience, they’re usually already informed and aware of the results. Because of this, it’s easier for me to socialize the problem and seek leadership buy-in.” 

Additionally, DX simplifies managing readouts on results to the broader organization.

“DX is definitely a crucial part of how we think about improving our ability to serve our Intercom customers,” says Breen. “We’re ensuring that our engineers are incredibly happy about their engineering experience, that they feel productive on a personal level, and that they get their work done without a bunch of toil or effort. We’re at a different level now than we were in the past, and it’s purely because of DX.”

DX is the high-octane fuel to our DevEx program, propelling us to work more efficiently and quickly.”
- Iain Breen, Senior Engineering Leader

Get started

Want to explore more?

See the DX platform in action.

Get a demo