Exaptation is an evolutionary term, where a trait that is evolved to serve one function subsequently serves another. To quote Dave Snowden, “Dinosaurs did not throw themselves out of trees and hope to eventually evolve wings.” Feathers were part of warmth, and maybe mating, but eventually this novel idea of quill feathers exapted into flight.
Computer science follows this theory as well. Darpa did not aim to invent the Internet, they aimed to create a simple computer to computer link protocol, and the Internet exapted from this. Amazon did not create a project plan to invent the Echo, it started with a few engineers experimenting with voice recognition. This similar experience is what led us to cloud computing, mobile phones, and e-commerce. So how do we as a company foster this powerful force, taking several smaller projects of unique concept, and allow humans to discover novel, exapted ideas that can lead to new business sectors?
Within the SRE team at Wayfair.com, we decided to start in the simplest notion, get people talking to one another and showcasing their projects. We kicked off the end of the summer with an SRE Innovation Day, inviting all areas within engineering to have a technology booth, and give them the platform to reach others within Wayfair.
We catered to attract a larger crowd, and advertised internally peer to peer over the course of a month.
So, what novel ideas were displayed? Linux Reliability showcased their automated datacenter construction process that was live, allowing folks to witness builds in real time. Development Platform team introduce their experimentation with Saltstack and Python. Linux Platform exhibited Google Cloud processing with our webstack. Virtualization team revealed a potential idea for future self-service for developers. Windows Reliability displayed configuration management for the back end of the warehouse business.
All of these ideas, with a team nearing four hundred, is hard to shine a spotlight on and even harder to realize a new business area that could benefit from the unintended original idea. Can the datacenter automation process benefit code deploy? Can cloud practice help on prem self service? Even more impactful, is there a place for a developer or business leader bring their dilemma to, and potentially discover an easy fix or new business area to expand into?
In the end, we were very pleased with the outcome, the cultivation of ideas, and cultural comradery that spawned from this venture. Internally we discuss promoting this further into the city of Boston, thus we created the city’s first SRE Boston meetup group inviting other IT businesses and enterprises a platform to showcase their ideas, a crowd to run their ideas against, and potentially to exact new, novel ideas meant for one function but can be utilized for their personal vexation.