Episode 4 Kim Wier - FinOps as Product Part 1
Kim Wier, Director of Efficiency Engineering at Target, joins the show and shares her career path, how she has built her team, leveraging Target's culture and commitment to learn. We also dive into the why and how Kim's team are building their own FinOps toolset. You do not want to miss this conversation!
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[00:00:04] Stacy: Let me tell you a story about a person. Her name is Kim.[:
[00:00:27] Stacy: That one wasn't meant to be . . .
that was me trying to read Slack while you were doing something else. And I can't even, I would say, let me redo that, but it would just get worse. So.[:
[00:00:50] Stacy: Let's introduce ourselves?[:
[00:00:53] Stacy: and I am Stacy Case[:
[00:01:00] Stacy: Kim. I like Kim and I'm not going to lie, Target's one of my favorite places.[:
[00:01:17] Stacy: Yeah.[:
Kim is incredibly active in the FinOps Foundation community. She's on the Technical Advisory Council. Is a FinOps Ambassador, and that's not all that would be more than enough for most people, but Kim also runs the Twin Cities Meetup, which is the friendliest meetup I've ever been a part of.[:
It was when I started my cross country drive across from Oregon to Massachusetts. And, I had to stop for the summit to, to be on the call with J.R. and do that. And I was like, frantic I'm like, where am I going to go to do this? And I actually stopped at a Target parking lot boosted their wifi and I made a comment about it. And during the summit itself saying, Hey, thanks, Kim for having such great wifi in this parking lot. But I did it for my trailer in a parking lot. that's My random Kim's story. And then her and I started talking about traveling a little bit online after that.
Noel and I got on the zoom with her and we , talked to her about it. Kim has a really interesting career path as she comes from a legal background. So we were
That's right. A legal
[00:03:08] Joe: No FinOps for lawyers was not, it's not a thing yet, yet. But this is a non-traditional path coming to FinOps. Kim is probably one of the most relatable people. We ask her about her career path and she sums it up by saying[:
[00:03:28] Joe: That's a huge skill set you need in life. And as my wife likes to remind me, FinOps is just really life skills, and that you need to apply thoroughly. Well, listen to her, talk about how she took her law degree and it into real estate. And then to it infrastructure, she's been all over the place.[:
[00:03:53] Joe: It's real life.[:
[00:03:55] Joe: and from there, she made a comment during the FinOps summit that at Target, they're building their own FinOps tool set, which Noel really wanted to dig into. So we'll jump in to the interview.[:
If you are going to be around in June, I have a great suggestion for you. I think you should all meet us in Austin, Texas on June 20th and 21st for the first ever FinOps Foundation conference called FinOps X. So you can go to X.FinOps.org to find out more about it.[:
[00:04:34] Stacy: Oh I'll be there with bells on or cowboy hats[:
[00:04:43] Stacy: oh, no,
they will not be happy with you. Alright And now, Kim.[:
[00:05:08] Kim: So I had participated in the summit early on in my experience with FinOps. So really I haven't been a FinOps member for all that long. Kind of how the story goes. My team has been charged with doing FinOps at Target and we call it Efficiency Engineering.
When my team formed. I had my team as a way to get them aligned to what our mission was. I had them do an exercise where they were tasked with going out and finding anything they could find related to efficiency engineering. We didn't find FinOps in that search, there were 10 or 15 of us searching for what we thought FinOps or what we thought Efficiency Engineering was, but we didn't find FinOps surprisingly.
So it was about six months into our journey that one of my peers, Ron Tatro saw something, read it and he was like, oh my gosh. This is what we're doing. And so he and I jumped in head first and started to get involved. And so with that, I had had a question for J.R.. And I reached out to him on slack and he responded so quickly. I was amazed. And so that was kind of the start of my involvement in doing things in the member meeting. So fast forward to now I was a little bit more comfortable doing the talk and participating. And I think you know, it was easy because it was just sharing my perspective of what the survey results were.[:
[00:07:12] Kim: I'm going to have to go really far back into my career to explain this to you. My undergrad degree was in legal studies, so I came out of college as a paralegal.
And in that experience, I loved diving into, you know, the legal research and doing all of that kind of work. I worked for International Dairy Queen. I worked for SuperValu. I worked for Music Land all before I came to Target. And at each of those companies, they had a database of their legal rights and obligations related to their real estate.into Target. We had probably:
And I said, you know, all the information about what our legal rights and obligations were? And she said, Oh, no, we have this excel spreadsheet that has all of our location numbers on it. And then what you do is you try and figure out what the request is about what locations and about by looking at these three columns in Excel.
And I was pretty dumbfounded because going back, you know, years into my past all of those smaller companies had databases. That was the start of my push to get Target, to modernize and find a solution for the legal rights and obligations database. I ended up being the primary person in real estate who brought this technology in, and it was a huge project.
It included scanning all of our legal documents. It included abstracting all of the data out that was pertinent to what we needed. It probably took a year and a half. And so I was doing my day job of being a manager in real estate and bringing in this technology. At the end I just said, you know, we can't have business people doing all of this technology work, it just doesn't work. So we need somebody responsible for the technology strategy for real estate. So I made up my own job and I became responsible for the technology strategy for real estate. Fast forward. How did I get into infrastructure? When looking at my career, I was ready for the next position in the real estate department. My next job would have been a new store, real estate manager and my skills as a problem solver. Don't align with the skills of that job for being a negotiator. So really they do a lot of negotiation with developers and land owners and cities. And that just wasn't me. So I started to look for different opportunities.
And one of my last projects in real estate technology was to bring in a new document management system. While in infrastructure, there was an opening for a senior engineering manager for content management. So I convinced them that I knew enough about that and moved over to that. But I'll tell you. I didn't know, I did not know what I was in for.
I should have gone into a product team, not really into infrastructure. And it's funny. I, I did great. I have loved all 10 years of my experience in infrastructure, but I have to be honest, the like in the first week I was having a status with one of the engineers and the technology he was working on. The JVM went down, so he bounced it. And I was just like, what, what A: what's a JVM and B: what does it mean to bounce it? And so it, like, since that point, it's been a 10 year learning journey for me. And that's how I became here.[:
And I genuinely would like to ask you, cause I know you said that , the FinOps summit in March around you're developing your own tool in house, I'm interested in that there is some good products out there on, on, I know other companies who have developed their own tools. What was the logic reasoning?
Why did you choose to go down that road? Because I think it's interesting. I have an interesting story. If nothing else.[:
We built up a really strong software engineering culture and software engineers. And so we do all of that development internal.[:
[00:13:43] Kim: We're a year into our journey and we spent basically last year doing a lot of work manually, and that was doing manual analysis and then partnering with the product teams who use Google cloud to, you know, auto scale and optimize their workloads. So we have this manual track happening while at the same time we had two teams.
One really developing the, the data pipelines and getting the data that we need for our Efficiency Engineering perspective and tooling. And then we had another team working on the engineer persona application. And then we actually had the data team also was working on dashboards for our leader persona.[:
[00:14:42] Kim: The application? So, yeah, , we have a product taxonomy, we have, you know, the application, the product ,product group all the way up to the portfolio. We know that an engineer is more interested in understanding the specifics at their application level or maybe even their workload level.
So we've built our tooling that gives them a tool to understand how their application or their workload is how efficient it is, how much it's costing, how much they're utilizing. Versus we have a dashboard for the leader persona that shows here's how much everything is costing. Here's how efficient your organization is.
That kind of thing.[:
[00:15:55] Kim: So we are one team, we're all under Efficiency Engineering, but to really optimize our development, we've naturally broken up into different sub teams. So doing more backend development and the data pipelines, and then doing that front end develop.[:
[00:16:25] Kim: That's going back to the whole transformation Target infrastructure has also transformed into a software engineering culture. And so where we used to have traditional systems administrators by and large, those roles are now software engineers. And so when they formed my team, it was really like a amalgamation of engineers from different parts of the organization whose jobs were changing. I got some people who were infrastructure in data science tools. I got some engineers who were system administrators in more traditional VM and server technologies. And so we created this team and part of our transformation has been really teaching them software engineering skills.
I would say every single person in my team has been transforming over the past year. I had a couple of engineers who had been doing software engineering before Efficiency Engineering. And so they've really helped guide the team and help to mature them in those software engineering tools. We have specific learning plans for each person and especially as new people join the team, here's the technologies you need to learn.
We give them time to actually learn. We commit time for them to learn. We do a lot of pair programming, which helps advance that learning. And eventually they become great, awesome software engineers on my team.[:
[00:18:11] Kim: That is true. Yup.
Then we also have these early tech talent programs where, you know, getting tech talent is a challenge today. And if you think about getting FinOps tech talent, that's an even deeper challenge. We have these early technical programs where we're partnering with and sponsoring, diverse candidates, then interview for jobs at Target and are placed on teams. And so I actually have three, we call them emerging engineers on my team. And they have, you know, a 12 week bootcamp under their belt, and then we teach them everything else. I cannot tell you how incredible these three women are and how much of an impact they've made to our team. There's that. That's a whole nother learning journey. And then I'm on my own learning journey.
My background is legal studies. And then I have an MBA while now Target has this whole new education benefit. I'm currently pursuing my masters of science and information technology degree. So I am on a learning journey as well.[:
[00:19:26] Noel: It is. I want to ask questions, but I'm thinking I can't ask certain questions because you'd have to tell out trade secrets and then poor old Joe, just have to edit them out anyway.[:
[00:19:36] Noel: I know. that's the thing, as, I don't know, do we want to go down[:
[00:19:40] Noel: might be able to come back.[:
[00:20:20] Kim: That's a great question. And it's yet to be seen if we were successful or not. I mean, we've definitely had a lot of learnings along the way, and even we just went live with our MVP and we already know , oh, we've got to change this. This part isn't going to work for us. Which I think is that whole product model, right? You start with an MVP and then you iterate. So one really fortunate thing happened early in the formation. We got two really seasoned engineers from the platform team that was managing Google cloud for target. So they really had a depth of knowledge of how GCP worked, how the billing worked.
I don't know if we would have been as successful as we are without those two individuals. They came in and helped guide the team and shared their knowledge. They shared their knowledge with me. They shared their knowledge with the team. I think having that depth of knowledge has really helped as well, but they are also in that software engineering transformation journey.
So they have that deep infrastructure knowledge. But now they're learning the software engineering side as well. So it just makes the whole team better. When you give people opportunities, you bring in the right knowledge. It just makes a stronger team.[:
As opposed to saying, Hey, can we go and get something off the shelf? Use that initially and then develop something or was it a case of, because your culture sounds like it's developed in house and I liked that and I keep the knowledge in house and I liked that, but, was it easy to get that level of support to allow you to go yeah, here's a greenfield go build it.[:
So we have the support at the CIO level, at the SVP level, at the VP level. They help guide us, but they don't tell us how to do this. You know, we've made this a product and we're now responsible for building the best tool that we can. We actually just in the last three months, got a product owner. And I think that will help us mature this capability so much more in 2022.[:
[00:23:40] Kim: I do think that we fortunate to have our leaders really driving this it's important to them. And so it's a priority. One thing that target does is when they have a priority, they really work to resource it adequately. I am fortunate to have the size of a team that can actually develop this product.
One thing that, from my legal background, I understand the importance of not copying other people's work. So we didn't go out and pursue, you know, have a demo from this vendor or that vendor. I didn't want us to be clouded with anybody's ideas and I don't want anybody in the end to say, well, you took that capability from me. We developed this. We didn't have anybody else's perspective as we did this. So, it's our own.[:
[00:24:57] Kim: Yeah. So with the addition of the product owner, his first responsibility is going to be going out and talking to the engineers who are going to use the tool and get their feedback. You know, FinOps and Efficiency Engineering isn't like, well, what do your customers want? Honestly, they don't want any of this. They need this. And we want them to have this information. And so we developed the tool based on what we know and understand. We do have partners within our product engineering teams that we would go and say, hey, here's what we're doing. How does this look? How does this sound? How is this coming along? And they would give us feedback. But now that we're at MVP, we will be going back to many more of the product engineers to say, how do you want to see this information? One thing I think is also interesting is efficiency engineering at Target is just one and I know this is true of everywhere. Product engineers, they have so many priorities and it's hard for them to balance those priorities. They have developing new features. They have lifecycle management, they have incident and change and all of those things that are coming at them that are important, then how do you prioritize them?
And then you have this utilization. How are you utilizing your infrastructure? How much is it costing? You have performance, you have to understand your performance. Where we're headed is eventually we want to have a holistic platform for a product engineer to go to, to see all of the things, not just my tool efficiency engineering I need to have.
And my team has been building with this future perspective in mind. All I want is for the one surface where a product engineer goes to see how are things and do I have any opportunities? So we will build just a little efficiency indicator. Are you good or are you not good if you're not? Click in for more, and that's where they'll come to our application, but if they're good, they don't have to think about it.[:
[00:27:46] Kim: That's really good. My team had created an efficiency indicator, it's a battery icon, and it tells how efficient an application or workload or product is. But that's the one feature that we want input on from our product engineers. So I don't actually have the vision for it yet. So it's going to be driven by the product engineers. What do they want to see? What's important to them in understanding where their efficiency perspective is at.
[00:28:30] Joe: We can be anywhere we want to be in an interview, Stacey, we're all over this podcast, but that was the noise of tape getting scratched, that was that very moment where Noel and I have the way we know how to do FinOps, just completely smashed in by Kim.[:
[00:29:45] Stacy: Got it. Okay. But, so what's the difference between that and then what Kim said.[:
[00:29:54] Stacy: Okay.[:
[00:31:04] Stacy: So would you say we jumped back in and listened to the rest of this interview?[:
[00:31:33] Kim: Well, I think in the best interest of Target they want to utilize their infrastructure as well as they can. And so I think it is important to ask them how do they want to see how well they're using that infrastructure resource?[:
I liked the way that you're asking them to, to help you build it. It's good. That's going to encourage them to buy into it as well. Right. And work towards it.[:
And we just want to make sure that that it is what they would want.[:
[00:34:00] Kim: Yes. Yep. We are definitely headed in the right track.[:
[00:35:08] Noel: It's actually going to get engineers, developers doing the right things, as opposed to, Hey, we're going to measure your RI efficiency, how much RI you've got out there, right? Reservations and stuff. And they will buy reservations to ensure that they're getting measured correctly.
But yours is more well that may not be something that's important to you because to go back to what Joe said a minute ago, if they're going to be running an instance for six hours, a 24 hour, RI is no good to them. In fact, it's a waste and it's driving the wrong behaviors. So you will drive better behaviors, longterm, which is good, which is what we all want.[:
[00:36:15] Joe: This is interesting how creating your own tooling is creating processes on how to perform FinOps, Efficiency Engineering in your company. Out of, out of how you're building the tool. It's very interesting.[:
[00:36:59] Kim: I think that the billing processes are overly complex. I think that it's hard to understand what's coming and going in your invoice. And when you get into the cloud bill this at the scale of Target or other large retailers or any large company, it's really complicated and hard to understand.
And so I would say just improving the billing would be a nice add or change.[:
[00:37:49] Kim: Or, you know, it might be what differentiates them. They don't want any of that as part of the secret sauce. I don't know. I don't know why it's complex. But it is complex and it would be nice if it was easier to understand.[:
[00:38:24] Kim: That's an interesting perspective.[:
[00:39:02] Joe: Thank you so much.[:
[00:39:07] Joe: Unfortunately. Yes, Stacey. It is, but this clearly is just part one of a multi-part series. We'll check back in, on Kim in the future and learn how she's progressing. What challenges are a team going to run into and how are they going to solve them? Plus the 2000 questions. I'm sure our listeners are screaming for us.
And you know what, calm down. People podcasts don't work like telephones or snap chats or what apps you can hear me, but I can't hear you. It's a one-way communication style. We'll get your questions later, when Kim comes back again, but you know where there'll be two way communication styles, Stacy.[:
[00:39:51] Joe: Yes![:
[00:39:57] Joe: That's right.[:
[00:39:59] Joe: Two way conversations all over the place. Go check it out X.FinOps.Org. Register!. Come in on Sunday night, leave Wednesday. You got two full days of content.[:
[00:40:14] Joe: It'll be fantastic. And I'll be walking around in a 10 gallon hat in cowboy boots, it'll be great. And I can't wait
That is it for today's FinOpsPod! You did it You made it to the end, you are a true FinOpstanaut! Thank you so much for listening. You don't want to miss when we release new episodes of FinOpsPod, give us a follow wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.
Thank you so much, Kim Wier from Target for being our guest today on the show. Thank you to my co interviewer, Noel Crowley. And Stacy Case for being a great podcast host this with me.
FinOpsPod theme song "Cheesepuffs and Caviar" from Geoffrey Burch. Thank you so much.
That's it for today. We'll see you next time on FinOpsPod!