Las Vegas 2022

Disney Global SRE – Creating Digital Magic

Let us tell you a story about a century-old organization that has scaled its SRE practice to ignite digital magic across the globe. This team of SRE Jedi Knights is on a mission to foster curiosity, communities of practice and technology awesomeness while venturing where no SRE has gone before. In this talk, we will deliver epic stories of successes, setbacks and failures while pushing large-scale platforms to their limit and delivering the best in-seat, digital experiences, products and content to our guests and subscribers across the globe.Scaling SRE & Embedded Teams in the EnterpriseChampion best practices in Infrastructure, Automation and Delivering with reliability at the core.Building a high functioning Global SRE Organization that fosters a great culture, believes strongly in automation, removing toil, IaC and improving processes.


Jason Cox

Director, Global SRE, The Walt Disney Company



All right. I had mentioned one of the key themes for this year's conference is to be a huge reunion. So we want to assemble some of the people that I've admired most over my career, and I know many of you admire as well. So these are people that before the pandemic, I would routinely see multiple times a year. So without a doubt, one of the people on the top of this list would be Jason Cox, currently director of SRE at the Walt Disney Company. So I met him in 2013. I had been looking for this person because someone was sending all these Disney Ops engineers to all the same conferences. I was going to, like the Velocity Courtney, uh, velocity Conference. Hello, Courtney Nash, uh, who was, uh, one of the chairs, uh, chef conference, so many others. So this first picture, uh, is when I first got to hang out with him on the, uh, in 2014 on the Disney Glendale campus.


And I saw so many amazing things there among them was, uh, that I got to see him thanked more people more times in one day than I think most ops practitioners get thanked in their entire career. Um, over the years, uh, Jason's presentations have inspired so many ops leaders to rethink how they're organized, including Fernando Cargo, now currently VP of Digital at Adidas, who will be talking tomorrow. Uh, he spoke, Jason spoke at the first DevOps Enterprise Summit in 2014, and it was so memorable for so many reasons. One reason was that his presentation wasn't allowed to be recorded or live streamed for, you know, enterprise reasons. So familiar to so many of you. So I'm so delighted. Due to his relentless lobbying over the years, nearly a decade, Disney now allows his presentations to be recorded without that. Without further ado, Jason Cox.


All right, wonderful. It's so good to be back. So good to be in person, isn't it? Isn't this wonderful? Okay, so you probably know about Disney, but if you don't, I thought I'd give you a long history of where we came from, but instead of doing it for my mouth, I'll do it from a video. That's what we do at Disney. So watch this


At now, your host, Walt Disney. In our modern world, everywhere we look, we see the influence science has on our daily lives. Discoveries that were miracles a few short years ago are accepted as commonplace today. Many of the things that seem impossible now will become realities tomorrow.


Today at Disney, we have amazing teams creating magic with technology.


Technology's part of the DNA at Disney has always been part of the DNA at Disney, but it's always been in service of telling the story.


If the guests walk away talking about the technology, we haven't done our job. It's all about the experience.


I care about creating technology that really builds wonderful experiences. And I think there is no company where you can do that in the way that you can here.


It's an awesome, unique opportunity to connect compelling stories that we have at Disney with audiences all over the world, through delightful product experiences and through amazing technology.


We believe that a close partnership between art and technology is essential to creating compelling stories with engaging characters in believable worlds.


There's so much passion on the part of all of the teams behind what we do to make sure that what we're building lives up to that Disney expectation


With a big idea. There is very little friction in making it into something through the use of technology,


With industry leading technologies like augmented reality and machine learning behind the scenes, we are creating awesome experiences


To be able to take content that people really want to consume, to give them exactly what they want by leveraging the power of data.


That to me, is really super exciting as a technologist to continue to move at the very front edge of the technology in so many different areas.


Tech at Disney is so boundless to take us further, to disrupt entertainment for our guests. I believe technology will power the magic.




The last few years, we've ventured into a lot of different fields, had the opportunity to meet and work with a lot of wonderful people. We hope that you will join us and that you'll find here a place of knowledge and happiness.


What do you think? Huh? So I'm going to invite you in to be part of the magic today, right? So I'm gonna talk to you a little bit about my group, our global SRE. We're a central shared services team providing reliability engineering to the whole company. Um, I'm gonna give you three takeaways, okay? I'm trying to deliver something. I'm gonna tell you some of the learnings that we had that I think that you could use. So that's what we're gonna be talking about today. So this will set a little of the frame. Here's the company, and if you start there on the left, you can see this is our creative powerhouse of the company. These is our artists, our storytellers, and they're creating those magical stories, those experiences, and then they're shipped over to the next part of our company where we connect it to you, to our, our audiences. We stream it out. And then on the far right, that's where we turn those stories into concrete making, those physical experiences that you can enjoy and we can connect our guests to those storylines that they can be part of. And then this big green bar at the bottom, that's the group I'm in. That's our shared services team, our corporate team, and we support this incredible, uh, kingdom of magic right across Disney. But here's the thing.


There are problems with centralized services. Let me ask you a question. How many of you are part of a shared services team in your organization? Lemme see that. Wow, there's a lot of family here. I see that right now. Now, here's the second question. How many of you have to consume shared services from your company? How's that going for you? Huh? You know, listen, listen, here's, I say this, and you've seen this before, but this is so true. As a shared services team, we often say, we're here to help, and this is what our businesses see. Yeah, sure. Right? In fact, this is how they react. Seriously, are you, you're here to help? Sure. Well, that's a problem, right? And here's some of the reasons why, right? Because when you start to dive into what is their mission by how they're reacting, it's something along these lines.


Building world class, elegant, beautifully executed solutions to problems that you don't even have. <laugh>. Have you ever seen that? Can I get a witness? Has anybody seen that from a shared service team? This is a problem. So don't worry. If you don't need the service, that's fine. We'll still charge you anyway. You see that too? Yeah. Well, what's a good model? What's a better model? What's a better way for us to offer out shared services to our organizations? Well, we looked at that and we said, what are we gonna do with SRE? And several years ago, we began this journey to say, what if we embedded engineers into the very product teams, into the businesses, into those technology groups across the company, and we help them elevate their practice wherever they were.


I know what you're thinking. Yeah, Jason, that sure looks like a death star to me, right? <laugh>, you wouldn't be wrong. Listen, it was not the intent, the diagrams, the Venn diagram, it's just the way it worked out. But I've heard the same thing from even the Lucas film team. They said, Hey, Jason, by the way, that's looking like a death star. But they also said this, and so did several others across the company have told me over and over again, you're not like the other shared services teams. Your team actually understands our business. Oh, that was a clue, wasn't it? And you know what we started hearing all the time? Gene talked about this, right? He followed me around. People would, and they still do, approach me. Send me an email. See me in the hallway, say, thank you, Jason, your team. Fantastic, thank you.


Save the day. Thank you for helping elevate our innovation. And we hear this all the time from across the company. We're valued. Thank you for what you're doing. Thank you. You're fantastic. We wouldn't have happened. It wouldn't have happened without your team. Your team is unbelievable. And frankly, it shouldn't be unbelievable. Should it? As a shared services team should be believable. Your team brings innovation, creativity. Thank you for being an awesome partner. We hear this all the time. Well, so what are those lessons that we have learned to get to that point? Lesson number one, listen. Listen is simple, isn't it? Sounds so simple. But I gotta tell you this. I go to all the different business units across Disney. I sit down with the technology leaders and I ask them, I say, why? So what is it about these other shared services?


They told me over and over again? They don't listen to us. Would you please tell them, don't come and tell us what you're offering. Come and listen. Understand what we need. Understand our business. Please know what the business is all about. Understand how they ship the magic. What are the complications to get there? Know the mission. What's the north star? What's the objective? Where are they trying to go? You know what, you have to talk to people. You have to listen to find out what that is. Become part of the rebel alliance. Join the businesses to help them get to where they want to go. You know, this is other important thing you have to know. People listen to the people listen to, uh, they're not on the other side of a ticket window. These are real humans like us. Listen to them. You know what we did that when we started talking to different teams, we found out some things.


What are they looking for? They're looking for help. They want some help to help them create and ship content, products and experiences. Better, higher quality, faster, getting it to market, lower friction, safer, protecting our treasures as a company, our, our, our company assets and protecting our guest data. And then finally, happier. You know, here's the thing. We're supposed to be shipping happiness, but happiness only comes from people that are happy. You know, imagine that, right? If you're right, we looked at it. If our cast members, our employees are not happy, how are they gonna ship happiness? How do we remove the friction from the system to make it better, to make their lives better so they're happier?


Well, listen, that's the number one thing. Know the business. Know the mission, know the team. Here's number two. If you're taking notes, we're on number two. Okay? So, and yeah, time is going down too fast. Is this on for a second? So here's the thing. Have empathy. Listen, if you wanna connect to the businesses, you need to know their frame of reference, putting yourself into somebody else's shoes. Understand the problems and, and challenges that they face. That's super important to be able to go from what we talked about, the imperial start to store coming in to help you, right to this, to this a family, right? We're connecting one team, one family, pulling it forward together. Empathy drives that. You know, by the way, it's not this, it's not this. I, I, I'm sorry. Like look, listen, I know there's gold in any, in any mountain of dirt, but, but listen to me.


Listen to me. This does not create empathy. This does not help you connect with other people. It doesn't. It creates silos, it creates walls, and we see it over and over again. And we don't want that. We want people to connect. It's not this. You need help. Submit a ticket. Fill out the 47 different fields, and if you do one wrong, we reject it. Right? Send it in again. Oh, you fill out 10 more task forms and then we might actually help you. Right? That's not help, right? Instead, it's this. Don't wait for them to come to your ticket window. Go to them, right? Change the direction. Go find out what they need. Proximity. And we saw this over and again, from our model embedded, be close to the businesses, understanding what they're building, helping them do that. Work together, understanding the pains, their face, and help relieve it. Provide the real help in real time because we're there. Have empathy, shared mission, shared struggles, shared wins. Okay, here's the third one. We might actually get through this on time. Here's <laugh>.


How about this actually help, you know, I'm serious, right? I, it's like so much of like what gets delivered from a shared service team is theater, right? It's not that we're looking for real help, aren't we? I love this quote. Teo says this, listen, do something to help them. If you do, people will come to expect that you can help them and will look forward to seeing you again. Is that profound? You know, let, let's reverse that for just a second. If you're a shared services team, if nobody looks forward to seeing you, in fact they tried to avoid you, you may not be helping. I'm just saying, right? Could be true. Actually, help. Here's the idea. So what we did was we looked at all those opportunities where the business could had a need that we could help, right? And we plugged in, we said, oh, over and over again.


They said, help us connect to other technologies across Disney. Help us connect to new technology, build a community, help when we have a need burst in to our teams. Flex in when we have an area where we are, uh, need of horsepower, right? And embed more of your team into our group. We've heard this over and over again. So that's what we did. First being very important, be a community partner, not a command tower. Look, we're a corporate. We're here to help and tell you what to do, right? Nobody needs that. Help build communities of practice around, around great technology. And we do that through things like Jedi Engineering Training Academy. We help technologists connect to other technologists, businesses to businesses, learning from internal and external experts. We go on location, <laugh> teams in all these different locations to help ship great products, content and experiences. We look at like all of our cast members and what they're working, how do we hand them back time? Because if we're gonna unleash magic, we wanna hand them time, give time back to the artist so they can create new environments, new characters, new experiences, great experiences on the screen. All of that amplifies creativity. And we've done just that. Being able to unlock things that are gross, frustrating, slow, and handing back the time to the business as a shared service. That's what we should be doing, right?


All that results in some really great award-winning content. That's all I'm saying. Like, there's amazing artists that across Disney, they're just doing incredible things. By the way, grow Grew does say, yes, I appreciate that. <laugh>. Let me tell you one story. As an example of how we execute on trying to help. So we had the Marvel Studio come to us that we are trying to do this, this charity event. We really wanna get behind it, support it. And as part of, uh, the release of Dr. Strange, we wanna get this out to all of our audiences so they can connect in, upload some user content, and get these, these, uh, great experiences. And we're contributing and promoting the charity event, but we need it done in less than one week. Ah, you know what? We were the only team kid, you not, not, we were the only team who could say yes, not because we're brilliant or heroic, or we're gonna just burn all the Midnight Oil.


No, because we knew the business. The business needs to pivot like this all the time. So we plumbed in We platforms, automation technology allows us to pivot, get stuff out fast at hyperscale, to be able to support these great media events over and over again because we knew the business makes all the difference in the world. We've done the same thing with attractions. Handing back, imagineers the opportunity to sit on a ride vehicle, see a problem, a defect, check out the code, pull open their laptop, edit, upload, see it build and on very next cycle, see their code in the attraction in production. What does that allow for? Greater iteration to polish, improve quality, experiment, deliberate, more magical experiences. Uh, for our guest, we sent that into Orbit and back on earth. We're reminded we got to actually help build community, build trust, and build magic together.


Go and see. So there you go. There's the three. How about that? We made it through this. Can you believe this? So the three things, listen, have empathy and actually help. Those are some lessons we learned. Now, I have help that I'm asking you to help me with, which is, I know I'm missing something here. Maybe something really big. You're like, Jason, I want to hear from you. If you've got a model, a shared service that you said really works well, maybe it's different than mine and probably is. I wanna hear about it. Tell me what I'm missing. And we should be looking at, tell me about other SRE models there are that we should be evaluating inside a Disney. So with that, I thank you and um, uh, appreciate this opportunity to be back in person again. This is so great.