Las Vegas 2023

Disney Global SRE - Delivering Shared Service Magic

The mission of The Walt Disney Company is to entertain, inform and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling, reflecting the iconic brands, creative minds and innovative technologies that make Disney one of the world's premier entertainment companies. In this talk, we will tell you the story of how this century-old organization built and uses a Global SRE shared services team to deliver on that mission. We will cover three important lessons we learned on how best to partner with our technology teams and businesses to deliver a shared service that is impactful, relevant, and wanted. Hear how Disney business teams are responding including a special appearance by the CTO of Walt Disney Animation Studios, Nick Cannon. By focusing on listening, proximity powered empathy, and actually helping with business outcomes, we are enabling our businesses to ship content, products and experiences better, faster, safer and happier.


Jason Cox

Director, Global SRE, The Walt Disney Company


Amy McCain

Sr. Manager, SRE, The Walt Disney Company





All right, so, uh, the next speaker is Jason Cox, director of platforms and SRE, uh, at the Walt Disney Company Co-presenting with Amy McCain, senior manager of SRE. And so for those of you who don't know, I met Jason, uh, a decade ago, and I remember so vividly when I finally got a chance to follow him around for a day. Uh, it was 2014 on the Glendale Campus. Uh, we're at the Starbucks at the, on the, uh, about 8:00 AM just says, walking me through his calendar and, uh, describing what his day was going to look like. And, uh, while he does this, a woman, uh, in the room sees him, runs over to him and says, thank you, thank you, thank you so much, Jason, for saving our team two weeks ago. And he later tells me that she was the CTO of one of the business units.


And that day I got to see many amazing things. But, uh, the most amazing thing was that I got to see that scene of him being thanked by, uh, people who see him over and over again across the Disney enterprise. And so, I, I've joked in the past that I got to see him thanked more times in the day than most ops practitioners get thanked during their whole careers. And so, Jason spoke at the very first DevOps Enterprise Conference in 2014. And, uh, without a doubt, his work has influenced so many organizations, uh, helping them rethink, uh, how can their ops organizations create better value, uh, and be more valuable to who those who depend upon them. And one of them was, uh, was, uh, Fernando Cargo, now VP of Digital at, uh, Adidas. And so I asked Jason if he could share the continuation of story and share, uh, an a meaningful testimonial, uh, from someone about why their work mattered to them. And so here to share their journey is Jason and Amy.




Oh, that's wonderful. I love that. I love that we actually have that in one of our offices, right? We'd actually, there, it's written on the office there in Orlando. Hi, ho. Hi, ho is off the work. We go. Well, here we are. So, uh, I'm so happy to be here and more happy that I get to have Amy McKim join me to tell you a little bit about our story around shared service magic at Disney. 100 years ago, Walt Disney had a dream. He dreamed of a company that would inspire and entertain people all over the world through the art of storytelling. For that dream to come true, it required the most important thing on this planet. People, artists, engineers, imagineers, cast members, and most importantly, all of you, our guest. Well, as we reach our hundredth year, the company has put together a video to celebrate that dream. Watch this.


Open your eyes. Think of the one place you've always wanted to see.


This is where our magic comes from.


They say, if you dream a thing more than once,


Please, please, please.


It's sure to come true.


Everything you see exists together in the great circle of life.


There are stories about what happened. It's true all life. In


Every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.


I told you she was tricky. Life


Is full of possibilities. What do you wanna be remembered for? World is in our hands and we gotta do something with it. I just wanna say a word of thanks to all the artists, the workers, and all of you, the young


And the young and heart.


You help make this dream come true.


What do you think? <laugh>? Huh? I, I, I, I gotta admit you. I've seen that like dozens of times and every time I choke up <laugh>, it's what we do, right? It's what we do at Disney. Well, so I wanna tell you a little about what, how, what Amy and I do helps deliver on that dream. And that's through our shared services team, global, SRE, inside the company. So this is where we are, we're part of our corporate enterprise technology team. We support all these different amazing brands that are creating the magic across the enterprise and for our guests. But you see, there's a problem. Shared services, centralized services. Now let me, let me ask, let me ask just to poll, uh, a hand way. How many of you by raising your hand would say you're part of a shared services team?


Oh, there's quite a few of us. More than I think. I can't hardly see them up there, but that's right. That's okay. Now let me ask you this second, second question is, uh, how many of you have to use a shared service team in your organization? How's that going for you? Huh? <laugh>? I actually got one of these. I listen, I'm gonna tell you, I get it right? That's the problem. Why is it like that? Well, I think it starts a little bit like this, right? A shared service organization, central corporate team comes into the business and says, Hey, we're here to help. But unfortunately what happens is the business says, no, you actually don't help. And boy, is that true, right? Help you do not, or better yet, as Groga would say, or we're not really sure what he would say, but I mean, after all, he is just cute, right? So that's why that's in there. Alright, so what's a model that works?


So we are looking for a model that works. How can we deliver compelling service to our businesses that actually matters that they actually want? Well, here's what we deploy. We started embedding SRE into all the different business units, all the different product teams that needed them all across the enterprise. Now, I know what you're thinking. I know what you're thinking, right? So when I showed this slide to our partners at Lucasfilm, uh, the CTO there comment and says, Hey, you know, Jason, that sure looks like a death star. I, I'm just saying <laugh>, I don't think that's where you're gonna go. Yeah, that's no moon. Like, listen, now I get it. I get it. Right? <laugh>, that's, that was not the intention there, but that wasn't the only thing he said. He also said, but your team is not like other shared services teams. Your team actually understands our business. Well, we kept hearing that, that same message over and over again by different business leaders inside the company. In fact, I've invited one of them to come here today. So Nick Cannon, no, not the comedian, <laugh> the head of the technology team for Walt Disney Animation Studios. I've invited him to come and to speak to you his perspective, first of all about his team, but about shared services and what he's looking for. So with that, over to you, Nick.


Thank you Jason. And hi everyone. I'm so sorry I can't be with you in person at the summit today. As ACTO at Walters Animation Studios, I'm very fortunate to be responsible for the technical capabilities of our feature animation studio, the heart of Disney, and where it all began 100 years ago. We're a close-knit group of around 1300 people delivering long form animated stories. Our focus is quality rather than quantity. We tend to deliver only one or two productions a year, and each one typically runs for around five years from the original inception of the idea all the way through to final post production. And we do it all in-house in our studio. In animation technology is the medium from the very first animated feature film in 1938 when Snow White pioneered the use of a splaying camera through to our upcoming feature film Wish, which is pioneering a new visual style blending the timeless visuals from our earliest feature films.


With the latest in computer graphics technology, we have to keep the pipeline of innovation flowing to continue to elevate the artist experience so they can more fully realize their potential to deliver ever more ambitious and impactful stories. To do that, we have a studio technology team of over 150 people working with each production crew, each of which consists of up to 500 amazing talented artists, production management, and Techn who make the movie magic happen. The shows can't do it alone though. And that's where our studio technology team comes in, providing them the infrastructure services and tools that are essential ingredients to creating our stories. One of the things I love about what we do is the sheer breadth of technology we get to work with on top of the regular IT responsibilities. We maintain high performance compute and storage clusters, digital projection systems, music and video editing services and software to do everything from crew scheduling to complex digital asset management, to physically accurate simulation of how light interacts with materials.


And that's just scratching the surface. It's a lot. And we can't be experts in it all. So we have to focus on the areas that deliver the most value. Our technology team has deep expertise in computer graphics, high performance compute systems, and understanding how our studio functions to create our stories. That is where the most value lies for us. For other areas, we need help, and that's where Jason and his SRE team and other teams like them come in. So on one hand, we're providing shared services internally to our productions, our shows on the other, we are consuming shared services from our friends and enterprise technology. At this point, I have to confess that I'm not a fan of the word service, and it's not a word I typically use to describe how we work. Service implies a power imbalance actually looked up the definition and said that service is the action of helping or doing work for someone.


And that's not really how we should be working across functional boundaries. I expect people to do work with someone not for them. So we talk about partnership, not service. It's about give and take, not fulfilling requests. What's optimal for one team tends to be intention with what's right for another. Managing those tensions and keeping them in a healthy balance over time is essential to our success and is a large part of my role as a technology leader. That balance comes through partnership respect and constant diligence and effort. When I first met Jason many years ago, I found a like-minded leader who wanted to learn from us as much as help us out. It didn't feel like the more traditional engagement, which I'm sure many of us are familiar with. When a leader comes in with a little too much self-belief, not quite enough curiosity, and leaves the impression that their primary interest is to persuade us to conform to the company standard, that traditional approach tends towards a lowest common denominator service for everyone, which diminishes the value of what is special about each corner of the organization.


It simply doesn't work in an organization like Disney, which thrives on creativity and quality. Shared services. Teams need to support and amplify the value of the teams they partner with. What do I want from a shared services team? I want partners. I want 'em to bring a valuable perspective, expertise, and experience that we don't have, and a curiosity and and acknowledgement. They don't know it all. They should also respect the work that we do, just like we should respect what they do. I'm so thankful that this is what I found in Jason and Disney's global SRE team, and that is our, the approach that I expect our technology teams to take to the way that we work with our internal production teams. Thank you all for giving me a chance to share my perspective today, and thank you, Jason, for your stellar partnership.


Ah, thank you, Nick. You know, ah, did you catch some of that? Wasn't that amazing? Yes. Hopefully you did. Right? But look what he said. I love this part. I want partners, shared services teams need to support and amplify the value of the teams they partner with. Isn't that gold? That's powerful, right? If you're a shared service organization, you know, take notes, right? We did <laugh>, but we heard not only just from Nick, who by the way, has been a great partner for us throughout this entire journey, but many others who said our team was valuable. We do a great job for them. They thanked us. We're a fantastic team. We're unbelievable. And frankly, if we're a really good shared service, we shouldn't be unbelievable, but yeah. Yeah. Unbelievable. And we help deliver world-class outcomes. They appreciate our innovation, our creativity. They say we have a great attitude, which I'm glad to hear that went in the performance review, right? It did. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And, and <laugh>, they thanked us for being an awesome partner. Just like what Nick was talking about. Well, that gets to the lessons we learned related to all that was we took note. The first thing was we needed to be curious. We need to listen, not show up to tell, show up to listen. Isn't that right, Amy?


Yeah. The number one complaint from the businesses we work with about the shared services org, the, you know, the central team doesn't understand their objectives, their challenges, their needs, and their pains the way that they do, obviously. Um, they want someone to come in and listen and to hear how, uh, we can help. So first thing we do is we need to find out how each business ships the magic and what it takes. We need to know the mission. We need to build those relationships, gain that trust, know the teams, and become part of the team by embedding. So lesson number one is listen, know the business, know the mission, know the team.


So if you're taking notes is pretty simple, right? That's it. Yeah. Lesson number one, right? <laugh>, listen, start there. The second is related to it. We heard from Nick, right? He said, I don't want you to work for me, I want you to work with me. That requires a change in the frame of reference, understanding their frame of reference moving on the other side of the table, right? Understand what the business really needs by having empathy


So that we don't come in like this, the star destroyer coming in to do something for you. Or maybe to you <laugh>, let's not do that. Let's do this fellow family partner coming in to do work with them.


That's right. You know, and that's really, I gotta say this, Amy, that's really incredible, right? You didn't, wouldn't you say? Yeah, you know what they tell me? They say, Hey, hey, hey Jason. Right? It's, it's all the corny dad jokes, right? That's really, yeah, you gotta do that. That's important part of leadership. Okay, second <laugh>, let's move on. <laugh>.


Okay, well, what's not incredible is something like this, which I'm sure you've all heard from central services org. You need help. Oh, submit a ticket.


That's right. Instead, more like this proximity powered empathy engineering. It sounds like a great product, right? But seriously, what does that mean? Go to them. You want to see, you want to understand, go to them. The empathy comes by the geography that is be there on location, wherever they are. By the way, that's a picture of our embedded SE and if you squint, you can almost see even me, right? Somewhere in that picture. Ah, no, you can't see it. Nevermind <laugh>. Wherever we are building anything new, we wanna be part of that understanding the, the, the challenges and the frustrations, helping work through those together as a partner.


Yeah, that's right. We, we help build empathy by being there, just literally working alongside people, shares the mission, shares the struggles, and that lets us share the wins.


Finally. Alright, so you had your second one. If you're writing these down, here's the third one to write down. Try this one. I'm precise, actually help <laugh>. I know. Mind blowing. It actually makes a difference, right? And I love this quote by Tachi Ono says, do something to help them. If you do, people will expect that you can help them and they will look forward to seeing you again. And I love to reverse that and say this, listen, if they don't look forward to see you, in fact, if they avoid you, you may not be helping. Might wanna revisit that, right? Mm-Hmm, <affirmative>. So this is what we did learn. How could we help? They want help creating and shipping, shipping content, products and experiences better, faster, safer, and happier. And that's something that Amy does all the time with her team. So walk us through some of those things.


Okay? So one of the main things we do when we come in is SRE is seek to increase reliability levels and help deliver better products and experiences, both for our guests and our cast. So, uh, just raising everybody up.


Yeah, that's right.


And we wanna help remove friction and reduce interaction with those, uh, unnecessary processes and procedures that, uh, don't actually help get things done and add value. So we try to automate everything. So automate, join the Rebel alliance.


That's right. Join the rebel alliance. Sounds good, right? <laugh>, but we also have to be safer. This is super important. And so we help shift left automated governance. There might be a great book on that. Topo, you can talk, talk to Topo if you need any help with that, right? So security by design, super important and happier. Look, we've been hearing it at this conference quite a bit. How do we to improve the experience for engineers? Dev X, they say, right, dev X developer experience, I would like to propose opex now not the budget line item, right? So not that right. Operations experience as well. Development all the way to operations should be a happy experience. Does anybody agree with me, <laugh>? That's right. Let's help elevate that. And so what we wanna do is remove the frustration and toil. Let's help make sure that we have a humane operating environment right for our teams and the culture. So super important that we do those things. So all that means this, that we can hand back time to the engineers to do more creative things. Our artists have more time empowered to do the next thing. Amplifies the creativity across the company. And let's just focus on outcomes. Speaking of outcomes, yeah, talk


About winning. So great example, we were recently brought in to help out, um, with a new team. And the mission was to get some, uh, let's say slightly neglected legacy infrastructure capable of running a critical app in time to have it stable and available for shipping the magic, which in this case was all 600 plus versions of Guardians of the Galaxy three that went out. So we brought in a few of our top SREs, who, you know, some of them had worked with technology, some of them had worked with the people just to build that trust right outta the gate to troubleshoot alongside them. But you know, it wasn't working. This stuff is old. We had failure after failure. We had a lot of knowledge gaps, but listening to the business made it increasingly clear that our actual mission was to just get this app up and running. So quick pivot, brand new, shiny Kubernetes, stack, lightning fast migration, you know, and a few hours the app was back up and running and it was such a privilege to work alongside those teams to deliver fun stuff like this. So, and it was nice to see it appreciated by, uh, some of our important partners


Actually help. No, no tickets, no project plans. Just get it done.


<laugh>. That's right. Actually help, right? Build trust, build community, build the magic together. So there you have it. That's the list. 1, 2, 3, easy, right? So listen, have empathy and actually help. And speaking of help, help, we're looking for, what are we missing? Maybe chat. GPT. Yes. Right? A little bit of gen ai. And then what about shared service examples or SRE, right? Things like that. Well, I'm gonna end here, but I love this. You, many of you have seen this. If you've seen any of my presentations, I love this quote. This applies not just to Disney, but to this entire community. There's really no secret about our approach. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. I.