REA Group, a proptech giant based out of Australia, has begun using its new internal brand called 'Colab' to enable the creation of generic, reusable tools and platforms for solving common problems experienced by product developers.
Chief engineer Tomas Varsavsky told the recent Yow! CTO summit in Melbourne that Colab was “a little bit like the Heart Foundation tick” - given to tools and platforms internally that met certain criteria, such as being reusable and supported on an ongoing basis.
Featuring brands like realestate.com.au, about 650 of REA’s 1,700 Australian staff are technology workers, but unlike many other tech shops they sit in the lines of business where they can work closely on solving external-facing customer problems.
“That's really challenging from a technology point of view, because we have a very distributed organisation,” Varsavsky said.
“At a squad level, we have a lot of autonomy, so teams can make decisions around their technology.
“When you lift the hood into what's happening in these squads, there are a lot of common concerns that these squads have to solve for.”
Learning to grow
When REA was much smaller, Varsavsky noted that these kind of common concerns “are not really top of mind. Your primary job as a startup is to find product market fit,” he said.
However, as REA grew and multiple autonomous squads formed, their individual technology choices started to become a management problem.
“When you have autonomy in squads, sometimes they choose the same things but sometimes they choose divergent things, and over time those diverging things start to hurt because quite often that divergence is not really adding value to your business,” Varsavsky said.
“When you start getting really big, it's a really big problem, because now you've got different factions between teams, you've got different attitudes to solution a, b or c for a problem, and - if left unmanaged - it can be a serious drain on productivity.”
Varsavsky’s challenge was to find ways to “extract commonality” and achieve economies of scale for REA, without sacrificing autonomy which was seen as a core trait of the internal culture.
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