July 20, 2017 Culture

It Depends...

By Marty MesserTyler Fontaine

There are certain phrases that probably no one wants to hear. “I need you to work this Saturday”, “A raccoon is wrecking the kitchen”, “I love you, but . . .”, “Water is pouring from the ceiling.” None of these really make your day. But there is one phrase in the world of Technical Support that ranks up there with the worst: “It depends.”

“It depends” usually comes as the answer to a question that often seems simple on its face (e.g. How many nodes should I have?), but belies a much more complex technical problem (e.g. Data volume? Query rate? Ingest rate? HA requirements? etc.). This phrase can create instant dread in the heart of the one asking. “It depends” evokes images of a mad scientist frantically pulling reagents off the shelf, dripping them into a flask between flashes of light, smoke, and thunder. It often signals to the asker that their question is too hard to explain to someone without a lesson in some dark arcana. Or it can mean the person simply doesn’t have the time to explain it. Or they don’t actually know the answer. But regardless, it’s ultimately not an answer—almost an excuse or deflection. It stinks, and everyone knows it.

And herein lies the dilemma. At Elastic, “it depends” is a foundational part of how we talk, and therefore our culture. Almost every technical conversation seems to include these words somewhere along the way—between ourselves, between us and our customers, everywhere. How can such an ostensibly negative phrase be part of our very fabric? Elastic is a place of transparency: in thought, in speech, in code, built that way from our very foundations. We’re so empathetic, it can be overwhelming to new employees and new customers. How can this be?

It’s simple, and it’s right in the title. That ellipsis is not just there for show. When we say “it depends” we say it as “it depends . . .” AND THEN WE GO ON TO TELL YOU WHAT IT DEPENDS ON. We spend the time. We take as much time as necessary for the asker to fully understand all the base knowledge required. We aren’t mad scientists; we’re more like Bill, that Science Guy. We will delve into the arcana; we’ll explain each reagent; we’ll walk you through the process and distill it down until we arrive at that solution, and we’ll cancel meetings and stay up late (granted most of us are already in our pajamas—the beauty of a truly distributed company) to do it.

Why? Because we ourselves are tinkerers and dreamers, students and scientists, explorers and waymakers. And we’re so passionate about what we do, our goal is for those coming to us for advice to be successful now and tomorrow when the next question arises. So prepare to drink deeply, because most importantly and most sincerely, we aim to make sure the asker knows what they should now DO (IOHBWIAWIO: In Our Humble But Well Informed And Well Intentioned Opinion), which is all they really wanted in the first place. Our culture doesn’t really lend itself to terse answers with no context. We don’t accept that title or position or tenure means anything when it comes to what we can learn from one another. When you ask an Elastician a question, and they start with “it depends…” hang on, shit is about to get real.

Want more? Elastic support is unlike anything else that exists out there. We explain.