April 16, 2020

For the estimated 4-plus billion users of the internet, the domain name system (DNS) is a critical component of online infrastructure, becoming apparent usually only when the user experience goes awry (think: the facepalm-inducing frustration of not being able to reliably access a favorite site in moments of high-demand).

Underscoring its importance? The proliferation of remote workforces in the time of a pandemic.

“What’s currently going on in the world right now is a particularly interesting time where people are starting to think about DNS in new ways,” said NS1 Senior Technical Product Manager Jennifer Javier. “As more people are working from home, companies are having to increase bandwidth to make sure their sites are up. The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of having a good underlying DNS infrastructure in your application.”

Javier knows a thing or two about the space: As a technologist at NS1, she plays a key role in the nearly 200-person organization providing DNS solutions for clients ranging from Dropbox, Imgur and Salesforce to LinkedIn and eBay, that rely on the Manhattan-based software startup to help facilitate turnkey traffic management.

As Javier, Lead Platform Engineer Joe Wilner and Senior Technical Program Manager Kirstin Slevin explained to Built In NYC, being part of the team that’s disrupting the DNS landscape makes for a tech trajectory that’s engaging, challenging and of the moment.

 

Good Connection

  • Launched in 2013, DNS boasts nearly 200 employees.
  • Funding is north of $85 million.
  • Products include traffic-managing APIs and enterprise DDI [DNS, DHCP and IPAM] solutions.
  • Benefits include 18-week parental leave, unlimited PTO and annual engineering summit.

 

What are the kinds of technical challenges your teams are working on?

Wilner: NS1 has taken on an interesting technical challenge, in that it is trying to support an on-premises model to handle network traffic and network configuration within private data centers.

One particular problem we’ve butted up against is database management. Any software manager or software developer working in a modern stack with a SQL database is going to have thoughts about how to handle migrations of a database. How do you make sure that you can upgrade your database as you go forward? That always comes with its own set of challenges. For NS1, in its on-premises model, we not only now have to think about how we manage a single series of database migrations, but we have to also think about how we can maintain backward compatibility and the upgrade path for all of our databases everywhere.

Slevin: NS1 has definitely helped me stay technical and stay sharp. Last year, we did a ton of work to build out and launch our DDI product. We had a really large percentage of the engineering team working on that. It was a challenging project, with a lot of coordination and planning and issues coming up. I helped with any gaps where I could: QA, documentation, really being a jack-of-all-trades for whatever that project needed. 

Javier: Our release cycle, when we ship our integrations, is a lot more frequent. It’s challenging to juggle different projects, in different phases at a time, and then bring it to market, all the while tying in any additional tech and strategic work that brings us more wins in the future. What we were working with is challenging and allows us to learn to multitask and switch constantly because we’re often integrating with completely new tech.

 

Trafficking Success

“If you take initiative, there’s a lot of opportunities here. Looking back at what I did a year ago, versus now, we’ve grown tremendously in terms of how many projects there are and how big the team is.” — Kirstin Slevin

 

It seems like there’s a healthy amount of collaboration going on. How would you describe the relationship between the engineering and product teams?

Slevin: I feel like there’s a ton of trust between those teams and a lot of transparency. If engineers want to be able to listen in and really hear the people working with our product and what they’re saying, they can directly do that. Often, when they come back from an on-site meeting, they will drop notes in Slack that give the lowdown on how the meeting went and provide any feedback we get from customers. It’s very transparent and that makes for a positive working relationship.
 

We make decisions together as a group, and we continue to challenge each other.”


Javier: We provide transparency, making sure not only the engineers but the whole entire company is aligned in priorities. We make decisions together as a group, and we continue to challenge each other. I think we do a really great job in collaborating with engineers.

 

Lastly, let’s talk about the broader tech team culture. What’s it like at NS1?

Wilner: What I like is that you get to work on very technical low-level problems, and you get to do it with a bunch of genuinely approachable people who are not coming to the table full of machismo. They’re a very open, supportive, and nice group of people.

Slevin: What feels different for me is how collaborative, positive and innovative the culture is when we’re in the office. I find myself at a whiteboard multiple times a day or watching somebody else at the whiteboard. We’re working on an engineering product by engineers, for engineers, and I think that influences the culture.

Javier: When I first started, I didn’t know how interesting the problems that we were solving could be, especially for a mainly DNS-first company. But, we are actually solving a lot of interesting problems around that space and innovating what was previously kind of archaic. You’re surrounded by a lot of talent and a lot of intelligent people. 

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