Screaming in the Cloud

Episode 1: Feature Flags with Heidi Waterhouse of LaunchDarkly

This podcast features people doing interesting work in the world of Cloud. What is the state of the technical world? Let’s first focus on the up or down, on or off function of feature flags.

Today, we’re talking to Heidi Waterhouse, a technical writer turned Developer Advocate at LaunchDarkly, which is a feature flag service - a way to wrap a snippet of code around your feature and make it into an instrument to turn on or off. It lets you turn things on and off in your codebase quickly without having to do several commits. However, it is difficult to track it when there are more than about a dozen flags. So, LaunchDarkly provides a way to manage your features at scale with a usable interface and API.

Some of the highlights of the show include:

  • A feature flag allows you to hide items before you want them to go live on your Website. You hide it behind a feature flag, doing all the work ahead of time. Then, at some point, you turn it all on instantly without the risk of pushing untested code into your production.
  • You can test at scale to gain authentic data. Test something with your team, your company’s employees, your customers, etc. However, no matter how good your integration tests are, there’s always wobbles to watch for in the system.
  • With implementation, there are a few paths that can work, such as the massive reorganization path. Or, you can just start incrementally with feature flags for new features.
  • LaunchDarkly thinks in the Cloud as the surface because it mostly works with people who are doing Web-based delivery of features.
  • Major companies, like Google and Facebook, offer services similar to feature flags for their own development. They’re operating on such a giant scale that they have internal teams doing it.
  • Companies use feature flags on the front-end and other purposes. It works through the whole stack from frontend page delivery, pricing tiers, white labeling, style sheets, to safer deployments.
  • Do not focus on documentation. You should not have to read documentation for anything that you don’t own. Every feature should have documentation tied to its code. Create a customized experience.
  • Feature flags effectively manage and minimize risk. There is always risk in the world, but what causes disaster is not just one failure. It is a multiplication of failures. This goes wrong and that goes wrong. Feature flagging breaks monolithic releases into tiny chunks that can go forward or backward.
  • LaunchDarkly holds monthly meet-ups called, Test and Production. People share their use case regarding continuous integration, continuous deployment, DevOps, etc.

Links:

Quotes by Heidi:

“What feature flags do is make it possible for you to push out a deployment with things hidden, we call it launching darkly.”

“We’re all about avoiding risk, I think this is our motto this year, eliminate risk…you can’t eliminate risk, but you can make it much less risky.”

“Go ahead and write your feature. You know that it’s hidden behind the magical feature flying curtain until you’re ready to turn it on.”

“If 20 years of technical writing taught me anything, it’s that nobody wants to be reading documentation.”

 


Brought to you by Corey Quinn of Screaming in the Cloud