Searchlight

“Data Quality is Front and Center” – An Interview with Our QA Director

At Conductor, quality is in our DNA. It is embedded in everything we do from collecting the data (over 23,500,000 URLs per week), transforming it into usable information, and gleaning knowledge and insights to make recommendations to over 500 companies and brands.

So then, how do we keep that data accurate and clear? Neetu Rajpal, our Director of Quality, is at the helm of that effort. We interviewed Neetu on how she and her team provides the Conductor Quality Advantage for all our customers.

“Quality is part of the value chain at Conductor; it is front and center for every planning and programming decision we make.”

-Neetu Rajpal, Director of Quality at Conductor

How did you become so passionate about “data quality”?

I started my career at Microsoft many years ago as a Software Engineer in Test and over the years have transitioned to roles in software development and program management. Each stop I made gave me extremely valuable insight into the software development process as a whole – and I enjoyed each stop thoroughly.

Somewhere along the journey, I stopped thinking of software as a technical-only adventure. It is all about people. twitter-icon The software we build is only as valuable as the quality experienced by the people who use it.

“Somewhere along the journey, I stopped thinking of software as a technical-only adventure. It is all about people. The software we build is only as valuable as the quality experienced by the people who use it.”

This has been an endlessly fascinating realization. This is also not something that can be stamped on to the software solution after it has already been built; this commitment to great experience has to permeate and exist in all aspects of the ideation and development process. It belongs to the person communicating the value of the product. It belongs to the person helping the customer learn about the product. It belongs to the person creating valuable visual and functional designs for the product. It belongs to the person writing the code and to the person “testing” the code.

Standing on a quality platform, I have had the privilege of interacting with and influencing all of these areas, as well as working with really wonderful and passionate people who all play a very valuable part in bringing products to market.

What does “data quality” mean to you?

Quality is the measure between the expectations the customer had at purchase and the value they perceived after purchase.

Why is “data quality” important?

Data quality, along with application quality as a whole, is extremely important to Conductor because it is important to our customers. “Important” however is a relative term and it depends on the promises we make to our customers. Our customers expect the reports they get from Searchlight to give them valuable insights into the performance of their content on the web and help them figure out where to invest more or pull back from. These are high stakes decisions and drive the level of importance we attach to the data and information in Searchlight.

conductor-quality-advantage-chart

Can you talk about the difference between data and information? Why does that matter?

Data is like clay or putty in your hands; one can do a lot with it. You can use this clay to make a doorstopper with less effort or you can use it make a beautiful art piece with a lot more effort. The raw material you started with was the same. The beauty of the final product is directly correlated to the effort and art you brought to the clay.

Information is the beautiful vase. It is always there in the clay — you just need an expert to find and show it to you.

What types of things should people ask when evaluating the quality of their data?

At Conductor, there are three basic questions we ask ourselves when we are evaluating data:

    1. Is it Fresh? When was the last time we collected it? When was the last time we processed it and gleaned information? Was it available our customers at the schedule in a timely fashion?
    2. Is it Accurate? Did we do enough checks to ensure the data we are serving holds up to our standards? Did we make a mistake in capturing it, and if we did, did we fix it before sending it over to our customers?
    3. Is the information Credible? Credibility is where we merge the technical aspects of our product engineering with the human expectations. Credible is not something one can ever verify with a software program because it involves human intent and expectations. The information we glean from the data we gather is only as credible as the expectations we set with our customers when we sell them Searchlight.

Each one of these dimensions of data and information in Searchlight is foundational. twitter-icon Credible information can only come from recently gathered and accurate data.

What are some of the things that you do to ensure quality at Conductor?

Quality at Conductor is everyone’s responsibility, which is why everyone is involved right off-the-bat. The engineering team is divided into several feature teams where each feature team is responsible for a portion of the product. The feature team is made up of engineers and product mangers. Each feature team has at least one Quality Engineer. The Quality engineers have the explicit responsibility of being customer representatives and drive the test planning into every feature. They work closely with their teams to do a lot of “what if” analysis, each of those analysis points turn into a test that we run before we release any code to production.

“Quality at Conductor is everyone’s responsibility, which is why everyone is involved right off-the-bat.”

As a subscription based online product, we have lot of flexibility in being able to release code into production at the schedule that works the best for our customers and us. We aim to ship code every week, and this fast turnaround is not possible without sophisticated automated test infrastructure and a very large and very growing set of automated tests.

We impose very strict standards for certifying any code for release. Here is something that one of our developers created to illustrate the experience of code that doesn’t meet our standards:

thisisconductor-dataquality

In addition, wherever possible, we also try to work directly with our customers to beta test new functionality. We watch for trigger points in hosted systems and adjust to the capacity needs as we find them. Automated and sophisticated monitoring of our production systems and a quick response to anything out of the ordinary is a keystone for the success of our application.

Tell us about the engineering culture at Conductor.

The engineering team at Conductor is made up of super smart and down-to-earth people who are technical leaders in their own right in their own fields. They are humble and supportive of everyone and aspire to keep the customer needs front and center.

engineering_team_photo

We not only build cool software with a very wide range of technologies, many of us also speak at meet-ups in our area of expertise, write blogs about the technologies we are building and actively contribute to many open source projects. Check out our engineering blog.

Want to learn more about life as an engineer at Conductor? Check out how our engineers run their sprint demos.

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