On Being a Relic

So I posted this internally, but I feel like a (lightly edited) flavor of it is worth keeping publicly for posterity. Here goes!

On leaving a company many folks write long notes mentioning all the lovely people who have made their life better along the way. After more than eleven years at New Relic, I can’t even begin drawing up that list. There are just too many freaking awesome people, past and present, who have made New Relic the best place I’ve ever worked.

But if you know me, it’ll come as no surprise that I couldn’t go out without writing SOME page full of words! So instead of a laundry list of colleagues and in-jokes, here are the biggest positive lessons from my years at New Relic.

Cultivate curiosity every day

In technology, constant learning is fundamental. Our systems are always changing and evolving. This is often overwhelming, especially in the big picture. Will my language still be useful in five years? Should I spend time learning this new framework? So many huge things are lurking out there that it can feel like you ought to be digging into.

New Relic has taught me, though, that cultivating curiosity day to day pays dividends. Yes, taking a big course on Kubernetes or AWS or React may be worthwhile. But right now you can go see how your framework implements that method you’re calling. You can browse the configuration for an unfamiliar but critical system. You can smooth rough edges in your development environment with aliases or macros or shortcuts.

Will these small excursions make you an expert overnight? No. But always prying further into your tech stack than is strictly necessary builds muscles that will accelerate growing expertise. Plus you never know when that random side quest today will actually prove practical in the future, it happens!

And New Relic is a playground for engineering curiosity. Want to know more about Kafka? There are literally hundreds of services to peek at. Wonder how a distributed database is built? Clone NRDB and get reading! Want to see how we instrument applications? All our agents are literally public on GitHub.

Take some time to appreciate the breadth of systems at your fingertips in this organization and start digging.

Dig deep into our data

My second point may seem like an extension on the curiosity call-out, but it’s important enough to call out separately – building familiarity with the data New Relic gathers will pay off.

Partially we should do this because it’s our job as a data company. Knowing what data we have and how to query it helps us make better products for our users.

But these benefits are magnified because of how much we use our own tools. A little extra poking around to see what’s available before an incident can save tons of stress. That vague memory “Oh, I saw an event named X that might tell us more” is way easier than starting from a blank canvas. I’ve often seen people looking in all sorts of places for information that APM or Infra already gathered for you!

My two favorite tricks in this space start from NRQL’s own introspection. Want to see what’s around in an account?


Boom, there’s a list of things to start querying. Then for any given event type you can figure out what’s in it with this little gem.

SELECT keyset() FROM MyNewFavoriteEvent

Beyond exploring what’s measured, I’ll also give a shout out for deeply grasping the shape of the data – what’s the difference between an event and a metric and a log, and when should you use each of them? These basics are critical to know to get the best visibility without hitting unnecessary performance and cardinality snags.

Big things can change

I’m lookin’ at you rpm_site.

For those who haven’t been at New Relic too long, you might not even have heard mention of rpm_site, the sprawling monolith that pretty recently was New Relic to our users. A huge Ruby on Rails codebase, it was messy, complicated, and slower than anybody wanted. But it was also utterly critical to the product.

Looking back, it’s amazing the progress that’s been made. We’ve gotten further than I ever would have imagined from where we started!

I don’t know what we’d consider our “rpm_site of today” – there are probably several across the org. But rest assured that if it should change, we can change it.

Well, that’s what I had on my mind. Thanks to those who’ve read this far, and thanks to all those who’ve made this journey an excellent one. I hope that many of our paths cross again in the future!