Wikimedia Foundation Engineering reorganization FAQ
This document is about the Wikimedia Foundation Engineering reorganization in April 2015.
Why is the WMF Engineering team reorganizing?
Why is the WMF making these changes?
We’re making changes so that we can better serve Wikimedia’s mission. We want to give WMF engineering teams the best support so they can focus on their core audiences, act on insights, make decisions, and deliver great products and features.
Why this structure?
This structure empowers WMF teams to focus on core audiences by aligning focus and resources in one place. It places Wikimedia users first by grouping people who already work together to serve certain audiences. This allows teams to focus deeply on understanding those users and what they care about.
Focusing on audiences empowers teams while improving accountability. It reduces bottlenecks for important resources like data and design. And it puts more decision making power in the hands of each team as opposed to management. For example, teams will have the autonomy and flexibility to adjust their structures and composition as they see fit. One team may have more designers, while another may have more data analysts.
Very practically, this is also a way to improve management and support for our work. Leaders and managers need to focus on supporting their teams through collaborating with other teams, aligning vision, communicating externally and -- most importantly -- mentoring the next generation of leadership at the WMF. This new structure gives everyone more support, and creates more opportunities for people to step into leadership roles.
How did the WMF develop this structure?
This structure came from listening to community members and staff. We heard that community wanted more dedicated support for certain functions. We learned that people in the product and engineering teams wanted to make decisions, have improved autonomy, and have access to more resources. We spoke to all of the different product and technical managers, and listened to lots of individuals. The final design of this new structure was based on input from every team.
Teams & functions
What are the new teams?
We’ll be integrating most Engineering and Product functions around audiences, with six new teams focused on Community Tech, Editing, Reading, Search & Discovery, Fundraising Tech, and Infrastructure. We are creating a new CTO role, which will oversee Research, Architecture, Performance, Privacy, Security, and UX.
What will the Community Tech team do?
The Community Tech team is focused on meeting the needs of active Wikimedia editors for improved, expert-focused curation and moderation tools. The creation of the Community Tech team is a direct outcome of requests from core contributors for improved support for moderation tools, bots, and the other features that help the Wikimedia projects succeed. The team will work closely with the community, and the Community Engagement department, to define their roadmap and deliverables. We are hiring for a leader for this team, as well as additional engineers. We will be looking within our communities to help. Until then, it will be incubated under Toby Negrin, with support from Community Engagement.
What will the Editing team do?
The Editing team’s mission is to build collaborative, inclusive tools for creating, editing and curating freely licensed content. Their audiences are Wikimedia editors, including people who edit articles, contribute to structured data and multimedia, and participate in editing-related discussions. Their work includes VisualEditor, but will also include mobile editing, improved structured discussion and notifications, multimedia tools, dashboards, content IDs, and structured references. Trevor Parscal will lead this team. Most of the people who are already working on VE will join this new team, as well as members of the Collaboration, Design, Language, Parsing, and Platform teams.
What will the Search & Discovery team do?
The Search & Discovery team is focused on improving the way people discover knowledge and navigate Wikimedia. Their audience is broad, from new users discovering Wikipedia for the first time to the core content creators and editors who build the knowledge. Their immediate task will be to build on our existing secure, trusted search stack to improve result relevancy, expose additional related content, and improve access to locally-relevant knowledge, with a special emphasis on efficient navigation, structured data integration, and multilingual support. This team will pull together people with experience working on our current search, and will grow to focus on relevancy, exploration of tools, machine learning, and performance. The team will be led by Wes Moran.
What will the Reading team do?
The Reading team’s mission is to build exceptional learning and reading experiences for the sum of all knowledge, from desktop and mobile web to apps and APIs. They are also spinning up a team to specifically focus on new readers in developing countries. The immediate work will focus on understanding user needs, how readers interact with Wikimedia content, and finding ways to improve and speed up experiences. They will build beautiful, functional, and fast user interfaces for all locations, devices and languages. This effort will pull together teams currently working on mobile apps, mobile web, and desktop UX, and will be led by Toby Negrin.
What will the Fundraising Tech team do?
The Fundraising Tech team will continue to do the same excellent work it does currently. Their audience is donors, who they support through building secure, private, usable tools so that Wikimedia’s diverse donors can continue to support our mission. The Fundraising Tech team will continue to report to Katie Horn, who will continue to report directly to Damon Sicore.
What will the Infrastructure team do?
The Infrastructure team ensures a high level of service to Wikimedia users, technical platform, and developer tools. Their audience is our internal audience teams (Reading, Search & Discovery, and Editing). They will focus on providing the best possible uptime, ease of use, performance, scalability, reliability to users, technical and community teams. Their work is crosscutting, and supports the broader Engineering and Technology organizations. The new Infrastructure team pulls together the Analytics, Operations, Release Engineering, Services, Datacenter Ops, and Labs functions. We are recruiting for a new head of Infrastructure; in the interim the team will be managed by Terry Gilbey with support from Damon.
What will the Research team do?
The Research team conducts qualitative and quantitative research to produce knowledge about Wikimedia’s users and projects. Their audience includes the internal audience teams (Reading, Search & Discovery, and Editing), the Wikimedia community, and external academic and research partners. Their goal is to provide strategic insights and technological solutions to the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia movement to inform the development of new products and foster innovation. The Research team will bring together the User Research team and the Research and Data team (formerly part of Analytics). It will be led by Dario Taraborelli, and will report to the CTO.
What is the Architecture function?
The Architecture function is responsible for resolving difficult platform challenges, making high-level platform design choices, and recommending technical standards. They make sure that our technology is ready for use by product teams to advance our mission. The Architecture function will be led by RobLa (Rob Lanphier), and will report to the CTO.
What is the Performance function?
The Performance team is all about making Wikimedia as fast and functional as possible. Ori Livneh has been leading our work in performance improvement, through initiatives like our recent deployment of HHVM. The performance team will be recruiting additional engineers to support work already underway. The Performance team will report to the CTO.
What is the Privacy function?
Privacy is one of our core values, and we protect and defend the privacy of Wikimedia users. We’ll be bringing someone on to lead our work on engineering privacy into the Wikimedia platform, through encryption, data protection, and secure identity management. The Privacy function will report to the CTO.
What is the Security function?
Security is about ensuring the integrity of the MediaWiki platform, protecting against technical vulnerabilities, and defending users’ data and privacy. Chris Steipp has been leading our security work, and we will be adding additional engineering headcount to support work already underway. The Security function will report to the CTO.
What is the UX function?
User experience (UX) is the practice of putting users first. The UX function will be responsible for improving and optimizing people’s ability to interact with the Wikimedia projects. They will make sure user experience is consistent, delightful, and reflects the Wikimedia brand and values. The UX function will report to the CTO.
How does this serve the community?
Every part of this new structure will serve community needs in some way. The Community Tech and Editing teams will be most directly focused on the needs of our core contributors. The Community Tech team is directly related to our Call to Action commitment to “allocate dedicated technical resources to community requests.”
How many people are changing teams?
Most teams will remain intact. It was our goal to preserve team consistency and keep people working on what they care about with people they know.
Chief Technical Officer
What will the CTO do?
In many organizations there is a division of responsibilities between a Vice President of Engineering and a CTO. The VPE is focused on team building and delivery or products, and the CTO is focused on technical and architectural leadership. The new WMF CTO will be responsible for ensuring the performance, security, and privacy of MediaWiki, and lead on the evolution and future of our platform architecture. They will be an advocate for our engineering future.
Some of you will remember the WMF has had a CTO in the past. The scope of this new position will be different. Rather than oversee all technical issues, the CTO will complement and support our existing technical leadership, with a strong focus on their core work area. We'll make the search public this week.
What is the difference between a Vice President of Engineering and a CTO?
The Engineering team is focused on shipping products, every day. The new WMF Engineering structure integrates Product and Engineering into audience teams that focus on delivering great products for people who love and use Wikimedia. They will learn, experiment, and build.
The CTO’s team is focused on our overall architecture and long term technical future. They will help ensure Wikimedia is fast, reliable, stable and secure. They will also conduct research, analyze data, and investigate emerging technologies and algorithmic solutions. This will enable the Engineering team to produce the best and most applicable solutions in shortest time.
What are the next steps for the CTO position?
We’ll be making the search public this week. This will be an extensive search to find a strong CTO that can guide the technology roadmap that will enable our strategy. We would welcome referrals from your networks.
Until we have a CTO, who do people report to?
Everyone will continue to report to Damon for the time being. Those reporting lines will shift to the CTO once she or he is onboard. We expect that will happen next quarter.
Call to Action
How does this relate to the Call to Action?
The Call to Action represents the challenge we set for ourselves to improve our focus and processes, align our teams, and achieve better clarity around our goals. It is a set of objectives designed to reinforce our core work, and prepare us for the future. The first thing we identified was the need to improve our technology and execution, starting with four key actions.
Define our commitments – deliver on-time and on-budget.
The new organization structure will empower teams to focus on their core audiences, define their own roadmaps, and organize their own resources. This will allow them to identify product needs and develop success criteria, defining their own commitments. With oversight over roadmaps and resources, they’ll be positioned to set expectations for delivery, budgeting, and success.
Make our decisions based on data.
Defining our commitments means understanding how we measure success. Measuring success means understanding our data and measuring the products we ship for impact. The new structure integrates data analysis functions into each audience team, and creates a new, dedicated research team that will report directly to the CTO. This team will conduct qualitative and quantitative research that will inform the development of new products and support innovation.
Improve our process for community input and allocate dedicated technical resources to community requests.
In February we brought together teams into a new Community Engagement department, in order to improve the coordination of our community support. With this new structure, we are creating a Community Tech team to allocate dedicated technical resources to community requests. This team will support improved, expert-contributor focused curation and moderation tools, and will work closely with the community to define their roadmap and deliverables.
Update legacy architectures and deliver mobile-ready infrastructure and services to support structured data, user security, and a simplified user experience.
The new CTO position will support teams and functions that focus on architecture, performance, structured data, security, privacy, and user experience. These dedicated functions will be freed up to focus on envisioning our engineering future, and working with our new audience teams to integrate insights and recommendations into all the features and products they build.
Does this mean the WMF will increase its fundraising targets?
We are building our budgets now across the organization in preparation for the next fiscal year. The new structure will be addressed in the Annual Plan, which will be available for public review this quarter, as in the past.
This process has been in the works for nearly a year. Many different people have been consulted, including all of the product and technical managers, and many individuals. The new structure was based on input gathered from every team. However, planning a reorganization requires exploring options while managing ambiguity. We know that the process can be unsettling or stressful for some people, especially before there are clear outcomes. We wanted to balance between consulting people widely, and respecting the needs of our friends and colleagues.
How did you decide on Community Tech, Editing, Reading, Search & Discovery, Infrastructure, and Fundraising Tech as the new audience teams?
Editing, Reading, and Search & Discovery are core functions for how people interact with the Wikimedia projects. They represent Wikimedia’s audiences. A new user may start by reading a single article, search for more information, and eventually click Edit, becoming an editor. From the moment they come to Wikimedia, their experience should be compelling, immersive, and immediate, with powerful tools to serve their needs. The Editing, Reading, and Search & Discovery teams are organized directly around these functions.
We also know that experienced Wikimedians follow different workflows and have different needs. The newly formed Community Tech team will be at the front end of understanding and responding to the needs of Wikimedia’s most experienced contributors -- those who make the Wikimedia projects what they are. We've heard repeatedly from community members that they want more support for sophisticated power user tools. In the Call to Action, we committed to allocating “dedicated technical resources to community requests.” The Community Tech team will provide the first line of this support and help other teams ensure they are sensitive to this critical audience.
The Infrastructure team brings together people who are already serving users through platform, reliability, and developer communities. Fundraising Tech is an existing team that does tremendous work to support donors who contribute to the Wikimedia mission. They’ll remain as is, and will continue to report to Damon.
Does this have anything to do with Erik Möller resigning?
Definitely not. We’ve been rethinking the design of the Engineering organization for nearly a year now, with Erik deeply involved in that process. He’s been a key thought partner in sharing his experiences and helping us get here.
Did the UX, MediaWiki Core, and Product teams get disbanded?
Not at all. We heard from the leaders of all the teams that they wanted more integration into the development of product, more engineering support, more research support, better product management, more design resources, and more support for the underlying MediaWiki architecture.
To meet these needs, we brought teams together, and distributed essential functions such as product management, UX, and engineering into teams focused around end users. All these functions still exist and the work will continue, but will be organized around their team and audience mission.
Does this mean that the WMF will expand in San Francisco?
The WMF is already a highly distributed organization. We intend to remain this way, and to build upon this strength. We will focus on ensuring that we accommodate well-integrated spaces for this type of organization and workflows. As we grow, we expect to continue to hire staff and retain contractors around the world, including San Francisco.