Erez Yarkoni is T-Mobile’s CIO. It’s a job that blends all the toughest problems of a telecom company, a consumer product company, and a full-time software development firm. In his own words, Yarkoni has spent his four-and-a-half years at T-Mobile “aligning and guiding technology solutions, platforms and architecture to a business strategy while leading the organization through a transformation spearheaded by a multi-hundred-million-dollar IT modernization program.
“The modernization strategy is reinforced by three activities: simplifying the hardware and software portfolio, upgrading and modernizing existing platforms, and introducing new platforms and enablers. The transformation has two dimensions: reduction of all IT cost elements, and time to market and enabling platforms that can support new business models including generating revenue from technology capabilities.”
We caught up with Yarkoni in January, and we asked him to explain how he manages to keep thousands of software developers across hundreds of platforms all moving in the same direction.
I know that T-Mobile really prides itself on taking care of its employees. Can you shed some light on how T-Mobile treats its developers?
I think, from a benefits perspective, T-Mobile is a great place to work. It’s a set of values that is driven throughout T-Mobile as a company and is part of T-Mobile as a culture. It’s a place where you have a voice within the scope of what you’re working on. It’s OK to voice your opinions, to have these conversations, to be empowered to drive change.
It’s not chaotic. It all works well within these concentric circles of scope. We don’t have a chop-shop mentality. I’ve worked in or worked with multiple carriers in North America, like Cingular before they became AT&T. I’ve worked with Sprint, TELUS and Rogers in Canada. This is a very intense place. We’ve done over 10 software releases a year, and about four major ones that touch almost every core system. We have 200-some systems, 40 that are core to the business. None of these is smaller than 20 to 30 projects, and typically touches 20 or 30 systems. These are fairly intense, and people do work long hours and weekends, but in an environment where they feel like they make a difference. They’re well educated about why they’re working and what they’re working on and why it’s important to our business.
Finally, development is a very centric component of what we do in IT. There is a lot that is circled around our ability to actually develop code. It’s important to our business, so it gives an edge.
How is development organized?
We have two development organizations in IT, and then you can say there’re multiple development efforts happening in product development. In IT, we’ve divided it into any system that touches either a customer or an employee who touches a customer. So, retail systems (or) call center systems, we call them front-line employees. Also, any system that touches customers directly, like the website, the handset software, the portals. Then, we have the systems to support IT, like the billing systems. They’re all bundled into one group. The other development team handles our ERP and [business intelligence] environment; software that deals with our supply chain, the BI and the data warehouse.
Then we have the Q/A team. Each one of these teams employs about 220 to 260 front office, and about 650 back office, with about 400 to 350 augmented staff. They are flexible, but we have about 1,000 extra developers on staff at any given time. I would say our releases, when we work on more than one at a time (and we have a new release every three to four weeks), each one of these teams occupies 500 developers and another 180 to 300 or 400 Q/A guys.