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This is part of a series highlighting our Interactive Video Service (IVS) team, who pioneer low-latency live streaming solutions at Twitch and other companies.
It is 3:00 a.m. and one burning question has been keeping you up all night: Just who is it that keeps Twitch running all day, everyday? Who are the unsung heroes that keep Twitch streams buttery smooth, so that you won’t miss a single moment? And most importantly: how can you join such an elite squad?
Okay, so that was three questions. Either way, we’ve got answers!
We sat down with Elliot Fenech, director of our Global Service Operations Center (GSOC), to find out how his team works their magic and why it is one of the best places at Twitch to learn and grow as an engineer–whether you’re just starting out or pivoting mid-career.
Angelo Paxinos: Elliot, before we dive into the GSOC team, can you share a little bit about your background and how you came to Twitch?
Elliot Fenech: As an undergrad, I studied Psychology, and ended up getting my Masters Degree in Communication, which focused on analyzing social networks. Before Twitch, I worked at the University of Utah for over a decade. I started as a computer technician and eventually became an IT Manager and an Adjunct Faculty Instructor. What attracted me to Twitch was the culture, scale, and velocity of growth they were experiencing in 2018.
I feel like my educational and professional background helps me bring a unique perspective from a range of operational approaches, both inside and outside of the technology sector, to my role at Twitch.
AP: What does the GSOC team do and why does it matter?
EF: We are the first responders to infrastructure failures that prevent Twitch’s video broadcast from working. More specifically, we minimize the time it takes to resolve issues when they occur. So, whether the problem is a broken fiber-optics cable, an unexpected bug, or anything in between, we make sure to resolve the issue efficiently. We partner closely with the core engineering teams at Twitch to make this possible.
The end result is that everyone on the platform has a smooth and reliable experience, from the moment a creator goes live, to the second the live stream shows up on a viewer’s screen, regardless of where they are in the world.
AP: That is a lot of responsibility! I can’t imagine doing that at a global scale.
EF: As the world’s largest live-streaming service, scale comes with the territory. We build custom solutions to ensure seamless viewer and creator experiences, regardless of time and location. Why does that matter? Community is the core of what makes Twitch special. One thing that has helped our communities grow the way they have, was the low-latency, seamless, and reliable nature of our service. Through our close collaboration with core engineering teams, we can implement solutions quickly, so no one misses a moment.
AP: Let’s talk about scale. How does your team solve problems when there aren’t many examples to follow?
EF: There’s no playbook for what we’re doing. When you’re building something on a global scale, that is also live and low-latency, ambiguity comes with the territory. All of the typical tech rhetoric, like moving fast, pivoting, and experimenting, really does manifest here. Many of the problems the GSOC team is facing haven’t been tackled before, and that means there is a tremendous amount of room for teammates to contribute and build something new.
That said, we don’t exist in a silo, and there are a lot of people and teams across Twitch who come together to make things work. I don’t want to undersell how much each service team, or team that owns maturing a piece of the video platform, contributes to make this possible. My team looks to remove any customer impact as quickly as possible, while the ultimate fixes get developed outside the GSOC. However, we encourage the GSOC engineering staff to participate in these solutions, and we push team members to contribute.
AP: It sounds like people on your team have the power to make a real impact.
EF: Definitely. Problems that might otherwise be deferred up the management chain are something you’re empowered to take on. We have very supportive leadership that encourage us to shoot those gaps and overcome challenges we wouldn’t normally think of engaging with.
Some of the toughest challenges we face stem from factors we can’t directly control. For example, if we identify that Twitch viewers are experiencing a lot of buffering, which is the stream pausing with a loading wheel and restarting again, there is a large laundry list of things that can contribute to that experience, such as regional internet service provider (ISP) outages. Being able to identify those and respond with the correct technical solution to keep viewers watching can be stressful, and that pressure is one of the things that I do warn people about when they want to work here. But this doesn’t mean you’d be working alone. In these situations, one of our GSOC engineers will typically collaborate with a subject matter expert to find both a quick and a long term solution. This helps the GSOC engineer better understand the nuances of the system while also providing senior engineers additional operational perspective.
AP: What is a common personality trait on the team?
EF: By far, the most common trait our team members share is curiosity: a willingness to dive into an unknown problem, and figure it out bit-by-bit. As the stewards of Twitch’s infrastructure, we’re ultimately responsible for the tech that makes sure viewers can connect with their favorite creators, and vice versa. Their work keeps our communities connected and lets them thrive. When a new staff member takes on their first project, we don’t expect them to be comprehensively perfect, but we do expect them to quickly identify and iterate to close gaps. Twitch changes quickly, and projects must adapt to the needs of our community of creators and viewers.
AP: Why would someone want to work on the GSOC team?
EF: If you can start in a great operations center it is an absolutely phenomenal experience, because you get a huge range of technical exposure. You’ll get to work on everything from wide-area networking and system administration, to in-house software development. Typically, individuals starting at a traditional operations team will work on just one of those areas, but at Twitch, you get to work on all three.
With us, a lot of your experiences will be guard-railed through tooling, runbooks, and have subject matter experts to lean into for help. As a general philosophy, we assist people with maturing them through the GSOC as a foundational stepping stone in their careers through tech. Occasionally, staff members find they thrive in the intense operational environment, we love finding those people to be anchor pieces in our team long term.
AP: Are there any other learning, growth, or development opportunities on the team?
EF: Yes, there are a few! In general, we do what is called a 70–30 learning split, where 30% of your time is dedicated to working on projects you’re passionate about. So you’ll always have time to develop skills in areas that interest you.
We also like to give people projects that build on their own interests as well. From Day One, we’re asking questions like: “Where do you want to go?” “What team is interesting to you?” “What team do you want to move onto next?” “Where do you want to go with your career?” And we try to set them all up to get that type of exposure. So the GSOC is seen as a breeding ground for talent.
After you’ve gotten your hands dirty in some of these technical areas, we can push you into any areas that interest you. So if you like networking we’ll push you more and more networking projects, with the ultimate goal being to promote you onto one of the deeper networking teams when they have an open position. We have a track history of being a gateway for future senior engineers and managers in the video organization.
We’re building the future of live entertainment, and we’d do it even better with you. Head to our career site to learn more about what it is like to work at Twitch and how you can join our quest to empower live communities on the internet!