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Day in the Life of a Skype Site Operations Manager

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We recently had a chance to talk with Kaili Kleemeier, a site operations manager based in our offices in Tallinn, Estonia. Kaili plays a critical role in making sure Skype’s technology runs smoothly from a technical operational perspective. Her team supports the day-to-day management, deployment, and availability of Skype for more than 250 million connected users per month, more than 300 billion calling minute annually, and 40 million concurrent users at peak times. For a company with the global scale of Skype, it’s a complex and daring challenge that offers plenty of opportunity and excitement.

Check out this interview with Kaili, and learn about her cutting edge role:

What did you do before you came to Skype?
I came to Skype almost straight from university in Tartu, Estonia. I’ve been in operations at Skype for the last four years.

What exactly do you do?
Officially, my title is site operations manager. That means I manage some of the operational teams that maintain, manage, and deploy most of the production systems that keep Skype running and our users communicating with each other. We have a hand in pretty much everything Skype does that reaches our users.

This means we make sure that everything from the company’s websites to the systems facilitating the interoperability of the various mobile and desktop clients are running smoothly, and we are continually keeping our clients updated by deploying the latest features and functionality for our users.

Could you describe a typical day at the office?
Every day presents different challenges, and the solutions are almost never the same. In general, we work to make sure people have a roadmap in terms of how Skype operates, but we’re also trying to figure out the future of operations. We work with the developmental teams, handling interruptions in the systems. We also have to make sure everyone knows what’s going on, and try to troubleshoot and prevent problems. In terms of hours, everyone’s on call all the time – interruptions don’t conform to a nine-to-five schedule. However, most of our work tends to get done during the day when we’re in the office.

What makes you excited to come to work everyday?
I have a totally amazing team, which makes coming into work every day 100% worthwhile. I also love the fact that every day IS totally new – it’s impossible to get bored in my work environment. I also like how at Skype, it’s not just system administration – we get to change the concept of what operations management is. I really feel like I’m part of history in the making.

You’ve mentioned this new direction you want to take Operations in. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
We want to see operations – not just at Skype, but at any company – moving to a higher level away from manual software and hardware deployment. We don’t want to be the people who push a button manually and restart the server to fix problems. Instead, we have been moving everything we can to automated systems more closely integrated with the applications our product engineering teams develop. We’ve been pushing for a move towards Development Operations (DevOps) and working more closely with those teams at the application level. I think it’s weird for people when they realize that we do code – it’s just a different type of coding from the product software developers.

What was your most memorable Skype moment?
Certainly the most memorable moment at Skype for me was in December 2010 when we had a large-scale outage, lasting almost two days. The magnitude and impact of Skype going down could be felt around the globe, and that really affects us. What I’m proud of here is that in the case of such a large issue you could see our teams really coming together like a family.

In terms of the actual fix, what I’m really proud of is the steps we’ve taken to really minimize the chances of something like this happening again. We learned a lot. We improved our processes, infrastructure, technical availability, and how our team works together. As a key person in the site operations team, I know how important our work is here, and have an understanding of how what we do has a significant impact on our users. There’s no match for that, and it’s why I find it really satisfying yet challenging to work here. We are constantly working on finding solutions to complex problems, and evolving the way we do things here.

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