How Liberty Mutual made a culture of constant education central to its digital transformation

November 11, 2019 Neil McAllister

Modernizing an enterprise of the scale of Liberty Mutual is no easy feat. As the fifth largest global property and casualty insurer, the company pulls in revenue of $41.6 billion and employs nearly 60,000 people in some 800 offices across 30 countries. Roughly 5,000 of those staffers work in technology, and the majority of those are developers. It should come as no surprise that managing this balance can make it challenging to keep the company ahead of the technology curve.

In a talk at SpringOne Platform 2019, Liberty Mutual solutions engineer Miranda LeBlanc and security architect Matt Ruel explained that building a culture of continuous learning and education has been crucial to maintaining the company’s competitive edge.

The key, Ruel says, is in catering to the beginner—although he adds that this doesn’t always mean the newbie developer.

“All of us are beginners in some way, right?” he says. “So everything we do to help that new user get to the cloud is going to help somebody with 10 or 20 years’ experience, who's retooling a bit and learning some new technology. So focusing on being a beginner, always being a beginner yourself, is a valuable part of the process.”

Company-wide efforts

To ensure that its developers stay up to speed, Liberty Mutual has implemented a broad range of educational programs:

  •  Online courses are available, and employees can take advantage of tuition reimbursements for outside coursework.
  • Employees are encouraged to attend conferences.
  • Guest speakers are invited to the offices to discuss technical topics.
  • Annual company-wide hackathons offer technical excellence awards for best coding practices.
  • Special, summer hackathons are offered for interns.
  • A new company AWS DeepRacer league gives devs a fun way to learn about machine learning.
  •  Liberty Mutual’s Women in Tech organization holds holding sessions highlighting individual technologies.

One example of the results of these programs is that Liberty Mutual was able to standardize on Git as a preferred source code control tool. Initially, many developers at the company had never used it. But following a recent hackathon, the majority of developers are expected to be using Git by 2020.

But the most important recent effort, LeBlanc explains, was to completely redo all of Liberty Mutual’s entry-level curriculum for technical employees, based on feedback gathered from developers from across the organization.

“Our goal is that a new engineer at Liberty Mutual should be able to deploy an app into the cloud on their very first day on the job. And that's been our goal for the last few years.”

“We ask them, how are you setting up these types of apps? Which type of NoSQL database are you using?” LeBlanc says. “And based on all of that feedback, we put together a curriculum for those new hires, and they're actually going through training right now. So I'm excited to see how the second round of training is going.”

Equally important, new hires learn how to do things “the Liberty Mutual way” from the very beginning. “Within their first technical training,” LeBlanc says, “they're actually building out Spring Boot REST APIs, they're deploying them to Pivotal Platform, and they're connecting them to real databases running out in AWS. And they're going to see the best practices for how to deploy those types of apps.”

She adds, “Our goal is that a new engineer at Liberty Mutual should be able to deploy an app into the cloud on their very first day on the job. And that's been our goal for the last few years.”

Stepping on the gas

“It's all about putting developers in a place to get code from their laptops to production as quickly and as securely as possible,” Ruel says, adding that Liberty Mutual has been able to reduce deployment times that previously took weeks or months down to days or even minutes.

But Ruel is quick to point out that speed alone can’t be the only goal. As an insurer, Liberty Mutual exists in a heavily regulated industry. Issues like security and compliance are paramount when deploying new code. The key, he says, is to build as much of this functionality as possible into the platform itself, so developers can focus on things like adding features and tuning performance. For Liberty Mutual, he says, this included automating deployments and increasing use of tools such as static code analysis.

In a separate talk at SpringOne Platform, Pierre Braganza, senior director of architecture at Liberty Mutual, explained that it’s not just the need to deliver software more quickly that drives the company to emphasize developer education. The pace of the modern technology landscape itself is also a driver.

“Technologies are coming in faster than we can adapt,” Braganza says. “The reason we hold on to old technologies, old philosophies, is because of our inability to learn fast—not because we cannot, but because we need an environment that that that says, ‘Absolutely, we want you to learn,’ like this is a normal thing we do. We spend time learning; we spend time trying.”

About the Author

Neil McAllister

Neil McAllister is a veteran technology journalist covering enterprise technology. He is currently a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Pivotal.

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