Customer Superstars: Emily Dresner, CTO of Upside Travel

Notion is designed to help good teams be great. Our mission is to give teams and their leaders the insight they need to continuously improve their health, happiness, and performance. And because our work is all about our customers' work, we decided to start sharing their stories. We started with the incredible team at Avid, and we continue with Emily Dresner, Chief Technology Officer of Upside Travel!

Upside Logo.jpg

Tell us about your product. What do you spend your days building? What’s the coolest thing about it? Why do your customers love it?

We are Upside Travel!  We are a new online service aimed at giving the do-it-yourself business traveler a better business trip.  We’re turbo-charging business trips making it smoother to book or change your trip, get you tools to navigate your trip better, and ensuring you get home quickly and reliably.

We’re a lean microservices platform built on a Docker and Kubernetes infrastructure.  We built our main website in React.js and charged it with an expansive node.js REST platform.  We also supply iOS (Swift 3) and Android (Java and Kotlin) apps so Upside is always-on.  Our infrastructure is 100% AWS Cloud Native -- no servers anywhere.

Coolest thing about Upside from a purely technical perspective is how fast we ship changes to production.  On a busy day, we can push 20+ microservice changes to production.  Because of how we architected our system, we can move a new feature from an engineer desk to production in a few minutes. Another cool thing: because we embraced lean microservices hard, we can easily spin up new features, teams, and products in parallel with all other development without anyone stepping on toes!

Our customers don’t have their own in-house dedicated travel staff or support staff.  They’re stuck making all their plans themselves and navigating the thin-margin leisure market.  They love we can give them the customer service they deserve when they buy through Upside.


Tell us about your team. Why are they amazing? What is your favorite thing in working with them? If you could do anything to help them, what would it be?

Our team here at Upside is the elite of the Washington DC metro area (Maryland, Virginia, DC).  We focus heavily on full stack here.  We look for engineers who can walk and chew gum, produce a pixel-perfect front end while a perfectly scaling web service, who is comfortable working with a UX designer and DevOps.  They’re mostly Node.JS engineers (so they tell me).

We have a strong “no jerk” policy here at Upside.  No bros, no egos, none of that nonsense.  We’re a high performing sports team trying to win the Super Bowl.  Not the local high school team.  Awesome people are on the Upside engineering team -- awesome colleagues and awesome friends.

If I could do anything for the team, it would be to get them better information to get more done, faster.

Tell us about data, numbers, metrics. What sources do you track? How does data help your team be successful? What’s your biggest struggle in using data?

Upside is 100% on JIRA for all epic, story, task, and bug tracking.  We use it as our main source of “truth” when it comes to overall team performance.  We’re mostly looking at:

  • Burn Ups. How well the teams are tracking against completing all current sprint work against the mutually understood goal.
  • # of Story Points Resolved.  How much work is engineering-complete but sitting on staging waiting for Product Manager sign-off. 
  • Throughput.  How many “things” the team completes in a two week sliding window.  This lets us understand if the team is spending their time fire fighting or fixing bugs vs working on feature work.
  • Velocity.  We look at a 6 week, 1 sprint back sliding window of velocity to see if the team is under-committing, over-committing, needs more engineers, and generally gelling as a group.

Velocity is an extremely useful metric for the teams and their Product Owners (here, Product Managers).  It allows us to understand the “size of the bread box” -- ie, how much the team can reasonably commit and see success.  Because we don’t track velocity/engineer but by overall team metrics, we can predict how much work a team can complete, if a team will benefit from another team member or have Mythical Man Month issues, and how much they can commit to in a full release.

Our biggest struggle is the standard fight with of Man vs. JQL.  JQL is a very powerful query language to derive facts, but it’s not friendly.  Much of the useful queries are buried 4 or 5 levels deep on Atlassian’s documentation page.  It has plenty of powerful date manipulations and custom query functions, but they’re not immediately obvious.


Tell us about Notion. When do you review your Notion data? How have you incorporated Notion into your team workflow/processes? What problems has Notion helped you solve?

Frankly, we’re hooked on Notion.  We review Notion data daily.  It helps engineering leadership and product head off what look like slow downs, blockers, and problems.  We’re a low friction/high shipping organization, so those burn ups not moving for a few days is an indicator to get in and figure out what’s going on.

We tried several tools to integrate with our JIRA data and workflow but they were all either too complex for our needs, woefully incomplete, or limited.  None of them worked well for our team.  Notion is the first tool that sits on our team’s actual daily workflow and allows us visibility across all the teams quickly and easily.  

What would you say is the greatest benefit to using Notion?

The greatest benefit to using Notion are the quickly and easily generated reports at my fingertips right from the JQL we use every day.  If Notion went away tomorrow, we’d have to rebuild it ourselves!

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