An Inside Look at Developing the Pardot Product [Expert Interview]


Today, our summer camp series is changing directions: we’re taking an inside look at the folks behind the Pardot product. Chris Kelly, Software Engineering Manager and mountain-biking aficionado, joins us to talk shop about what it takes to manage product development at a growing company, how to prioritize the wants and needs of other departments, customers, and customers-to-be, and more. Plus, hear more about some cool projects going on behind the scenes at Pardot, and get a glimpse into Chris’ spirit animal.

To learn more about our summer camp content series, please click here.

Alright, Chris, take it away!

So Chris, can you tell us a little about how Pardot’s Engineering team is structured? What are some of the different roles that people play?

Behind the scenes, Pardot has about 100 people in “Tech and Product” that work together to build the Pardot application that you all use every day (as well as some other neat things like Salesforce® Engage). We’re split into four programs:

  • Trust: A proactive team whose projects measurably improve any of the four pillars of Trust: Security, Reliability, Performance, and Transparency. They keep Pardot doing what our customers expect.
  • Engagement Studio: Increases customer success and satisfaction by enhancing our existing suite of tools that encompass our marketing execution engine.
  • Integration: Parity and simplicity through unification of the Pardot and Salesforce platforms for Sales, Marketing, and Admin users.
  • New Markets: Adds flexibility to Pardot’s core product to solve for international and enterprise scale customers who have specific but quantifiable needs.

Each of these programs has a few teams of Software Engineers, and a handful of people shared across these teams including Product Managers, Quality Engineers, User Experience Designers, and more.

Give us a little insight into the development process for Pardot. What does product development look like at a growing company like Pardot?

Our To-Do list is incredibly huge, and we manage the direction we are going with priorities. Product Managers work with Marketing, Sales, and the rest of the business to figure out what our customers and customers-to-be need. They then get estimates of feasibility from Engineering and use all of this information to figure out what Engineering should work on next.  Each of the four engineering programs is given a list of priorities, and each team in each program works on one priority at a time until it’s completed or until priorities change. We currently have more priorities than we have teams, so we’re hiring!

Sounds like quite the balancing act! What advice would you give to other growing companies who are sorting out their roadmap priorities? 

The most important part of all this is working together as a team. Few things are as effective as getting everyone in the same room to make decisions, or just to figure out what is going on. The pieces that Marketing, Sales, Product, and other teams add are extremely important, but the fewer steps between our users and our engineers, the better job we can do building great software that makes our users happy.

Makes sense! So, since we’re going behind the scenes, can you tell us about a cool project that you’re working on right now?

I manage the New Markets program, and we’re currently focused on laying the groundwork that will enable Pardot to work in languages, cultures, and timezones other than the ones to which we’re accustomed. While finding words and phrases to translate in the app isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, debugging and fixing timezone issues can be both challenging and rewarding. We’ve also had a good time finding and repairing all the ways our application can break when phrases are a little longer in another language, or where we’re using a version of a library that doesn’t play nice with the localization framework we are using.

Speaking of new functionality, how can Pardot customers get involved in trying out exciting new features before they are released?

We deploy new versions of Pardot several times a day. This doesn’t mean that users get new features this often, but at any time we always have a few ‘secret’ features up and running to make sure they work correctly. These are hidden behind ‘feature flags’ that can be turned off and on for individual users and accounts. We’re usually testing all of these out on Pardot’s own account, and they usually work pretty well.

If you’re interested in seeing some of the things that we’re working on that aren’t quite finished, you’re excited about giving us your feedback, and you’re willing to take a tiny risk that things may not work quite the way you expect, get in touch with our UX team here.

Awesome, thanks Chris! Before we finish here, let’s try a more fun question. Since you’re in a pretty technical role, how would you describe your job to your hypothetical eight year old nephew?

There’s one conversation to be had about what “marketing automation” is that’s probably better answered elsewhere on this blog. (Editor’s note: Chris is right! If you want to learn more about marketing automation, check out this page.)

For engineering, the story begins with making things with LEGOs and tools in the toolbox which makes a lot of sense. Software Engineer is a little weird because the pieces and tools we are using to build things only exist inside a computer, but this doesn’t make them any less important. We build things that make people happy, which is really pretty cool any way you look at it.  My job is to find and hire the best of the best people, and to make sure that their job is rewarding and that they’re building the things our company needs. Even though I spend a lot of time in meetings and don’t do any actual programming at work, my degrees in Computer Science and my experience as a Software Engineer in previous jobs help me understand what people are working on and help me guide conversations and projects successfully. A good day for me is one where my team has built something really cool, and they go home with smiles on their faces.

Okay, one more. You’re an outdoorsy guy — if you were an animal, what would you be and why?

Tough question! After far too much deliberation, I’ll go with a Bobcat. They’re extremely adaptable in where they live and what they eat, they are active around sunrise and sunset instead of the middle of the day, they don’t have many real predators, and they’re not currently classified as endangered but hunting and trading is closely monitored. More importantly, they are giant cats that run around in the mountains every day.

This has been great, thanks for taking the time to share with our audience! To our readers — check out the picture of Chris in his summer camp days below, and stay tuned for the next post in our series, which will focus on settling support issues and leaving customers feeling valued and satisfied. See you all next week!