In El Segundo, Reiko Han, a manager of QA testing at MotorTrend, rushes into a room that looks like the venue for the world’s weirdest LAN party. In her hand, she holds a Best Buy bag. She reaches in and pulls out the contents: an old Android phone.
Outdated phone in tow, MotorTrend’s quality assurance engineers could finally get back to work. Within the company’s headquarters, the old Android phone goes into the testing room, which is chock full of different devices to ensure the MotorTrend video-on-demand app is running perfectly — no matter what device it’s running on.
One of MotorTrend’s senior software engineers, Justin Page, describes the VOD app as “Netflix but for car videos.” With the app, Page said content — from articles to buying guides to videos — makes it easier for car enthusiasts to access what they’re looking for.
“MotorTrend’s goal, especially for this year, is to really focus its aim on audience members who are interested in digital content,” Page said. “What we’re gearing toward is supporting that initiative, whether it’s through our subscription service, publishing side and our digital content on the web.”
To keep up with its new goal, MotorTrend is growing. With more help, the team said it can now move faster in iterating current offerings and dreaming up new ones. The culture of consistent breaking, testing, iterating, buying outdated phones — whatever you want to call it — seems to be working: The MotorTrend app has nearly a perfect rating on the App store.
How does the tech team go about building new products?
Page: We use an Agile process in terms of how we develop. On the API side, our team is unique in that we get requests from analytics, marketing, legal, mobile, web and product — so, at any given moment, our priorities might change. In the event that something happens midweek, let’s say a customer support issue, we can get that on the board, have it represented and we can prioritize it, even if we’re mid-sprint.
One of the core tenets of Agile methodology is “one team.” How did that play out while building the app?
Han: The “one team” concept shows up in how we’re not separated into developers, QA and product relationships. And it’s not that we are just one team that works together — we have a mutual goal and everybody contributes in a different way and plays a key part.
We are engineering, but we also work with product. If there’s a very high-level requirement that we don’t know how to implement, they break it down by exactly what they want to see, and they have a UI/UX team that builds the customer experience and user interface. So, we’ve got product, UI/UX designers, developers and QA working as one team to build the best application.
Page: When we groom tickets for future sprints during client development, we actually involve all the team members that were involved in building out these tickets, as well as UI/UX, so that everybody has an understanding of how long it'll take and what is involved. We also have daily standups and a weekly lead catch-up with the vice president of engineering to give him a rundown of what all the teams are working on.
Machine Learning About Cars
We touched on it earlier, but let’s talk about testing a little more. Why is that so important at MotorTrend? What does that process look like?
Han: On the QA team, we test alongside the devs to make sure that the app works and meets the customer requirements. We run a lot of analytics so we understand the customer’s behavior, and we’re also looking through the actual API code. We work with other teams to make sure that not only are the customer requirements fulfilled, but the internal business requirements are as well.
Pulley: The secret to a great product is getting it right the first time. It takes longer, but we spend a lot of time first designing and building out test cases for the components that make it into the app. Once we have what we need to build in front of us, we actually do tests during development. We build out the test cases and make sure that those test cases work before we implement the feature into the app. Once it’s done and tested, we don’t have to revisit it in the future.
With the seemingly large user base MotorTrend has, how do you scale the app?
Pulley: We build the client app so it’s one app per device. So, it kind of scales the other way, where we have to make this one app able to run on an array of different devices throughout the world, so anybody who wants to can download and use it. It’s kind of a different effort of scalability, more of a fragmentation question for the mobile developers.
Page: I think the keyword is telemetry. It allows us to be able to predict and avoid potential issues by detecting them. That’s a key part when you’re trying to support building out a service that supports hundreds of thousands of users. Another aspect is building a solid infrastructure. We are completely on AWS, so we use a lot of those tools and services. We have a DevOps team, and a lot of them are AWS certified. In fact, we’re encouraged to study how to use that platform and leverage it to handle the scale that we currently use.
How are you staying connected during the pandemic?
What else are technologists at MotorTrend working on?
Pulley: One of the bigger projects that we are working on is switching out our content engine. Essentially, what we’re doing is taking all of the videos that we’ve made over the years and moving them to a new delivery system that is easier for non-engineers to be able to work with, and add their own video and pictures. It’s happening all across the digital platform, and all of the digital platforms are making the switch at the same time, so it’s been a pretty big effort.
Page: With that migration in mind, we are really gearing toward focusing on international users where we can deliver content based on geolocation, and users are going to be able to watch content that they have the rights for. We’re going to have more stability and control, and know exactly what shows are playing in what region. It just makes it more flexible. A lot of the behavior that people are used to with Hulu and Netflix we’re hoping to standardize on what content is available.