a blog written by Brandon Mowat

Ada, a Builder Tools Year in Review 🎉

Our team did a lot this year -- here are the highlights

Tue Jan 04 2022

As many of you may know, I manage a team at Ada called Builder Tools. Basically, we maintain the fundamental pieces of the "Bot Management" software that Ada offers to our customers. Together, with my spectacularly talented team, we've made some incredible improvements throughout 2022, so I thought I'd highlight some of our best work, in no particular order.

1. We Gave Our Navigation a Face-Lift

Navigation improvements depiction

Ada's bot manager has looked pretty much the same since 2017, with the exception of Drag 'n Drop blocks, which we added in 2018/2019. But in 2021 we gave our outdated navigation an overhaul.

We added more useful sections on the left hand that contain the various different pages where you can take action. They're also grouped by type of actions that "builders" take while they're working, which makes it both easier to navigate and promotes more use for pages previously hidden.

After releasing the new design, we saw an increase in usage across the dashboard – a huge success!

2. We Added Many New Alerts & Monitors

alerts and monitors in DataDog

I know most people find alerting and monitoring is boring so feel free to skip this if you don't care, but this is one of my personal favourites from the year. Alerting and monitoring of specific features for Ada was admittedly pretty scarce while our systems monitoring was MUCH better. And if I were a betting man, I'd guess that most engineering orgs that are younger than 5 years old have little to no feature monitoring either.

We put an end to that bad habit in the latter of 2021, though! We added a bunch more monitors to key API endpoints that power some of our most crucial features, like Folders, Search, and Improvement Filtering (a feature that lets you filter "Not Understood" questions from chatters so that you can improve your Bots training).

It's already helped us make both reliability and performance improvements to Ada, like latency reductions from 3 minutes to 200ms – splendid.

3. We Created a Versioning Tool for All Content

Version history of a bot

One of the most technically challenging tasks we took on in 2021 was to create a reliable and robust versioning tool for our Bot content. Ada's bots contain tons of valuable content; content that is very complex as well, since all answers are connected in some way, either through links or through our variables system (variables are placeholders for information collected from chatters).

Version history for an answer

After months of designing, debugging, and improving, we finally released our versioning system to all of our customers. Now, all Ada customers can safely track, view, and revert all of their content with the confidence that their bot will not break due to de-referenced content, something that happened frequently with our old "Activity" feature.

What Am I Excited For In 2022?

In 2021, or engineering team went from double digits to triple digits, and my team, Builder Tools, grew from 5 developers to 12. Growing that much, that fast, definitely comes with its challenges, and need the gentle care often omitted in rapid-growth startups. A lot of our old methods of working started to break down as we grew and as Ada grew as a whole, but by the end of the year we had begun to make progress on improving those old practices.

For 2022, I'm really excited to continue to mature and build more, really cool, products. We have a ton of really great ideas and problems in our backlog that are ripe for solving, like tools to help bots get from 0 to 100 much faster.

I think we're also going to start to see a shift in both what we build and how we build. In the early days, we built a lot of product in a closed system; to build on it, you needed to write new code directly within existing code. I can see a shift where our closed system is becoming much more open, to both external as well as internal developers. Following that, I also foresee much greater focus on reliability, documentation, and quality; all of which are qualities of a much more mature organization.

With that being said, we're still on a rocket ship; things change at a moments notice and you have to be prepared to pivot with it. When looking back on all that we did in 2021, I'm confident that we'll be able to take it on anything that 2022 has in store for us. This next year is going to be crazy, so I'm incredibly lucky to have such talented engineers with me, like Natalie, Rinoc, Eric, Divya, Meghan, Arsal, Nana, You-Ree, and Ihor, Product Managers like Kayla and Shannon, Designers like Lily, Directors like Alianor, a CTO like Jessica, and Founders like Mike and David – all of whom make all of our teams great work possible.

Hopefully I see you soon 💕

Builder Tools 2021 mug

Written by Brandon Mowat
building useful things at Ada, in the city of Toronto

made from scratch