John Allspaw on Common Ground and Coordination in Joint Activity

New York - May 25, 2016

John Allspaw on Common Ground and Coordination in Joint Activity


The paper I'm going to discuss is the result of what happens when people with backgrounds in mathematics, psychology, and artificial intelligence (Feltovich and Bradshaw) get together to ask questions about how teams operate alongside the originators of modern decision-making and cognitive systems engineering research (Klein and Woods).

The concepts outlined in the paper have provided frames and directions in designing tools and environments where successful work requires multiple actors (whether they are people or software agents!) to succeed. This seminal paper takes a deep dive into not just people and teamwork, but what comprises the sometimes invisible activity of coordination, collaboration, cooperation, and the contracts and expectations entities have with each other along the way.

The paper has had far-reaching influence in multiple domains: military intelligence, space transportation and aviation, and more recently: software engineering and operations on the web. Let me walk you through where this paper came from, what makes this paper critical to the future of software, and a hint about what I'm sure it means about the future.


John Allspaw (@allspaw) is Etsy’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO), leading the Product Engineering, Infrastructure and Operations teams. Previously, he was SVP of Infrastructure and Operations at Etsy. For over 17 years, he has worked in system operations in the biotech, government and online media industries.

He began his career running vehicle crash simulations for the U.S. government. In 1997, he made the leap to the web, building the technical infrastructures at Salon, InfoWorld, Friendster and Flickr.

John is the author of The Art of Capacity Planning and Web Operations: Keeping the Data On Time, both published by O’Reilly Media. He holds a BS from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and an MSC from Lund University.

TwoSigma The New York Chapter would like to thank TwoSigma for helping to make this meetup possible.