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VMblog Expert Interview: Lekko launches out of stealth to help engineers move beyond feature flags

interview lekko niemiec 

Dynamic configuration is a concept that's been quietly revolutionizing software development at tech giants like Meta, Google, and Uber for years. Now, a new player is emerging from stealth mode to bring this powerful approach to the broader market. Konrad Niemiec, CEO and founder of Lekko, believes his startup has cracked the code on making dynamic configuration accessible to companies of all sizes.

In this exclusive VMblog interview, Niemiec discusses how Lekko aims to disrupt the feature flagging landscape by addressing its shortcomings and introducing a more robust, strategic approach to code dynamism. With backing from notable investors, Lekko is poised to tackle the challenges of risk, complexity, and technical debt that often accompany attempts to make code more flexible and responsive.

Niemiec shares insights on why this approach could be a game-changer for developers and businesses alike. He also touches on the potential role of AI in enhancing software configuration management.

VMblog:  Congratulations on launching out of stealth with some great investors. Can you give our readers a quick sense of what problem you are trying to solve with Lekko?

Konrad Niemiec:  Developers and businesses all want their code to be more dynamic - they want to ship features, product tiers, previews, A/B tests and experiments without needing to create a different version of their released product for each configuration. That's why they're using feature flagging tools more and more. But it's hard to make code more dynamic without downsides - risk, complexity, technical debt, and unexpected outages despite the extra engineering efforts. Doing that well is incredibly difficult.

VMblog:  From reading the press release, it seems you are trying to particularly disrupt the world of feature flagging. Can you explain where the practice of feature flagging falls short and why Lekko's approach is superior?

Niemiec:  First, feature flags have tactical shortcomings: They are an external source of truth that complicates your software and leads to technical debt all too easily. And today's feature flag tools don't ensure that all code paths are run through your CI pipeline - it's easy to slip untested code to customers without knowing it. Because of these tactical shortcomings, businesses are unable to use this dynamism in their code strategically.

But the biggest business value-killer is there's no way to bundle today's feature flags with other parameters to create approved configurations for testing and provisioning, or to set permissions inside the company for who is allowed to provision them to specific customers. Developers have to go in and edit flags one by one for each new configuration, hoping they get the correct combination, often rushing to roll back a new feature that's flailing. Every customer or user gets something bespoke.

This all tangles up into one big ball of interconnected risks. An ACM survey found more than half of all outages are caused by misconfiguration, like when Google Cloud erased a major customer and all their backups in May because an employee left one parameter blank when configuring the client's private cloud. That hapless Googler was only trying to do their job.

VMblog:  You call your approach "Dynamic Configuration" -- I imagine many of my readers will have a rough sense of what this means, but can you explain in detail what this is all about?

Niemiec:  We've created an architectural unit - a Lekko - that is a function in your code that is wrapped to be dynamic. And we've built an SDK library that lets developers specify groups of Lekkos in their source code with correct settings for each to create approved configurations. Lekko uses a SaaS service to manage developers' configurations of Lekkos and Lekko groups. Permissioned users can change configurations on a deployed build quickly through a Web interface.

lekko ui 

VMblog:  I understand that Dynamic Configuration is practiced at places like Meta, Google, Splunk, and Uber (where readers may be interested to know you used to work). It's my first time hearing about it so I am curious how long it's been an established practice, and why most companies can't just go build it internally as well?

Niemiec:  It's been around since the mid 2010s, but Dynamic Configuration isn't something you can cobble together from off-the-shelf parts. We have friends at a few companies that tried. They spent more time and money than they had imagined possible learning that dynamic configuration is simple to understand but complicated to implement. If you don't have an Uber-size budget and resources, you could burn a million dollars before realizing how much more than that the tech giants spend on their in-house tools. Our mission is to make Dynamic Configuration available to all.

VMblog:  Is there anything else our readers should know about Lekko?

Niemiec:  I saved AI until the end, because it's such a clich√© to mention it immediately this year as the core of the product. We do use machine learning to watch for risky configurations - combinations of Lekkos that may have an unintended effect. And we're looking for ways to use LLMs to make Lekko's UX more conversational and proactively helpful. But let's be clear: Lekko primarily packs our combined years of experience and our guide customers' ruthless feedback. It tests every code path through your existing CI. It's not ChatGPT looking at your source. It's a precision tool built by professionals to ensure rock-solid configuration, validation, testing, permissions and provisioning that integrate into existing workflows.

Finally, we understand firsthand what wastes engineers' time. With Lekko, devs get to stay in their code in their IDE to make functions dynamic and create approved configurations, then hand off provisioning and fulfillment to the right coworkers with a UI to ship them or roll them back as needed. Isn't that how it should be?

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Published Wednesday, July 10, 2024 9:00 AM by David Marshall
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