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Engineering

Meet Rippling Engineering

Jeremy Henrickson — Sep 9, 2020

Welcome to the Rippling engineering blog! We are looking forward to bringing you stories about some of the technical challenges that we have tackled so far and some of those that are yet to come.

Before jumping into those things I want to set some context, tell you a bit about why I joined the company and tell you why I believe that we have a decade’s worth of interesting problems to solve.

HR software? Really?

When someone first proposed that I speak with the team at Rippling my first reaction was something like “HR software? Thanks, but no.” My assumption was that this was yet another in a long line of vital, but technically uninteresting, business software products.

But, people I trusted had great things to say about Parker and Prasanna, Rippling’s co-founders, and Matt MacInnis, our COO, so I put on my skeptic’s hat and went to meet them.

I’m glad I did. The story they wove for me revealed a rich tapestry that quickly convinced me that Rippling wasn’t just another HR company. Rather, it was about fundamental change in the way people think about and use the business software that serves as the central nervous system of companies small and large. It was a vision driven by an entrepreneurial, engineering-first culture. And embedded in the core strategy of the company were compelling technology challenges that could keep me engaged for a decade.

That, I thought, was something worth spending time on.

The problem

Today, employee data is fragmented across many systems: HR systems, payroll systems, identity systems, device management systems, benefits systems, time tracking systems, a host of other products around the ecosystem, and so on. Those systems were not designed to work together, so they don’t. The most basic task of keeping employee data in sync across those systems requires extensive integration, error-prone manual copying of data, and lots of time from human beings who could be doing more valuable things.

Furthermore, fundamental concepts, such as permissioning and approval chains to name only two, often do not exist in these systems. To the extent that they do exist, they require implementation in each system; those implementations, of course, are not natively compatible with one another. Companies sometimes get around these kinds of challenges by having yet more systems that attempt to consolidate the roles and rights of each employee. But then that data, too, is incomplete. Administrators of these systems have to spend their limited time and attention worrying about those problems instead of focusing on their core business and their employees.

Even in the best case, companies that handle these challenges still have to wrestle with a fragmented and poor user experience. This is true from the moment an employee signs their offer letter and tries to go through a protracted, manual onboarding process, to the many changes as the employee grows at the company, all the way through to the end of their employment where companies have manual procedures to ensure that those employees no longer have access to sensitive systems.

As a result, prior to my time at Rippling, no one had ever told me that they love their payroll system. Or their core IT products. Or their benefits administration platform. At best, people tolerate them.

Our fundamental thesis

We assert that the answer to these problems is to create a single system of record for all employee data; that is, all data used across every department in each company. That single system of record sits underneath a technology platform that provides core technical and business primitives. Those core technologies are then used consistently and reliably across first-party implementations of the core systems that businesses need to function: HR, payroll, benefits administration, identity management, device management, and others.

This approach not only eliminates the need to replicate and integrate data across a set of heterogeneous systems but also eliminates the voluminous busy work of keeping those systems in sync. No longer do professionals in HR and IT have to spend tedious hours ensuring that their data stays consistent and correct in multiple systems. No longer does one person need to wait hours or days for another person to get data for them just because they don’t have direct, permission-controlled access. Instead they can spend time on the higher value functions of enriching the employee experience and solving the hard problems that actually help their business.

Furthermore, a set of products built on top of a common data store and a common technology platform also provides a common user experience. No longer do employees and administrators need to learn the idiosyncratic behaviors of multiple systems. Once they understand how one part of the suite works, they can understand all of it.

In addition, the standardization on a single data model and common API means that an ecosystem of third-party vendors is growing up around the platform. Our customers can now much more quickly and cheaply integrate a panoply of services with the core employee record. This is good for vendors too because they can write once to our API and provide a simple, consistent experience for their customers.

So, what does this mean for Rippling’s engineering team?

First, it means that we’re executing a playbook that runs counter to the conventional wisdom of how to start and scale a company. Instead of tackling a single, narrow product problem we are engaged in multiple initiatives. We are:

  1. Building a broad set of first-party products such as payroll, benefits administration, identity management, device management, and many others 
  2. Growing a developer community and the API to support them so they can offer products that can be easily integrated with the Rippling platform
  3. … more that I can’t yet talk about here (but keep an eye out for future posts).

Second, we are building a foundational technology platform that enables us to leverage the core customer record and a common set of capabilities such as reporting and permissioning across our entire suite of products.

We have built each of our core systems from scratch, and will continue to do so for future products. As a result, each one can seamlessly integrate not only with the core system of record, but can also natively make use of those core capabilities. A single adjustment to permissions, for example, can automatically cascade across the entire product portfolio. No human, and no integration, required. This is fundamentally different from how business software works today.

Third, we are building for scale. We support customers ranging in size from sole proprietorships through thousands of employees. These small and medium-sized businesses employ over 100 million people in the United States alone. Multiply that for the rest of the world. We aspire to become the de facto global solution. We are designing and building for that future now.

Culture

Clearly, our strategy requires us to go broad quickly. But we’re not a huge company; we’re a startup. The only way we can execute on so many things at once is to enable a set of small, talented, and highly autonomous teams with the freedom to do what is necessary to compete against public incumbents who are worth billions or tens of billions of dollars.

In a word, we are entrepreneurial.

And we will continue to operate in that way as we scale.

Our strategy also obligates us to build high-quality products that our customers love. We can’t become the de facto standard without building something that administrators are happy to tell their friends at other companies about. To achieve that, our engineering team is tightly integrated with our design and product teams and we’re building the infrastructure required to create products of the quality that we can all be proud of.

What’s next for this blog?

In the coming weeks and months you can expect to see posts on our infrastructure, performance scaling, security features, and more. We’re looking forward to sharing what we’re doing with you.

We’ve got a lot to do. If any of this sounds interesting to you we would love to hear from you. Check out our careers or reach out to us any time at careers@rippling.com.

On behalf of the Rippling engineering team,

Jeremy

jeremy_henrickson

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