It might be as simple as pressing play, but there’s a lot more that goes into how music moves from pre-production stages until it finally hits your weekly playlist — Universal Music Group’s tech team would know.
“Every aspect of the tech we work with always comes back to the most important component of what we do — making great music come to life,” says DevOps Engineer Robert Lestak.
Who knew tech played such an important role in music? We talked with four members of the UMG team on the intersection of tech and music and the role they have in driving the industry forward.
EMPLOYEES: 10,000+ worldwide
WHAT THEY DO: Universal Music Group’s IT department builds the technology systems and services that facilitate recording music, music publishing, merchandising and audiovisual content in more than 60 countries.
WHERE THEY DO IT: Woodland Hills
ROCK ON: Every year, employees are encouraged to unleash their inner rock star and perform in a Battle of the Bands competition at the Woodland Hills office.
MOVING UP THE CHARTS: Universal Music Group may be in the business of music, but their tech is making noise. They were recently named to Fast Company’s list of “World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.”
Robert Lestak, DevOps Engineer
Robert ensures that all servers, systems and applications are properly built, tested and deployed through entirely automated and replicable processes. In conjunction with the development and operations teams globally, he also ensures that systems are always operating and performing.
MUSIC FAN: It just so happens Robert’s work and hobbies coincide. An admitted music addict, he realizes there are not many companies where a meeting starts with a discussion on infrastructure and networking and ends with planning your Coachella concert schedule.
How does the familial culture at UMG play out in your day-to-day work life?
For being the biggest music company in the world, the culture on our team makes it feel much more like a family. Everyone’s desk is adorned with their favorite albums and memorabilia, people constantly share their latest playlists, and a quick walk down the hallway can soon turn into a chat with a friend about the concert they went to over the weekend.
UMG truly embraces modern Agile methodologies, which leads to happy employees building exciting systems to publish great music.
You’re a music fan and a tech aficionado. What’s it like working at a place where those two interests collide?
It’s awesome to be at a concert and know that your systems enable the album drop, music video and contracts that make the entire experience possible.
If I’m not on a conference call about infrastructure, my headphones are constantly playing my latest playlist. It’s exciting to deploy my technological knowledge to teams that make that playlist possible. Whether it’s building digital asset libraries, deploying metadata systems or containerizing content protection platforms, every aspect of the tech we work with always comes back to the most important component of what we do — making great music come to life.
It’s awesome to be at a concert and know that your systems enable the album drop, music video and contracts that make the entire experience possible.”
People’s conceptions of UMG might be that you’re a music company and tech isn’t a vital component of what you do (when, in fact, it very much is). What would you tell them?
UMG may be the largest and one of the oldest music companies, but our tech is at the cutting edge. We’re always investigating and implementing new technologies and continually working to innovate and modernize stacks. Tech debt is not an issue here — we take pride in the fact that our workflows and systems are leading the field.
Sara Barzandeh, Senior Business Analyst
As a senior business analyst, Sara is part of an Agile software project that delivers UMG data to their external partners. That includes project management, organizing and leading meetings, writing tests using Behavior Driven Development (BDD) format, performing quality validation tests of their software, and teaching clients how to use the product.
BEYOND WORK: In order to maintain inner peace and balance, Sara enjoys rolling out her mat and doing yoga, which is also offered onsite at UMG. And, in order to branch out of her bubble, she enjoys traveling and meeting new people to get a better understanding of various cultures and lifestyles.
From start to finish, what’s your process for assisting a business unit at UMG to solve an issue?
We usually discuss the issue as a team and try to come up with the best proposals, then we review with the business team to find the best possible solutions for everyone involved. Being able to collaborate on ideas and solutions makes it easier to do my job and gives me a partner in the decision-making process.
Talk to us about the problems you solve when you come into work.
We solve problems anywhere from complicated data issues, resolving bugs and designing new solutions to meet business needs, all while keeping ourselves consistent with Agile methodologies and not veering toward waterfall.
Being able to collaborate on ideas and solutions makes it easier to do my job and gives me a partner in the decision-making process.”
What’s the toughest challenge you and your team have had to tackle to date?
I was involved in a big project that required a massive coordinated effort across 15-plus application teams to perform a very specific detailed set of steps and processes to achieve our goal. The amount of teamwork and coordination that was asked of all of the team and me was immensely challenging.
I supported the team by giving my best effort to ensure that the choreography was extremely well defined, haivng good communication with everyone that was involved in every application team, and that there was no ambiguity with expectations. We were given the time and space needed to complete the project with full success.
Laszlo Pinter, Senior DevOps Engineer
Laszlo is responsible for the migration of the UMG servers from data centers to the cloud, as well as automating the launch of new applications. Largely, he’s working to automate manual processes as much as possible to streamline development, deployment and maintenance.
BEYOND WORK: A skier at heart, Laszlo loves getting together with friends and family on the slopes — including spending the time to teach those who don’t know how to ski.
Does your team have a say on the products, features or designs developed by UMG?
Most of the DevOps tools are open source or free to use. We have the freedom to select them and also recommend the purchase of the subscription-based applications. If there is a task that we need to do by hand, and there is no available tool for it, we make it a goal to write a script or small application to do it.
The development teams we work with are looking forward to using them in their next projects, and we are ready to support them.”
What’s the biggest technical challenge you and your team have faced recently?
One of our development teams asked us to move their build server from a data center to the cloud. That server was hand configured years ago, and the developers had also made several modifications to it as they used it. We found documentation on the server configuration, but some small, important changes were not documented. It took teamwork and a few days to script and test the server configuration.
What are you looking forward to at UMG in the next year?
Containers — self-contained environments that work the same way, no matter where they are deployed — are fundamentally changing the application build and deployment process. If the container image is properly scripted, and it works on the developer’s workstation, it will work in production.
This new technology makes our life easier and every process more predictable. The development teams we work with are looking forward to using them in their next projects, and we are ready to support them.
Christopher Lazar, DevOps Engineer
Part of Christopher's responsibilities includes automating UMG’s systems via various DevOps tools, keeping production systems alive so that new music releases can be delivered to partners in a timely fashion, and developing infrastructure as code.
ROCK ON: Christopher enjoys playing guitar and attending metal concerts in his free time.
If you were to step back and look at your team and its achievements, what makes you proudest?
With our development of a fully automated pipeline to provision servers and have code automatically configure servers, our customers are able to experience a quick turnaround. Integrating a true DevOps environment with full automation is the key to success in today’s market.
Since we are all working to achieve the same goal, our team is aware of the importance of having respectful, constructive criticism and open collaboration to achieve the best possible technical solution.”
How does the team handle situations in which developers have different opinions on how to solve technical challenges?
We are developing complex systems to ensure that we can achieve the best possible technical solution — there is no perfect system out there. There have been situations where we have been faced with a new, unseen issue that required closer investigation and collaborations with other cross-functional teams.
Since we are all working to achieve the same goal, our team is aware of the importance of having respectful, constructive criticism and open collaboration to achieve the best possible technical solution.
UMG hosts an annual Battle of the Bands event. Can you tell us about it?
Every year, UMG hosts a Battle of the Bands event where employees perform with their bands and other colleagues. This event is a way to have your 15 minutes of fame and to bring out your inner rock star. It also showcases everyone’s diverse music taste and is an opportunity to meet other people with the same music interests. Growing up and listening to metal bands and eventually joining UMG, I was able to merge my two passions of music and technology.