How the DevOps team at Hallmark Labs is building the brand’s digital future
The Hallmark brand is best known for cards and movies — but, like most companies, its future is increasingly digital. Since opening its doors in 2007, the Labs team has been busy rolling out exciting new digital products and services, while developing one of the most enviable tech stacks in town.
We spoke to members of the Hallmark Labs DevOps team to understand how the startup-minded operation is using cutting-edge tech to usher the brand into its bright digital future.
WHAT THEY DO: Hallmark Labs is the tech hub of Hallmark, leveraging leading-edge technology to expand the Hallmark vision of creating a more emotionally connected world. They're the driving force behind Hallmark eCards, Hallmark Movies Now and other direct-to-consumer digital products and services.
WHERE THEY DO IT: Hallmark Labs is based in sunny Santa Monica, just blocks from the beach.
WORK/LIFE BALANCE: The company offers employees flexibility in building their own work schedule and flexible PTO, perks that are especially helpful for Labsters with families.
GROWTH POTENTIAL: As Hallmark Labs positions itself to take advantage of new technologies, the team continues to scale — that includes internal growth opportunities and aggressive hiring plans.
Andrey Zeynalyan, DevOps Engineer
Andrey is one of six engineers on the Hallmark Labs DevOps team. He currently manages and provides infrastructure support for the company’s platform engineering team.
BEYOND WORK: Andrey recently purchased a home and spends most of his spare time around the yard, planting fruit trees, painting the deck, building a barbecue island and more.
What opportunities are there to cross-collaborate with other teams at Hallmark Labs?
I think a team is made stronger through collaboration and cross-training. The more we grow, the more talent we bring to the table, so I’d love for us to continue to learn and mature together.
Last year, Hallmark Labs planned a hackathon, which gave all of us Labsters an opportunity to conceptualize new ideas and bring them to life. It was a great opportunity for cross-collaboration across teams in various departments. It brought out a new kind of creativity and allowed employees to demonstrate skills that wouldn’t have otherwise been recognized within the company.
Everyone on the team comes with a unique background, so naturally we will have different takes for every problem.”
How does the team handle situations in which developers have different opinions on how to solve technical challenges?
I think we're pretty good as a team at finding common ground and communicating our opinions. Everyone on the team comes with a unique background, so naturally, we will have different takes for every problem. I think everyone respects each other enough to say their piece and know that eventually we will come to an agreement.
Our team receives a lot of support from leadership at the company and that’s been one of the main reasons why people stay in DevOps for as long as they do. We’ve all worked difficult jobs in our life and having challenges is normal, but it has been a pleasant place to work because of the way leadership at Hallmark Labs communicates to their teams.
You have a professional photography business. How has Hallmark Labs encouraged goals like this outside your daily work?
I’ve been doing professional photography for a few years now. When the opportunity presented itself to do headshots for people in the office, I thought it would be a fun way to get to know all the new people while doing something I’m passionate about. The opportunity showed me that the company cares about their employees and wants to support them outside of their traditional roles.
Alex Ahlstrom, DevOps Engineer
Alex joined the Hallmark Labs DevOps team as an engineer in the fall of 2018. He works at the intersection of infrastructure and development, creating a stable framework for the dev team’s projects.
BEYOND WORK: Alex spends his spare time coaching martial arts, which he credits with teaching him to stay calm in stressful situations and prioritize when things get crazy.
You joined Hallmark Labs pretty recently. What about the opportunity excites you?
Hallmark is a household name. What’s exciting about working on the Labs team is that you’re part of the ground floor of an established company that’s getting their feet wet in the technology field.
Looking at Labs, I could see that there were going to be a lot of interesting problems to solve. Most of the time when you join a new company, there’s either nothing built or the company is already well established — it’s nice to be in this middle space that is unique and exciting.
What’s exciting about working on the Labs team is that you’re part of the ground floor of an established company that’s getting their feet wet in the technology field.”
What has your experience been of the company’s culture thus far?
Hallmark Labs really takes care of its employees. When my daughter was sick in the hospital, my manager told me to take two weeks off to be with my family. They encouraged me to take the time I needed to focus on being there for my daughter and to come back to work when I was fully ready.
Brandon Neal, Manager, DevOps
Brandon is one of the founding members of the Hallmark Labs DevOps team. Today, his team helps lead the company forward by partnering with the software development team to support the future of Hallmark Labs' products.
BEYOND WORK: Brandon grew up playing sports and now enjoys going to as many Dodger games as possible, as well as hitting the links whenever he can to golf.
As a technical team at a digital-first company, your plate must be pretty full. How does your team manage priorities?
We’ve transitioned the DevOps team to integrate more closely with our software development teams by becoming a part of the same Agile process. In turn, this has allowed our business and product teams to better prioritize their work.
In terms of prioritizing the projects we work on day to day, like most tech companies, security initiatives are always a top priority for the entire company.
I feel lucky to work for a company that promotes my own professional development and growth within the organization.”
What types of professional or career development resources have you taken advantage of at Hallmark Labs?
I’ve had the opportunity to attend conferences, leadership trainings and workshops to develop my technical skills, build my network, and develop professionally. I also get to provide this for my team and send them to trainings and other opportunities every chance I get. I feel lucky to work for a company that promotes my own professional development and growth within the organization.
There’s been very little turnover on your team. Why do you think that is?
I am fortunate to have a great team that allows me to focus on building to people’s strengths. When hiring, we allocate time getting to know applicants and I put a huge focus on culture fit. I’ve also empowered my team members to take ownership and pride in the work they produce, while understanding how the services we offer have a positive impact on people's lives. Everyone on the team has an important place here and we all operate with that mentality.