Engineering Enablement
Engineering Enablement Podcast
Intercom’s approach to a great on-call experience | Brian Scanlan (Intercom)

Intercom’s approach to a great on-call experience | Brian Scanlan (Intercom)

In this deep-dive episode, Brian Scanlan, Principal Systems Engineer at Intercom, describes how the company’s on-call process works. He explains how the process started and key changes they’ve made over the years, including a new volunteer model, changes to compensation, and more.

Discussion points:

  • (1:28) How on-call started at Intercom

  • (10:11) Brian’s background and interest in being on-call

  • (14:06) Getting engineers motivated to be on-call 

  • (16:37) Challenges Intercom saw with on-call as it grew

  • (19:53) Having too many people on-call

  • (23:20) Having alarms that aren’t useful 

  • (26:03) Recognizing uneven workload with compensation

  • (27:22) Initiating changes to the on-call process 

  • (30:08) Creating a volunteer model

  • (33:02) Addressing concerns that volunteers wouldn’t take action on alarms 

  • (34:40) Equitability in a volunteer model

  • (36:36) Expectations of expertise for being on-call

  • (40:56) How volunteers sign up 

  • (44:15) The Incident Commander role 

  • (46:19) Using code review for changes to alarms

  • (50:02) On-call compensation 

  • (52:50) Other approaches to compensating on-call

  • (55:08) Whether other companies should compensate on-call

  • (57:32) How Intercom’s on-call process compares to other companies 

  • (1:00:46) Recent changes to the on-call process

  • (1:04:13) Balancing responsiveness and burnout 

  • (1:07:12) Signals for evaluating the on-call process 

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