PagerDuty Summit Special With Lilia Gutnik

Posted on Tuesday, Aug 25, 2020
Lilia Gutnik joins us this week and talks to us about her favorite aspects of our upcoming PagerDuty Summit!


Quintessence Anx: Welcome to Page It to the Limit, a podcast where we explore what it takes to run software and production successfully. We cover leading practices used in the software industry to improve both system reliability and the lives of the people supporting those systems. I am your host Quintessence or @QuintessenceAnx on Twitter. Today, we’re going to talk about our upcoming PagerDuty’s virtual global summit. Summit will be from the 21st through 24th of September and will have talks on dev ops culture, incident response, reducing outages, chaos engineering, and just so much more. We are very excited for Summit coming up at the end of the month. And as such today, we’re joined by Lilia Gutnik, group product manager at PagerDuty. Lilia comes to PagerDuty by way of 15 years of designing data-driven products for enterprise customers. As the product leader for a digital foundations group, she is passionate about helping service owners learn from data to make decisions and solve problems. Lilia, welcome to the show.

Lilia Gutnik: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here and super excited to talk to you, especially about Summit. It’s one of my favorite times of year.

Quintessence Anx: What is your favorite part of Summit?

Lilia Gutnik: Well, I’m biased because I get to be on the big stage for part of Summit, but right before me, or sometimes after me, every year is this big product keynote. And it’s led by our senior vice-president of product, Jonathan Rende, and then my boss, the vice-president of product, Rachel Obstler. And if you knew Rachel Obstler at work, in real life, she is a pretty straight-laced person. She can be silly sometimes, but she’s very, very dedicated, really details oriented, really strategic, just a force to be reckoned with at work. And at Summit, she writes a poem, a series of couplets, about the product innovations we have, and it is so off-the-walls bananas. And I remember the first time I heard it. And I just thought, “Is this for real? Is Rachel Obstler really reading a poem out loud about our product features?” It’s just such a genuine example of PagerDuty really being PagerDuty. As we grow as a company and extend our feature capabilities, our customers are based around the world, we still have this true to ourselves, we call it be yourself and bring your true self to work, behavior. And I love that Rachel includes in this really huge event this sort of goofy aspect of who we are, because that’s who we really are. So that’s one of my favorite parts of Summit is the poem. And then I am biased because I get to be part of the big product keynote demo, and I’m given a lot of creative freedom. Last year, in fact, I got to go on stage, dance my way on stage. I had entrance music, which was very exciting to me, and I involved an inflatable shark pool toy as part of the demo. It made sense. But I love that I get that opportunity.

Quintessence Anx: It did?

Lilia Gutnik: Yeah, it did. It did. It was all about how we were helping this person plan a vacation. And we dove into the workplaces of each of the interactions that she was having as this woman, Val, was checking her bank balance and applying for a new credit card to get travel points and ultimately going on the cruise that she desired. That was also the year that Jen Tejada, our CEO, was able to highlight one of our key customers, a major cruise line, and give away a cruise to somebody who attended Summit. So it was all very relevant. So we concluded the demo with our key character named Val as played by Muriel, one of my favorite co-workers here, with just a strip of zinc oxide painted on her nose in this shark inflatable costume. And I handed her a tropical drink as a way of saying, “Because of the dev ops principles of all these organizations and their ability to use PagerDuty, they completely exceeded Val’s expectations to be able to finance and go on this trip despite all of the challenges of running SAS software.”

Quintessence Anx: That’s amazing.

Lilia Gutnik: Yeah. And now I have a shark thing.

Quintessence Anx: Is that uploaded anywhere? Can I view past content on demand because I …

Lilia Gutnik: Oh, you absolutely can. It includes my dance on to that Hall & Oates song. Yeah, it is on our PagerDuty YouTube channel if you look up the product keynote from last year. And you will also be able to see Rachel’s hilarious poem, so it’s all there. Absolutely. I recommend it.

Quintessence Anx: That’s amazing. And outside of what is clearly a hard act to follow, what announcements or spoilers should people listen in for or try to find?

Lilia Gutnik: Well, the keynote, again, I love because I am such a biased observer to that as a product leader here at PagerDuty. But in the keynote, there are sort of hints toward some of the sessions that will be diving into a lot of the features that we kind of glance over quickly in the keynote demo. But there’s just so much more that there is to see beneath the surface of a few seconds of seeing something happen in action. So I strongly recommend going to some of the product breakout sessions. Paul Rechsteiner, who is just an incredible long-time PagerDuty veteran, is giving a talk called PagerDuty Like a Pro, New Features for Responders. And it’s just every little thing for people who are new to PagerDuty, people who have been using the platform for years and years, ways to re-imagine, make their life better, and let people basically work where they are. There have been a ton of new accommodations, new UX affordances, new connections to other tools in their system that I think are going to make people’s lives just a lot easier in a time when everybody needs a little bit less stress. I’m also really excited about Eric Dean’s session, Zen Your life With Event Intelligence. I have been really just impressed with how much event intelligence as a product has really grown. And I think that the stuff that he’s going to talk about will be super exciting from the perspective of how we’ve invested in machine learning, not for the sake of just, “Hey, look, we did machine learning,” but to really solve real problems. And then, of course, I’m excited about my own talk, where I’ll be talking about some of the major new investments that we’re making, a new type of information that we’re going to be able to send into PagerDuty, unlike anything we’ve been able to see before that will help give people that critical context they need when they first get paged, and they’re like, “What is it? What happened? Is it my fault? Did something change? What changed last? What did I depend on? Did something change in one of my dependencies.” And then all of that just really vital triage stuff that people have been scanning around outdated wikis and six or seven different tools and just sort of panicking, we’re going to make so easily available. Write what you want when you want it. So I’ll be speaking about that, which I’m very excited about. And then Brita Seltzer will also be talking about how this organization within Twilio has been taking advantage of some early access to those features and how it’s really made a big difference in their organization.

Quintessence Anx: That’s absolutely awesome. That sounds really exciting.

Lilia Gutnik: Yeah. So just a little bit, just a few, just a couple of things, just a couple of things. There’s also a really cool talk on analytics, but there’s so many really great product tracks. I think that the people who come to Summit will be … Just every year, we really raise the bar on how much we deliver, and I think they’ll be impressed.

Quintessence Anx: All right. Awesome. So with so much content kind of competing for everyone’s attention, what’s your advice to first-time attendees?

Lilia Gutnik: Great question. So a lot of the sessions are recorded and available, I believe, but the breakouts are less so. So I would really look through all of the different breakouts and plan on maybe partnering up with your colleague and making sure that maybe you go to one and somebody else goes to another so that they can share notes. I really love, in terms of the major keynote stuff, I love hearing Eric Yuan from Zoom. I think he’s a really incredible and authentic speaker. And I just love that when he talks about his experiences running his organization and what it’s been like, he’s spoken a few times internally for PagerDuty folks about what it’s been like going through all the transitions from what Zoom is going through in this crazy time. I just feel like I really learn a lot from his perspective, and I get to hear him think out loud. The other piece of advice I’d strongly recommend is take advantage of the offer to go to PDU, which is PagerDuty University classes, for free this year. It is an enormous value. They’re also offering certification. I have taken a bunch of the trainings. I have given some of the trainings, and specifically the incident commander training really changed my life. Now, I am an incident commander at PagerDuty and have been for several years, but I have also adapted and trained people internally with some new games, including one called Dev Ops and Dragons or Dungeons and Dev Ops, as we sometimes call it, and have trained a bunch of people at PagerDuty to be incident commanders who were in the user experience area, also product managers, people from the community team. It does not require an engineering background or an SRE background to be an incident commander. And as a result of that training and that experience, I feel just a lot of pride in how I can help contribute to PagerDuty every day. And I’m so much more decisive in my everyday life. Do I want crunchy peanut butter or smooth? Crunchy peanut butter. Any strong objections? No? Great. We’re getting it. Never used to be like that for me.

Quintessence Anx: Yeah. That’s super awesome. Thank you so much. And I actually really resonate with that aspect with decision-making where we’re talking about strong objections. Because if you get analysis paralysis and you’re kind of stuck, maybe why you’re stuck, it’s not any of the individual options, it’s their number or the fact that they seem mostly equal, so why? And if you just kind of randomly pick one, if there’s no strong objections ruling out the other ones, just go for it.

Lilia Gutnik: Yeah, absolutely. And the way that incident commander training kind of changes you is to think you are moving the process along, but you’re not responsible for making every decision. Everyone is in there, right? It’s not one person’s fault. We are a blameless culture. Your whole role is just to move it forward. So in a way, it’s almost more relaxing because you are not ultimately responsible. Just what are your subject matter experts? What’s the recommendation. And then, to your point, is it worth evaluating everything? Is it worth researching every option? No. A strong objection versus just any objection, sure, it can raise 100 objections. Well, smooth peanut butter is better for making cookies later. Crunchy peanut butter. No, whatever. Is it worth the argument? No, it’s not worth it. Let’s just move forward.

Quintessence Anx: Right. And that absolutely makes sense. Thank you so much. And as we’re about to head out, just remember, everyone, please sign up for PagerDuty Summit and the PagerDuty University workshops, as both are free this year, which is a massive value and huge benefit to you. Also, you don’t even have to travel. So no T&E for this one. You can just pop right online, run on the background layer, having some awesome snacks for your day of trainings, workshops, and talks. You can also follow PagerDuty on Twitter on @PagerDuty. But before we go, we have two questions that we ask every guest on the show. Are you ready?

Lilia Gutnik: Okay. I hope so.

Quintessence Anx: Okay. First one is, what’s one thing you wish you could have known sooner when it comes to running software and production?

Lilia Gutnik: Ooh, I love that question. I had been a PagerDuty customer at several companies before I joined PagerDuty as an employee and several SAS companies. But it wasn’t until I came to PagerDuty and really saw how they run incident response and met incident commanders that I saw what true calm, decisive kind of crisis management looks like and to feel empowered as a product manager to be a part of those processes when it’s software in production. And sometimes as a product manager at other companies, I would feel helpless. Just be like, “Well, it’s up to the ops team. It’s up to the engineers. Nothing I could do. Just try to buffer for them.” But when I came here, I really learned that there is a huge opportunity for people like me, communicators, liaisons, leaders, decision makers, to help contribute to this process, which is why, like I said, the incident commander training really changed my life. And I wish I had just done it sooner. I think I waited maybe a year or something, and I absolutely could have jumped in sooner.

Quintessence Anx: Awesome. And of course, the contrary question is, is there anything about running software and production that you’re glad we did not ask you?

Lilia Gutnik: Oh, maybe about the launch of the first features I had around event intelligence and just how anxious I was the night before and how I was just so nervous. And I had shipped software so many times before, but this was a big deal. And what it feels like to know that you’re impacting so many people across so many walks of life in every part of the economy with these decisions. So yeah, we don’t have to talk about how anxious I was, but I’m incredibly glad. I am so proud of the product now and all the features there, but it was a tough couple of weeks leading up to it for this girl.

Quintessence Anx: That sounds so stressful. I’m glad you pulled through.

Lilia Gutnik: Absolutely. And now, to see the stories of how all those decisions I made have changed people’s lives. We took big bets as PagerDuty to think, “How can we make this easier rather than harder for people to reduce their noise? How can we make it so that we leverage PagerDuty’s data to make every day better for every person using PagerDuty?” Nobody else in the industry was really doing that. Everybody else was, “Here. Define a bunch of rules and set all of these different kinds of constraints.” And we thought, “How can we make that easier?” So it was a risk at the time, I thought, to do something truly different, but the payoff has been incredible. And I think that’s the reason that that whole product has continued to grow, which is, again, why I love and would recommend people go to How Event Intelligence Will Help You Achieve Your Zen, because it’s precisely that philosophy that we’ve continued to drive forward is how can we make your life easier? How can we give you back control over your ops environment?

Quintessence Anx: Yeah, that’s amazing. That’s awesome. And I think we’re doing good with that. Lilia, thank you so much again for joining us.

Lilia Gutnik: Thank you, Quinn. It was an honor to be here, and I’m so excited for people to cheer along when Rachel gives her poem or find poems from years past.

Quintessence Anx: Awesome. Me too. Me too. All right, everyone. This is Quintessence wishing you an uneventful day. That does it for another installment of Page It to the Limit. We’d like to thank our sponsor PagerDuty for making this podcast possible. Remember to subscribe to this podcast if you like what you’ve heard. You can find our show notes at And you can reach us on Twitter at pageittothelimit using the number two. That’s paid it to the limit with the number two. Let us know what you think of the show. Thank you so much for joining us. And remember, uneventful days are beautiful days.

Show Notes

Favorite Part of PagerDuty Summit

Lilia describes her favorite aspects of PagerDuty Summit.

Lilla: “The product keynote! It includes a poem from Rachel [Rachel Obstler, VP of Product Management] as well as a demo that she has been helping with for the past several years. It’s incredible to see all of the new exciting stuff that we’ve been working on all year make it to the big, now-virtual, screen.”

What Listeners Should Tune In For

Lilia discusses recommended talks and content at PagerDuty Summit - hint there’s a lot!

Lilia: “Don’t miss the product keynote! There are also some super exciting product break out sessions. I would strongly recommend going to Paul Rechsteiner’s session “PagerDuty Like a Pro: New Features for Responders” and Erick Dean’s session “Zen your life with Event Intelligence” – there are so many new things these two will be announcing that I don’t even know them all.”

First Time Summit Attendees

Lilia talks about how to navigate Summit as a first timer.

Lilia: Don’t miss the fireside chat with Eric Yuan from Zoom – he’s an incredibly authentic speaker, and I always feel like I’ve learned from his perspective when I hear him think out loud. Take advantage of the PDU classes – the Incident Commander training changed my life several years ago – and now not only am I an Incident Commander, but I’ve also trained a whole group of new folks at PD to be Incident Commanders, and I am so much more decisive in my everyday life.”

What Do You Wish You’d Known Earlier in Your Career?

Lilia discusses how she worked at companies who were PagerDuty customers for years before starting at PagerDuty. Something she really appreciated is the Incident Command structure. At those prior companies, she said she felt mostly that whenever there was a serious issue, she mainly felt unable to help take corrective action as that was left to the developers and operations teams. With PagerDuty’s Incident Command structure, non-engineering teams help resolve the process by taking off load that corresponds to their skillset, e.g. by sending communications, writing up reports, etc.

What Are You Glad We Didn’t Ask?

Lilia explains that her first event intelligence product release was very anxiety inducing. Ultimately successful, but the scope of potential impact for the two weeks leading to release were nerve wracking.

Additional Resources


Lilia Gutnik

Lilia Gutnik

Lilia comes to PagerDuty by way of 15 years of designing data-driven products for enterprise customers. As the product leader for the Digital Foundations group, she’s passionate about helping service owners learn from data to make decisions and solve problems. In her spare time, Lilia plays keyboard in the PagerDuty band (the OnCalls), volunteers for Code2040, and watches any movie Keanu Reeves is in.


Quintessence Anx

Quintessence Anx

Quintessence is a Developer/DevOps Advocate at PagerDuty, where she brings over a decade of experience breaking and fixing things in IT. At PagerDuty, she uses her cloud engineering background to focus on the cultural transformation, tooling, and best practices for DevOps. Outside of work, she mentors underrepresented groups to help them start sustainable careers in technology. She also has a cat and an aquarium with two maroon clown fish and a mantis shrimp, of The Oatmeal fame.