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Session + Live Q&A

Create From Anywhere: The Netflix Workstations Story

Netflix is poised to become the world’s most prolific producer of visual effects and original animated content. To meet that demand, we need to attract the world’s best artistic talent. Artists like to work at places where they can create groundbreaking entertainment instead of worrying about getting access to the software or source files they need. Our solution is Netflix Workstations. They are remote workstations tailored to artists’ needs that make it easy to just start working, whether in an office in Mumbai or at their house in Vancouver. 

The technical needs of fast-paced productions can vary wildly and change rapidly. We needed to not only make it easy for artists to have a one-click experience; but for developers to be able to control and customize that experience. This presentation will have a deep dive into the technologies we used, such as Spinnaker & Salt, and why we made these decisions. In addition, it will provide a peek into the future of Netflix Workstations and how they can be leveraged for a variety of workflows.

Main Takeaways

1 Hear about Netflix building a new studio for their originals, the technology behind and the challenges faced.

2 Find out how to use Spinnaker and SaltStake in a project.

What is the focus of your work these days?

I'm a senior software engineer and the biggest focus of my work right now is helping artists create original content. I started at Netflix about 18 months ago, but I've been in entertainment for almost 11 years now. And I really love just being a part of it and seeing the technology I create influence what's on the big screen. Even if we’re not really going to theaters right now, I have a personal big screen, so I still get to see it, which is nice. The big thing right now is building the tools for a new studio. Getting to start from greenfield is both fun and challenging. I’m excited to be the person people in 2 years are like “oh who designed this? Michelle? Ugh, what a mess, let’s re-do it”.

What is your motivation for your talk?

One is just to talk about this really cool project I've been working on. Another motivation is the themes I have for all of my talks, which is “Do Less, Accomplish More.” Basically, how to use tools so you're not rolling things yourself all the time. I like to show what’s out there so people don’t feel intimidated starting with a new tool. I’ve already gotten through all the newbie frustrations, so hopefully, my pain is your gain. One of my other themes for this talk is the technical case study of starting this project from scratch. What went well, what didn't go well, what did I learn from it? Showing that everything is candy and rainbows isn’t going to help anyone. We all know that, especially when you start out fresh, you never know what's going to happen. It's all about trying things out and iterating. Sharing those learnings I think is really great for the next project.

How would you describe the persona and the level of the target audience? 

I would say this is for anyone who is building projects, anything from personal projects to architecture, anyone can get something out of it because it's all about how we do things. And I go pretty in-depth and describe the problems we faced. Also, most people I talk to are unfamiliar with how much engineering goes into entertainment since it’s a small field. Even if they’re not going to end up implementing any of the same technology they can get a glimpse into how some of their favorite entertainment gets made.

What do you want the attendees to walk away from your presentation with?

I want attendees to think about my talk the next time they are starting a new project. What did Michelle say went wrong? I’ll try not to do that. Also, those are some interesting tools I haven’t tried before, maybe I will check them out. Finally, Netflix Workstations are pretty cool, maybe I want to go to Netflix and work on cool things.


Michelle Brenner

Senior Software Engineer @Netflix

Michelle (she/her) is a Senior Software Engineer, with 10 years of experience in tech, from engineering support to manager. She runs an interview format tech podcast called From the Source that examines what tech jobs are really like. A Philadelphia native that now calls Los Angeles home, she is...

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