The Hoot - Episode 31 - Humio at M1 Finance with Steven Gall

Observability that helps achieve fintech business objectives

July 8th, 2020
John Porcaro

Steven Gall is VP of Engineering at M1 Finance, a Chicago area fintech startup that developed a next-generation, intelligent financial solution that lets users do exactly what they want with their personal finances. Steven leads the backend engineering at M1 Finance. He manages the services that handle M1 Finance trading, account signups, and the banking platform and brokers platform, and all the internal infrastructure and internal tooling that powers the platform.

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John asks Steven about his background, and his early attraction to finance, and Steven shares advice for those getting started in fintech:

“There's a lot you can do from the technology aspect. Go find an open-source library, go investigate it, become an expert. Go try to make a pull request. Go try to commit code for the greater good. As a technology leader, I value that when I look for potential hires, because I'm not hiring you for what you know now, I'm hiring for what you can evolve into.”

They discuss how Humio is used at M1 Finance to understand what customers are experiencing by tracking the state at many points along the way.

“We use Humio to look at specifically a customer's journey on our platform. They have a request history from our product APIs all the way down to our back-end services. We have a way to say definitively ‘your state was this’ at any given point in time — so we can time travel. We have an auditable view of what a customer's state looked like at any given point in time.”

With Humio, they can hand off that data to the developers to address any issue for a customer.

"Humio provides additional context to the engineering and product teams to handle those edge cases, along with specific customer scenarios. They can hand that off to the engineering team and say, 'Hey, look, here are all the requests that resulted in this customer having this less-than-ideal experience on our platform.' And we go ahead and address those concerns."

Humio is used at M1 Finance across the business. They aggregate a lot of information across different organizations and different use cases, and then use the data to answer questions about the customer experience.

“Humio is used across our organization. It starts with engineering and product, and follows up with QA and our operations team — a holistic view. Our operations team can hand off customer scenarios and really investigate what has happened for a customer journey. The Product team can confirm that. Our engineering team can continue to maintain stability and make sure that there are not regressions within our codebase. And then there's also the fraud aspect, so QA and operations teams are using this as a tool to suss out nefarious actors.”

Humio helps M1 to identify the areas to pay attention to, and gives them a place to start. Steven describes an interview with Reed Hoffman from Masters of Scale, where he offers the advice to “let fires burn.” Steven explains how he follows that advice with the help of Humio.

“Every startup has their own fires, there are constantly things that are awry. Being able to quickly assess which fires you need to put out, which ones are significant in impact is important. It's helpful for taking a step back, and identify the frequency at which these are happening, and identify which fires put out. Humio allows us to visualize that, and make that decision quite quickly.”

Steven describes the transition that M1 Finance made to replace a popular open-source platform that was originally in place with Humio.

“So initially we were using an open-source stack that we are managing,so there was a couple of pain points there that we were looking to address. Primarily the latency requirements. So most times, when we queried for things, the ingestion rates were in excess of 15 minutes. So if there was a fire in production right now, you have to go tail the underlying box and try to grep force a log. Now at our scale with servicing 350,000 accounts, that's just untenable, right?

“In order to get to the ingestion rates that we would like, it was going to cost us a ton of money, both from an underlying infrastructure perspective, but also from a resource perspective, There are people that are necessary to keep the stack happy and log ingestion humming.”

The team used the 30-day trial, and found that they were able to get it up and running quickly, installed alongside the open-source system.

“Because we were primarily logging out of Kubernetes, and we were using Filebeats at the time, we were able to just hook in a production implementation of Humio, alongside her existing stack. So we had both of them running and production side by side.

“And our developers almost immediately just started shifting to only using Humio. And this is on a trial license. It had become a way of them doing their work. It became a process for them. It became a tool that we couldn’t strip away from.

“I would say if any other technology leaders are out there looking and assessing the space, I'd encourage you try Humio. It's pretty low level of effort to just drop it in production and see how it functions. You can really see the value in a side by side comparison.”

After using Humio, they’ve found that the performance just keeps increasing.

“We have about a 15.1x, compression rate. It's amazing that our compression rate has increased along with our ingestion rate. Last year, our compression rate was more or less right around 10x, which is still fantastic, but the fact that we've increased our ingestion and we're still seeing significant gains and compression rates, it's pretty astounding.”

Listen to the podcast to hear more about how M1 Finance uses Humio, and pick up tips on how it can transform your organization as well.

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