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Envato TSOs: What Do They Do and Why Are They Important?

Interested in becoming an Envato TSO? Here's a rundown of a TSOs responsibilties, and how they contribute to the Envato ecosystem...

Posted 12 Apr 2022
Envato TSO

Technical System Owners (TSOs) are the backbone of technical operations at Envato. Responsible for making sure our products are available to our customers, our reviewers, and the rest of the Envato team, they’re an integral element of Envato’s technology function.

While TSOs are incredibly important members of the Envato team, their position, responsibilities and role within the business can be somewhat of a mystery. That’s because it’s a fairly unique role to Envato, and not one that any of our current or future TSOs would have likely performed within other businesses. So what exactly are TSOs, what do they do, and how do they contribute to the success and security of the Envato ecosystem? 

What is an Envato TSO and why are they unique?

Short for “Technical System Owner”, TSOs are assigned to look after one of the many systems that Envato uses to deliver its products to the world. They’re responsible for ensuring that all systems we depend on to operate as a business are secure, reliable, scalable, and run as cost-effectively as possible. Given the number of systems in use within Envato, it’s quite common for a TSO to manage more than one system at a time. 

“We depend on over 200 systems – many of which our customers never see – to run Envato,” explains Warren Seen, Principal Software Architect at Envato. “The term “System” describes not only different Envato products – such as Elements or ThemeForest – but also internal systems used by our item reviewers and employees. These systems can be both software that Envato has built, or third party SaaS – like Zendesk for customer service, or Envato email.” 

In addition to keeping our internal systems running smoothly, Envato’s TSO framework is built around the belief that teams should be independent and autonomous, but accountable for their decisions as well.

“The reason we enlist TSOs is that they let us grow the business rapidly without systems being forgotten about or costs being overlooked,” says Warren. “We entrust our TSOs with a lot of responsibility, but we know that they can handle it because we’re very careful about who we select to take on the responsibility.”

What does a TSO do? 

TSOs look after anything that falls under the five TSO pillars of expectation – Operations, Cost, Architecture, Risk, and Security. Their day-to-day work can include maintaining cost and risk registers, setting architectural vision and boundaries, establishing team practices and standards, implementing system monitoring and visibility, and responding to alerts.

“On a daily basis, the main area I deal with is Operation,” explains Envato TSO and Engineering Manager, Tim Preston. “I might check if any systems had downtime overnight, if there’s been a spike in error rates, or whether anyone from the wider business has raised any issues that the team should follow up. I also monitor automatic cost reporting, submit bills for payment, respond to requests for system increases or decreases, and review code changes. I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to reduce cost and risk, while improving security, architecture (specifically maintainability), and system uptime.” 

What skills do TSOs require? 

TSOs are responsible for making sure our systems at Envato run smoothly, so a thorough understanding of system operations, monitoring and security are key. While they solely shoulder the responsibility of the TSO expectations they’re required to meet, they’re also encouraged to assign tasks to other team members – making delegation an essential skill. 

As mentioned above, TSO expectations are broken up into five distinct areas: 

  • Operations: keeping our systems up and running, and working to bring them back online if there are any issues or outages.
  • Security: making sure that the data in our systems is safe, and only accessed by people who need it. This includes everything from processing credit card payments, to managing employee details, email accounts, and so on.
  • Cost: managing budgets, forecasting how much we’ll spend on any particular system over the next financial year, and making sure we stick to that budget.
  • Architecture: ensuring that systems are built well, that they serve the business’ needs, and are scalable as our business grows.
  • Risk: Understanding and quantifying what threats there might be to any of our systems. We keep risk registers which identify foreseeable problems, and the steps we can take to mitigate those risks.

How can I become a TSO at Envato? 

“TSO” is not necessarily a job title, but rather a role that certain Envato employees – usually Engineering Managers – assume as part of their day-to-day responsibilities.

“The TSO delegation came with the role of Engineering Manager, so while I didn’t put my hand up I was happy to accept the responsibility,” says Tim. “It has been a great opportunity for me to hone my technical management skills. Every organization has a different tolerance for risk and failure, so being a TSO delegate has helped me to understand what’s important here at Envato.”

Our Engineering career map is a great starting point for understanding what an Engineering Manager does at Envato, including following the pathway to become a TSO. We have many open roles in engineering, and any one of them could be a first step towards taking on a TSO responsibility. Head to the Envato Careers page to check out all our available positions and discover which one is right for you.

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