CircleCI raises $1.5 million to let developers test code faster

By Richard Nieva , written on February 25, 2013

From The News Desk

In a Valley culture where frenzied hackathons are seen as a rite of passage, and a good engineer can be a golden goose, any little thing to speed up the process of shipping code is bound to be met with enthusiasm.

So it goes with CircleCI, a company that makes a PaaS product for testing code, and claims to make the task at least twice as fast. Today the company announced $1.5 million in seed funding from Baseline, Harrison Metal, Heroku founder James Lindenbaum, SV Angel, 500 Startups, Hiten Shah from Kissmetrics, founder of Slicehost Jason Seats, and pioneer of the Lean Startup movement Eric Ries. Customers include Stripe, Tapjoy, Red Bull, and Storevny.

First, a very simplistic overview of how code is shipped today: For a company that uses “continuous integration,” which is what the “CI” in CircleCI stands for, developers frequently integrate new or changed code into the pool of existing code at a very fast clip. The idea of shipping code incrementally, quickly, and often is one of the principles espoused in Ries’s (an investor) startup manifesto.

After a string of code is written, it must be tested before it is deployed and usable. Commonly, developers use a Java-based piece of open source software called Jenkins. But that program takes about two days to set up on a computer, and once it’s up and running, tests vary in length based on how complicated the code is.

CircleCI cofounder Paul Biggar says CircleCI takes about 20 seconds to set up, because it automatically detects the program language (whether it is Ruby on Rails or anything else), what database you are using, what browsers you need to run against, and other things.

While GitHub has been helpful to developers during the process of writing code, and Heroku, a cloud application platform for deploying code, has streamlined the later parts of the process, Biggar says CircleCI fits in the window between those two services.

The sweet spot, he says, is for a company that grows its team to about 10 to 15 developers and is looking to scale out their testing operations to more than one computer. Right now, the software can only handle linking together 16 computers for the testing process, but some of the new capital will go into building out the software so it can handle 64 computers. In those cases, some tests that take about an hour can be completed in one to two minutes, says Biggar.

CircleCI is not alone in the space. Semaphore App and tddium both seek to streamline code testing, but their focus is primarily on running a test in the cloud, instead of focusing on the overall continuous integration process like CircleCI claims it is doing.

In the past, I’ve been skeptical about shipping code too fast, because it’s easy to get caught in the whirlwind of shipping, and could lead to products that are merely evolutionary and not revolutionary. But Biggar argues against his product adding to that kind of stagnation. “It makes a developer more productive. It frees him up to do something else,” Biggar says.

[Image courtesy: Lens Artwork]