This week, I had the opportunity to continue a conversation started weeks ago with David Fredricks, organizer of DevOps Days Boston.
The Incredible Impact of Open Spaces
Paul: All right so welcome everyone my name is Paul Bruce and once again I’m back here with a member of the DevOps community, Dave Fredericks. Now Dave you organize the DevOps Boston event is that correct?
Dave: Yeah that’s correct. I’ve participated as a volunteer organizer for the last three years, involved for the last four.
Paul: Excellent…and I got a chance to meet you beforehand, I think at one of the DevOps Days Boston meetups, but then also we got to chat at the event and it was a really good event. I think a number of different things were really just cohesed really well, particularly from my point of view, the collaborative open spaces. Can you tell us a little bit about what that’s like how that got into the conference schedule?
Dave: Yes, certainly. So open spaces is a really interesting kind of platform that’s unique to DevOps Days. Basically how it works is everybody comes up with topics during the event after listening to some of the keynotes. Some discussions that are interesting to individuals, a lot of times you want to add on your personal perspective into, not only offering new ideas or maybe even some suggestions, but asking specific questions.
A way of being able to do that is by getting everyone together at the event over common topics. You basically vote on different topics that are of interest to you and they can actually go anywhere from cultural to personal to technology as a whole.
The idea is, there’s a few rules, it’s basically:
- what’s being said is what needs to be said
- who’s there is the people that need to be there
- when it starts and when it ends is the time it starts and ends
Those are the only kind of guidelines that we go by and the idea is to get people who usually wouldn’t be open to public speaking to be able to have a chance and an opportunity to either share some ideas, ask questions specifically and directly to different individuals and to have an open forum.
The real values that come out of it are real specific dialogue, the biggest thing is new introductions and relationships that are created.
The hope is that throughout the year after the event, a DevOps stage event is for you to be able to get contact information of individuals who are in the same space, at the same stage as yourself to have an outside outlet to be able to bounce ideas off of through the year as you start to face some of the challenges as you as an engineer try to solve problems.
Paul: Yeah that was one of those things that really clicked for me, being part of a number of those open spaces, I saw exactly what you said which was people were far more likely to comment and to share and ask questions. And in a larger audience and I think the other element of that is the fact that not only do they get the share but they get instant feedback.
And this is one of those core tenants I think of DevOps, in my mind, is this concept of continuous learning. But you don’t learn unless you know what’s going on and you don’t know what’s going on unless you [as an organization] radiate information which is typically facilitated by feedback loops. So whether we’re talking about technology feedback loops or real people feedback loops, I think that’s really helpful.
So can I back up for a second and ask you a slightly broader question about DevOps: in your mind how would you define DevOps?
What Is DevOps, Really?
Dave: Great question. You know these this is one that in our community we talk a lot about, especially for folks who are outside of quote-unquote “DevOps thought process”, knowing that it’s something that’s taking off as a force in the software world.
One of the things we do is to talk about how do we define DevOps. The biggest thing for me is DevOps means different things to different people and it’s all about context and perspective, where you come from and where you’ve been and what challenges you’re trying to solve. So when I meet somebody new who’s in this space and they’re starting to kind of either chant or evangelize to me without first getting a baseline perspective as to where I’m at and what I was doing and what I’m trying to solve, immediately has me question, “okay, are you trying to push your ideals down on me?”,
This is what DevOps means to me: getting folks to work together in an efficient collaborative manner to solve a common goal, period.
It has nothing to do with tools. It has nothing to do with process. It has nothing to do with frameworks. It’s all about getting people together, teaching context, having empathy, understanding what somebody’s doing, why they need to do it, and what what they’ve been doing in the past. You share your ways of doing it and then together when you have a sense of “okay, I know why this person has to do things, I know the reason why they’re thinking this way”, you can efficiently solve problems and for me that’s that’s what DevOps is to the core, right there.
Paul: So one one thing I heard from that is it starts with people, right? It doesn’t start with tools, it doesn’t start with how you’ve been doing it; it starts with people and really understanding the context and the perspective that they bring to the table. Is that right?
Dave: Yeah, Paul, you you nailed it right there. It starts, it continues, and it ends with people. Ultimately I take the concepts and the core principles of DevOps, and you can apply that to any industry, any product, any delivery, any manufacturing, and it really is bringing people together to work more efficiently to solve a common problem.
What Is DevOps Not?
Paul: And so actually people are doing that, you’ll hear the prevalence of these amalgam terms like DevSecOps, DevTestQAOps. And I kind of take issue with that in the sense that I understand how important terminology and clear labels for things. As a practitioner and engineer, as soon as somebody starts to blow out a term to mean “all the things”, my red flags get raised up instantly.
That doesn’t mean that [DevOps] doesn’t include other people, but can you tell us a little bit about how important the scope is of DevOps to you? And just kind of following that up with some context, I was able to speak to Ken Mugrage from the DevOps Days Seattle, and he was very clear about how if we blow it out into all the things, “DevOps” loses its value.
And so I put this to you: why is a pantheistic term, if DevOps grows to that, why is that a problem?
Dave: No, that’s a great thought. I want to take this back a little bit to identify why are all these actions added on, how and why this is how [DevOps] is being branded in this way. This was a discussion that I have, especially with growing teams.
One of the biggest things I talked about with organizations is, first and foremost, technically there is no DevOps engineers. So why label it that way?
There’s No Such Thing as a “DevOps Engineer”
When I started working with a lot more enterprises, I helped organizations transform their development to be much more modern so that they can have quicker release cycles and feedback. It’s one of the things that used to frustrate me, was like “hey, we need five DevOps engineers!”. That doesn’t mean anything to me, you got to explain on a day to day basis, what is this person doing, and ultimately, why are you labeling these folks as DevOps engineers?
And I I had some interesting feedback which came from the product marketing side. They were like, “Dave, we’re in the enterprise. We’re used to big long deploys of software in order to get it to our customers, and a lot of times we don’t know if our customers are even getting any value out of what we’re producing. When we’re releasing every year and waiting for six months to get the actual feedback from our customers, it doesn’t make any sense.”
So you see this large swath of folks trying to get into this space to build software quicker to have faster feedback to be able to add more value to end users.
These individuals don’t really understand this whole open source community, they don’t understand how the strength of the community is really the value.
“So we don’t know how to really market. We don’t know how to communicate to the group in a way for us to be able to blanket it all together. So we just scoped it into this thing and we call it #DevOps and everything gets that kind of label to it.”
From my experience what I’m starting to see is a lot more of these organizations who are specific to security, to testing, in a way of being able to catch and grasp that member of the audience, it’s “let’s throw it in, Dev and Sec Ops, Dev Quality Ops. What starts to happen in my mind and what I’m what I’m worried about is that people start to lose the real purpose.
Paul: So basically the exact same thing that happened to Agile. Everybody forgot to have agility as one of the core tenants that people check in on, on a regular basis such that they internalize that, and that is where their activities and their tools flow from, right?
Dave: Yes exactly. If you start to get too focused on the terminologies and the labeling of things and forget the context as to why you’re practicing it, ultimately the further down stream you get and the more generations that start to get folded into the process, they’ll start to lose the actual scope, “hey we’re trying to get people to to work together in a more collaborative manner to be efficient and to be able to deliver quickly.”
How to Be a Good DevOps (Citizen, Vendor, Employer)
Paul: Yeah, one thing that I did recently was put out an article (and thank you you, you had shared it to a number of people and I think that’s half the reason why I got some attention). It was essentially how to be a good DevOps vendor. It took the approach of looking at it from the customers perspective. The implementation of that was over a simplified customer journey and then chronologically through that journey, I went through and basically made statements from an outsider’s perspective onto different groups whether it be product, marketing, sales.
Back to your perspective, I get that it has to fundamentally start with people because people are what build teams and teams are what build software and software is what affects us. But the team affects us and individuals affect us, and so it does make sense to keep that as a core of value, to consider personal responsibility and also the responsibility of the team to have these cultural aspects present.
But unfortunately I think what happens is that we do need tools and you know, conferences are notorious for needing some kind of funding and becoming self-funding is really hard, and so out comes sponsor packages and I mean it’s an ecosystem. All software is eventually, in most people’s minds, going to make money and so this is where I was coming from, understanding that there is no such thing as a DevOps vendor or a DevOps tool or a DevOps job/position. Yet the fact is that when you’re closely aligned with the thinking of another person and “DevOps” is the term they’re using, it’s easy for these vendors to kind of bring that in and pull that into their messaging.
So I guess my my point of view on that is that we are gonna have to deal with that but it’s kind of a constant battle against the pantheism of trying to “all the things” a term [DevOps] but in the meantime we also do have to represent those tenants to more than just the developers and operations. If you really want to sell to developers and operations or teams that are looking, or they have internalized DevOps, they’re going to be looking at the world from this interesting perspective. And they’ll be looking across the tool chain to figure out who sounds like they’re blowing smoke up [you know where].
If a tool vendor or a service provider does not understand the core of DevOps, then their messaging, their selling process, their product ideation…it’s all not going to jive with the real market.
After after a recent Boston DevOps meetup we dove into this for what like an hour and a half, and just really talked about how do we actually do this. My concern is that when we start to move this into the enterprise (and by the way, the good principles of DevOps should be moveable to the enterprise, right? If they work, they work, and it’s a matter of fitting to context) that I think, while the core of it is culture, we can’t just live in this sort of kumbaya world.
We really have to figure out how to scale DevOps principals up and out into the enterprise setting so that, by the way, these good principles have a positive impact on things like automated insurance, things like machine learning in terms of healthcare, defense and government settings.
So I’m working on that on the side but in the meantime, what do you think about scaling to the enterprise? What does that even mean for DevOps?
How DevOps Is Re-writing Management Decisions
Dave: Yeah, that’s a great point. It’s an interesting challenge. There’s a lot of organizations who are facing it. Right now, I’m dealing with situations where we’re starting to see a lot of enterprise buy instead of trying to build it themselves. One thing they have is capital and resources. So the idea is, “if we don’t know or we can’t make it, it’s the bye versus build, like why go out and try to do what people already are being really successful in doing in something that we don’t understand too well? Let’s just go ahead and absorb some of these startups…”
Paul: Do you mean actually purchasing startups in order to just fill that technical gap in an organization? So I don’t want to name names, but I’m thinking of a very large enterprise that just recently bought up one of the most well-known API monitoring services out there, and people are freaking out like “oh gosh, what’s going to happen, are they going to de-culture this awesome group of guys and gals?”
Dave: I’m dealing with the same thing within an organization, a large security company buying a smaller more nimble security product with a lot of open source options. They’re putting out there trying to create groundswell to get this tool for free into the hands of engineers, let them play with it so they can understand how it works and create some kind of a swell within the engineering teams and then we’ll come up to the top start talking to the executives about, “Hey, what challenges are you facing in this broad space?”, where you’re trying to protect not only year your customers information but also information about your company.
As they start to have that type of dialogue, all of a sudden the executives within the organization starts to look down, talking to their engineering group and saying “hey, what do you know, what have you played with, what do you think is interesting, how do you think we should be solving this problem?” You’ve already created that initial lift of inertia in engineering, then they say hey let’s go with this product…we already know how it works, we’ve been you tooling around with it. Win-win, right?
So this is a completely different way of thinking of how enterprises used to be selling products into their customers. It was always a top-down approach…let’s talk to the executives who have the purchase power, float it down and then they’ll disseminate that information in the way that we roll it out into the engineering team. That’s how you could do it in the old-school way. Now in today’s new world, a lot of tools are available for you to play with for free and when enterprise organizations start to try to come into this space, they’re really kind of blindsided by this whole new content creation process.
Selling Into DevOps Takes Understanding DevOps
What I’m starting to see is they’re at least now recognizing we do not know how to sell to this to this community of this group. We know we really want to get into the space, we want to do it the right way, what do we do right and you know to your point with your article, I’ve shared your article with all of the enterprises that I’ve have been talking to me about this problem because I can’t teach them about the thought process of open source.
I mean, we can look back in the 60s, the MIT days, where the two groups kind of split off. A lot of us in the DevOps space already have the mentality of like “hey, you know we want to be able to share a lot of this stuff but we do want value for hard work we do”. But for the most part there’s different ways of doing it versus everything is being paid for with the enterprise mentality.
What I’m starting to experience is there’s a lot of organizations out there that are realizing it’s exponential value once they start to get into this community and…
the brand loyalty within the DevOps community is tremendous
…but the challenge that is in front of us right now is really the learnings piece and I’m thinking it’s a leadership issue (this is my own personal view). It’s enterprise leadership that needs to get out of the way and allow for new blood to come in to be able to understand the kind of movement. I’ve been doing a little, as much as I can to try to influence old leadership. It’s a challenge and a lot of it has to do with success syndrome. You’ve been doing it in certain way for decades. It’s a great case study that we’re gonna be able to kind of sit back and watch in the next five years
Calling All Researchers: Inclusion Means You Too!
Paul: Yeah and you know, there’s so much going on, no one person can do it alone. So without plugging any commercial products of any kind (that’s not my motion) I have started something called the iterativeresearch.org, which is essentially a bunch of contributors to research. As they go along, it could be lightweight contributions, simply just pocketing articles and getting into a feed of people who pay attention, it’s writers too, but the point is it’s not on a brand that’s connected to a pay-for services. And you know I would love, for this conversation to really start flowing in that direction because I think it takes many perspectives, right?
The core of this is it’s an inclusive conversation, not an exclusive one.
So understanding that you are a busy man and we’re at the top of our time, are there one or two things that you want to give a shout-out to or any particular resources that people can go to, events, communities, open-source forums, anything like that?
Get Out to a DevOps Tribe Near You!
Dave: Yeah, you know, thank you so much for the opportunity first and foremost, we’re gonna have to do it again! One of the things I really would highly recommend to folks who are interested in getting more involved, start to look at some local meetups that you have going on. There are some great folks within every community in whatever city, whatever small town, who are interested in sharing ideas and in thoughts in challenges. All you have to do is get out there and look. Go find your tribe! The biggest thing is don’t sit back and wait and sit on your hands and expect for interest to come to you.
The whole constant learner, the Kaizen mentality, be better tomorrow than you are today, be better today than you are yesterday. It lives and dies in DevOps and the way to do it is start to talk to folks who you’re not used to talking to.
Don’t be afraid get out there introduce yourself and have a good time. Life is learning.
Paul: Cool. So that’s David Frederick’s everyone and thank you David for spending the time with me. Do you prefer going by David, Dave?
Dave: Dave, David, either way.
Paul: Dave/David, I’ve really enjoyed it was great being able to spend some time. We’ll circle back. Thank you so much! Cheers!
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