Devopsdays 2016: DevOps Grows Up?

DevOpsDays Sydney 2016 took place recently in the Sydney SMC Function Centre, by Goulburn Street. The halls were named after Greek columns. Ionic, Doric, Tuscan. Pillars. Many of us from REA were in attendance, along with leading practitioners from around the country.

DevOps problems aren’t DevOps problems

Bridget kicked off with a keynote, detailing her experiences in the ever-changing DevOps space. The tides change by the day, but newer technologies won’t really fix a culture that’s broken in the first place. While DevOps is currently a flurry of terms and tooling, the fundamental aspects of working together—communication, empathy—remain key. “Use TCP for human comms,” she remarked. “Not UDP.”

Selfies with the keynote speakers because why not. While Bridget has an incredible knowledge of how DevOps plumbing works, the most important problems for her are distinctly human.

Selfies with the keynote speakers because why not. While Bridget has an incredible knowledge of how DevOps plumbing works, the most important problems for her are distinctly human.

This was followed by Hannah Browne and Steve MacTaggart (CEVO) to talk about the “Why?” of DevOps. “The *why* is our north star,” she said. She recalls a conversation with a CIO who was so focused on pursuing new technologies, but had no answers when she asked why they were doing things. What was the value? What did it seek to accomplish?

“If you’re not working on those questions, that says a lot about you as a leader,” she said.

Hannah and Steve displayed a clarity and purpose to what they do, which is incredibly admirable.

Hannah and Steve displayed a clarity and purpose to what they do, which is incredibly admirable.

The same ground, same fears

The Open Spaces format is fairly straightforward: propose a topic, the attendees vote on it, and then we have an open, unmoderated discussion. It’s a good chance for a diverse set of people to weigh in, and to hear other opinions from people in the industry.

The most highly-voted topics weren’t about specific technologies or approaches, but rather about how to manage work, how to mentor new practitioners, and how to sell the meaning of our work to organisations. It was a telling moment when the conversation shifted to those same things, even if we were supposed to talk about something else entirely.

The Open Spaces format is decidedly unmoderated. You may come in with expectations about the subject, but people will talk about the things they care about the most.

The Open Spaces format is decidedly unmoderated. You may come in with expectations
about the subject, but people will talk about the things they care about the most.

“I guess those are the hot topics, huh?” I remarked to someone during a break.

“It’s weird,” he replied. “The same questions get asked again and again, but we’re far from having hit an answer.”

Build the future

Lindsay Holmwood opened the next day by speaking about resilient cultures. “Edgar Schein divided culture into three levels,” he said. “Artifacts, values, and assumptions. They all influence each other.”

Lindsay's talk was titled "Deepening Our Culture To Weather The Org" - a mouthful, yes, but his points about leadership, autonomy, and processes were incredibly thoughtful and lucid.

Lindsay’s talk was titled “Deepening Our Culture To Weather The Org” – a mouthful, yes, but his points about leadership, autonomy, and processes were incredibly thoughtful and lucid.

Our systems are artefacts. Our processes are artefacts. Therefore, our systems and processes are a snapshot of our culture, and what’s important and valuable to our organisation. But it can also go the other way: by working with our artefacts, we change the perception of our organisation’s values.

E.g. when we make deployments quick and safe, we’re saying that we ensure quality by going fast.

E.g. when we build cross-functional teams, what we’re saying is that we work together to a achieve a shared goal.

We can paint a future. We can build systems that reflect the values we want.

DevOps problems aren’t DevOps problems

There’s a moment within every movement where the questions get more abstract and people aren’t talking about implementation specifics anymore. The questions get bigger, the answers get murkier, and the implementation specifics get more interchangeable.

There’s almost a sense, as a collective, that the problems we most frequently run into can’t be fixed by shiny new tools, or better platforms. There’s a question of values here, of meaning, and we’re just starting to come up with some answers. It’s no longer about implementation specifics. Much like someone growing up, we’re less concerned with how to walk and more about where we’re going—perhaps.