Bryces Bald Banter: Putting the Ops in DevOps

Tara Calihman August 08, 2013

This is Bryce and he has a lot to say about Ops. I mean, doesn’t he look serious about the topic?


Fortunately, he’s not shy about telling you what he really thinks. So I asked him a few questions about what he’s learned over the course of his career.

Why do you bring an Ops guy in at the beginning?

You have to put the framework in place before things take off. You need that foundation. When you hit that explosive growth phase, everyone just keeps doing what they’ve always been doing. You might have the database guy managing the network engineers and the network engineers might be doing tech support because that’s all how they did things back in the everyone-does-everything phase of the company. You have to specialize out as the company grows.

My job here is to put the foundation in place without all the negatives that go along with it. You have to set up the framework without encumbering the creativity and nimbleness of the organization. No one wants red tape. The last thing a company needs is to be hamstrung by process too early or to hit the explosive growth phase without a structure or a plan.

Because what happens when you get that big contract? All you’re trying to do is fill that contract and it may not seem like the best time to reorganize the company. But really, it is because you’re going to get that next big contract and then it won’t be a good time either. By that time, the inefficiencies in your company will be horrible. It’s like asking when is the best time to have a baby. The answer is never. But you do it anyway.

Who do you hire?

I always hire for aptitude and attitude. Experience can get you there but the old dog must be able to learn new tricks. You need employees with the right attitude.

At the beginning, everyone is passionate about the company and the product you’re putting out. That’s why startups are fun. You have to take pride in the company and want to make something that’s awesome. It’s also important for the software engineers to understand the problem they’re solving.

Here at VictorOps, we’re invested. Everyone here has carried the pager and has had to get up in the middle of the night. We’re making something we wish existed.

Who do you not hire?

Don’t hire the empire builders. They don’t work well with others and promote inefficiency. Empire builders build a closed silo within a company and nothing comes in or out of that silo without their approval. There is no clear communication. I call them culture killers.

It’s easy to become the empire builder because if you want to be excellent at your job, you want to control all aspects of it. The easiest way to do that is to shut all the doors. You can make your group efficient but you’re making the rest of the company much less efficient. I always have my spidey sense out for empire builders because they really will kill the company. DevOps is all about communication and mutual reliability on other groups. Instead of fostering communication, the empire builders are shutting it down.

Lessons learned…

  • If it looks like shit and smells like shit, it probably is. Don’t over-analyze it, pick a new direction and move on.

  • Hand-offs between groups is where the process fails. Concentrate on this and you will greatly reduce failures.

  • If you don’t have some sort of feedback loop from the customer all the way back to the product group, you are in trouble.

  • Everyone wants shiny new features for the user but no one wants to build new features so that Ops can do their job better. Depending on the product, every dev cycle needs to include 5-10% for Ops and Customer support. It might seem painful at the time but anything else is being penny wise and dollar stupid.

I’ll leave you with a particularly juicy nugget of Bryce’s wisdom:

The best startups walk the line between structure and chaos.

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