Tara Calihman - April 30, 2015
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending my first DevOpsDays event, held down the road from the VictorOps office in Denver. It helped that VictorOps was a sponsor of the event and that our DevOps Evangelist, Jason Hand, was one of the organizers. But had neither of these things been true, I still would’ve had an amazing time.
When you attend a DevOpsDays, it’s made clear from the beginning that you are a participant. I understood this in theory but it wasn’t until I went to my first Open Spaces session that I realized just how serious people are about this. [Scout said it better in their blog post about the Open Spaces at the event: “This is where the magic happens.”] I proposed a session about DevOps and marketing and was pleasantly surprised when about a dozen people showed up to chat.
The venue for the event was Fortrust, the very data center that houses our cage of servers. I’ve never actually been to a data center before so taking a tour of the facility was a highlight for me. Additionally, Fortrust turned out to be a great space, providing ample room for vendors, breakout sessions and random conversations to coexist peacefully. Full transparency: Not only are we Fortrust customers, we’re also big fans.
At first I was nervous that all of the DevOpsDays content would be too technical for me. However, that was not the case. There were a few times when code came up on slides, but for the most part, the presentations were aimed at all ability & knowledge levels. Whew.
[WARNING: Lengthy content breakdown ahead. If you don’t want to read on, trust me - the talks were great.]
J. Paul Reed kicked off the day with a high-level talk about what makes up DevOps culture. He emphasized that a healthy organization is one that is culturally aligned, referencing the No Asshole rule and then immediately appending it by saying that for the sake of argument, you might want just one. Since J. Paul is originally from Fort Collins, he not only brought his mom with him to the event but also compared DevOps to his experience flying planes out of the Loveland airport: developers are the pilots while ops are the flight control operators. They have to work together to make sure the flight is a success.
Two key takeaways from this presentation:
DevOps should be more like TrekOps - on Star Trek, characters don’t have to convince everyone else that something is wrong. Everyone believes them right away and gets to work on solving the problem. Trust is key.
It’s important to figure out what DevOps looks like for your organization - not DevOps in San Francisco or DevOps at Etsy - but DevOps for you.
Following that was Matt Stratton, a longtime friend and Arrested DevOps co-host, who spoke on managing your mental stack. Information overload is an issue for everyone, not just those working in tech. He touched on why podcasts are such a good way to learn new ideas - they allow you to absorb unfamiliar topics but lack the specific detail needed to fully understand them - and also compared them to Grandpa’s directions (“They’re a terribly inefficient way of transferring actual information but they sure are entertaining”).
Matt also spoke about the cycle of knowledge: learn → do → teach. To figure out if you really know something, you should try teaching that thing to someone in an entirely different industry. Teaching can also look like writing a blog post or contributing to an open source project. [Side note: Matt included only images from the best TV shows as background for his slides. Highly entertaining.]
Brian Scott, DevOps at Disney, spoke about some of the common misconceptions around DevOps. It was interesting to hear someone from a big company talk about how they view DevOps. According to him, DevOps isn’t a job title or a team - it’s a philosophy. Teams at Disney are built around trust, a willingness to fail and the ability to view things through a blameless lens. He also discussed the Matterhorn stack and how they’re using tools (automation, CI pipelines, metrics & reporting) to support their DevOps initiatives.
Brian also won the (unofficial) award for best slide deck and best end of a presentation. Whomever is in charge of putting together slide decks at Disney killed it. And Brian also made a few geeks cry when he played the new Star Wars trailer at the end of his talk…even though everyone in attendance had (most likely) seen the trailer before. I’m not sure what people were most impressed with - his talk or his use of the Force.
Beau Christensen, from PingIdentity, presented on building SaaS apps for the enterprise client. He emphasized the importance of diversifying your locations, befriending your legal people and being prepared for gigantic security questionnaires. In exchange for the hassle of working with the enterprise, he illustrated the payoff with an image of a big pile of money. Point taken.
Royce Haynes, engineer from Next Big Sound, talked about working in a self-organized and self-managed team. The topic was brand new to me but touched on a lot of points I see value in: the intersection of company & personal goals, the use of a ‘Demo Day’ to see what others have been working on, and the idea of having random one-on-ones with others in different parts of the organization - both to provide a different perspective and to gauge if what you’re doing is seen as valuable to others in the company. Favorite quote from Royce: “Culture cannot be copied.”
Ryan Frantz, Senior Ops Engineer at Etsy, gave a presentation on contextual alerting. He opened with a harmonica solo. Just another reason to love DevOpsDays. There is too much goodness from his talk to include it all here (blog post coming soon!) but suffice it to say, everything he said reassured me that we’re doing the right things at VictorOps around making alerts smarter. One of the best takeaways from this talk was about the importance of making computers do the work for us. Yes please.
Dave Josephsen of Librato talked about Imposter Syndrome and how he’s suffered from it in the past. As a woman and a writer, I’m already familiar with the topic but it was amazing to hear a man talk about it within a DevOps capacity. His main point is that we’re all imposters - we have enough of “us” and need more of “you”.
From the food truck lunch on day 2 to the super-informational panel on ChatOps to the great conversations we had at our table, everything about DevOpsDays Rockies was a hit. VictorOps sponsored the happy hour at the end of day 1 and made sure the craft brew was flowing. Thanks to all those who showed up to raise a glass to making on-call suck less and a very special thanks to all the organizers…
If you’ve never been to a DevOpsDays before and are interested in the topic, I highly suggest you get yourself to one of these amazing events. See you all in Denver next year!