Last week I made a return visit to Silicon Valley for the Santa Clara 2015 edition of Velocity, the conference for “Building Resilient Systems at Scale”.
As always, Velocity brought together thought leaders, practitioners, friends, and those from around the world looking to share expert advice and best practices on a variety of subjects related to building and maintaining systems and services at high speed and reliability. It’s an event that, for several reasons, makes perfect sense for myself and VictorOps to attend.
For me, VelocityConf was something different this time around, a fact that I had a hard time wrapping my head around until the closing hours of the event. As I grabbed a coffee and chatted with a friend about “early onset conference burnout”, I realized that it’s not burnout at all, but rather an observation that much of what I had heard from the talks I attended were subjects I’ve come to understand quite well and even advocate for time and time again.
Topics such as:
* Empathy & Devs being “on-call”
* Providing valuable context within incident alerting
* Current trends in monitoring of cloud infrastructure
* Minimizing the cost of failure through a Blameless culture
* Incident response and management
All of the above concepts and ideas are a natural fit for what VictorOps aims to provide or help others understand. Still, they aren’t necessarily fresh to me, although extremely important, especially within the context of incident management and those whose professional role includes being on-call.
One talk that I had been looking forward to all week was the “Burnout in Tech” panel. For quite some time now, this is a subject near and dear to many of us in the DevOps community, myself included. In my travels and conversations, it has become clear that it’s not only important to many, it has also hit home for an unfortunately high number of us. To no one’s surprise, the community’s extreme drive to empathize, educate, spread the word, and draw attention to the subject has increased the velocity and reach of this subject beyond just those who have experienced burnout in one form or another personally.
I myself have been digging in to this subject and have content and guest interviews queued up for the coming weeks to do my part in continuing this important discussion. Much of what was shared and discussed in the panel was very helpful in framing the big picture and my focus on how I can do my part.
For example Christina Maslach, a Professor of Psychology known for her research on occupational burnout at UC Berkeley, highlighted 6 strategic areas of burnout:
Maslach’s opening statements provided a wealth of great and important information including what to do about burnout. She shared the following suggestions:
* Preventing burnout is a better strategy than waiting to treat it
* Building engagement is the best approach to preventing burnout
* Organizational intervention can be more productive than individual intervention
If the size of the audience in attendance for this panel is any indication, the subject is something many of us take very seriously, if for no other reason to increase visibility on the matter. It’s something all of us in this space should pay attention to, not only to help members within our growing community, but ourselves as well.
Speaking of more visibility, I wasn’t there just as a participant in the discussions and talks, but as a representative of VictorOps. I enjoyed sharing how we are making the role of being on-call a little better with each new killer feature released.
Per usual, the booth was consistently busy with folks looking to understand how we’re different than alternative options in the space. It takes no time at all to make that distinction and it’s so gratifying that unicorns, donkeys, and all of the varying degrees of sparkly horses in between are beginning to to see it.
As the conference concluded, I was able to sneak away for a few minutes and set in motion a plan for something I’m very excited about. Unfortunately, it’s too early to share much, but it’s wonderful how events like Velocity not only bring people within our community together to discuss a growing array of important subjects, but it allows us to increase focus on topics, concepts, and projects we’ve been kicking around in our minds.
Community interaction provides an amazing way to focus on ideas that often get lost within our noisy minds. I think that’s my favorite aspect of coming together with friends old and new to discuss emerging and important concepts. While a sharper focus is often provided, it inherently draws us to conclusions that can be applied to the larger story if we are willing to push the envelope and accept new challenges.
The Big Picture
So, what’s all of this mean?
To be perfectly honest, I did find myself glazing over and losing myself in my phone during talks and presenters that I’ve seen before. And I often found myself thinking, “whoa, that’s a lot of speakers on the agenda from just one company.” Thoughts that never really surfaced in my mind previously. Ones that generate more questions than answers and drive me to think and discuss topics that live on the edge of “normal” topics related to tech conferences.
Perhaps friends like Bridget Kromhout and Katherine Daniels felt something similar as they sat down to share their thoughts during their own post-conference decompression process. Each of them shared great perspectives from last week’s experiences that have very little to do with the latest tool or method for delivering amazing software at scale. And both were amazing (and important).