One of the fundamental tenets of DevOps is that working in closed, departmental silos is counterproductive for creating quality software. Rather, work is done best when groups are composed of members from across the business working openly and cooperatively. Experience shows time and time again that open, multifaceted teams made up of a variety of viewpoints work better than ones that are closed and monolithic.
Yet, when we move beyond the landscape of DevOps into American society, things look different. In his book, “Coming Apart,” published in 2012, author and political scientist Charles Murray makes the following point: Sixty-three percent of the population of the United States—white Americans—is separating into a two-class structure in which one class enjoys an increasingly stable, healthy, knowledge-driven prosperity while the other experiences declining wealth, health and educational achievement accompanied by a loosening social cohesion. This loss of social cohesion perpetuates the continuing decline. And, there is no relief in sight.
Murray points out that while class distinction in the United States is nothing new, what is different now is that these two classes exist in silos that are closed and disconnected. While in the these past classes have intermingled, now each lives apart from one another—so much so that the classes have become almost unidentifiable to each other.
For example, back around 1960, it was entirely conceivable that a CEO of a manufacturing business shared many of the same experiences as the less-wealthy employees of the company. They might go to the same restaurants, watch the same TV shows and maybe even drive the same make of car. Their children might attend the same schools. Today, however, it’s each to his own; shared experience among classes is becoming more rare.
There definitely was a class system in force onboard the ocean liner Titanic. The well-to-do traveled first class, while the poor went down to steerage. But everybody boarded together, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s pauper character had a slight chance of interacting with Kate Winslet’s wealthy socialite—maybe even fall in love and get and stay married. And, when the ship went down, all aboard were at risk, rich and poor alike.
Today, the average Joe flies in a cramped seat in economy. The CEO flies private. The economy flier probably has no idea what it’s like to board a private plane, let alone fly in one. The thought of packing a lunch beforehand to save money while traveling is completely foreign to the CEO. Each lives in a world the other can’t imagine. Again, this trend is not reversing.
What Does This Have to do with Automation and DevOps?
Tech culture is a prime example of this exclusive segmentation and clustering according to class. The average salary of a DevOps engineer is ~$138,000 a year, which puts the profession in or around the top 10 percent of wage earners. And, just getting hired at most tech companies requires a college degree. This is a self-selecting dynamic. Birds of a feather fly together: People who make six figures tend to hang out with others who make six figures. Likewise, people with college degrees tend to hang out with others who have college degrees. If you’re in tech, chances are you do not know many people in your day-to-day life who had difficulty in school, have worked on a factory floor or smoke cigarettes. When you and those around you make money by thinking, it’s difficult to have empathy for those whose muscles ache after spending each day stocking shelves at Walmart. You just can’t imagine it.
Intrinsically, such homogeneity is not bad. The cause for concern is that now, once the boundaries are set, it’s difficult to go beyond them. In the past, the prevalence of shared experiences made moving up into that other, affluent world possible. Today, however, it is becoming nearly impossible. And we in tech are not making it easier. Why? One reason is automation.
Automation replacing human labor is nothing new. It’s been going on since before Otis figured out how to make elevators go up and down between floors without requiring human intervention. Yet, this is simple stuff by today’s standards. As automation becomes more sophisticated, the degree of smarts required to work in an environment in which automation prevails grows. An engineer capable of refactoring a piece of software that does speech-to-text transformation has had significantly more education than a stenographer—which, by the way, is a profession automation is replacing.
Automation is making it more difficult for those with only a high school education be employed. Yes, some sources claim that automation will actually create more jobs. But, how many of these new jobs will require nothing more than a high school diploma? And, once hired, how long will these new jobs be available before they are replaced with another piece of automation?
Now, combine this trend in automation with Murray’s assertions about the growing extreme in class separation. One group is happy, healthy, pretty wealthy and productive. The other group stagnant, poorer, in ill health and continually being replaced by automation. Add in another troubling statistic: The rate of divorce in the happy, healthy, well-educated group is going down. The divorce rate in the other group is going up. (Page 146, Coming Apart, Murray) In addition, the number of single parent households among the less educated group is increasing, while the rate of single parent households for the happy, healthy, wealthy group remains low and substantially less than the other. (Page 159, Coming Apart, Murray). One group has the stability necessary to promote health and wealth in its offspring. The other group is barely keeping its head above water with little hope for better life now, and for generations to come.
What does this mean? It means that things are coming apart.
Probably one of the most important lessons we’ve learned in DevOps is that open systems, genuine accountability and blameless reflection combined with a cross fertilization of ideas between different groups makes for a better, more productive work environment. This thinking can and does go well beyond software. Anybody who has experienced the waste and frustration of a closed, siloed organization understands that open is better. We in DevOps understand the the smarter we all are the better off everybody is. Sharing knowledge and expertise is not a zero sum game.
According to Murray, we are no longer all passengers on a common ocean liner. Today two ships are sailing side by side. One has an able crew with enough supplies and lifeboats for everybody aboard. The other sails along somehow, with dwindling resources and a few lifeboats. We in DevOps are are snug and secure in the first ship. For those in the other ship, the clock is ticketing and the ship is taking on water. Those of us who care about the Big Picture understand that things need to change, that we need to come together rather than come apart. The question, how? This is the question I will leave to you to answer.
I look forward to reading your ideas about how to bring us together in the comments section below.