There is a different, almost magical dynamic, at a startup that seems to fade away over time as companies establish themselves. One of the benefits of DevOps, though, is that it creates an environment where that startup magic can continue to thrive. DevOps is like a fountain of youth that lets corporations continue to act like startups where it counts.
Once upon a time Microsoft consisted of nothing more than Bill Gates and Paul Allen hacking away at a keyboard. Like any successful company, it grew….and grew, and grew, and grew. And, as it grew the culture changed, and departments were created, and bureaucratic policies were implemented. A task or feature that Bill or Paul would have just cranked out on the fly in an afternoon during the early days now must be vetted and approved, and go through a chain of command, and maybe a focus group before it can finally see the light of day.
Startups are often formed by a few friends over pizza and beer while watching TV. In the beginning, things just get done. There is generally no real hierarchy of control, and everyone just owns what they’re working on and they get it done.
Startups also remind me of watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. It always seemed like everyone new everyone else’s job—and anybody could fill in for anybody else. If Geordi La Forge—the chief engineer of the USS Enterprise—was captured or incapacitated, Worf—the Klingon chief of security could just step in and manage the warp core in his absence. Although everyone had a designated role, they all understood enough about the other roles to take over in a pinch. That’s how startups are before things grow so big that each person barely has enough time to keep up with their own department and duties, and barely knows what anyone else is doing.
That brings me back to DevOps. The essence of DevOps requires that individuals take both initiative and responsibility for what they’re working on. The culture of DevOps is more fast-paced, and it doesn’t allow for protracted bureaucracy to drag things down. An organization that embraces the DevOps culture is forced to retain the innovation and agility that defined the startup stage.
Granted, a large company like Netflix, or IBM still has a management hierarchy. There are policies in place, and different departments for IT, and human resources, and accounting. The IT guy can’t simply cut his own checks, and the accounting person can’t just go rogue and hire people without the knowledge and consent of HR. There are defined roles, and most of them serve a distinct and valuable purpose.
That corporate structure still exists, but with DevOps you maintain that startup mentality where it counts—where new ideas are being developed and implemented. Of course, it’s also not without its challenges. Balancing the autonomy of DevOps with the policies and bureaucracy of a larger, established corporation can be confusing, and it’s important to have boundaries in place for just how long the DevOps leash is, and where the threshold is at which things need to be escalated up the chain.
DevOps isn’t about a bunch of rogue employees running around autonomously wreaking havoc on the company, though. Much of DevOps seems to focus on tools and technology—and those are a crucial element of automating routine tasks and facilitating DevOps—but, the power of DevOps from a cultural point of view lies in collaboration. Done right, DevOps fosters an environment that frees employees to work together to find the most effective and efficient solutions.
You probably won’t be able to recreate a situation like Star Trek: The Next Generation in a larger company. There will be departments, and there will be designated roles that need to be filled. With the right DevOps tools and technology, though, you can automate and speed up routine tasks, and free up time previously spent on those tedious jobs for employees to devote to solving bigger problems. With the right DevOps culture, you will unchain those employees and enable them to think and interact more creatively to come up with innovative ideas that may never have seen the light of day in a traditional corporate bureaucracy.
DevOps can enable your company to function with the drive and agility of a startup, while still maintaining the wisdom and maturity of an established corporation.