Want to reduce headaches tomorrow? Document everything today
About once a year I feel the need to remind you that you are creating technical debt. DevOps is good stuff, and most shops got over the “whatever a given project team decides” multiplication of services pretty quickly, but every line of DevOps code you write is creating technical debt.
There is no way around this fact. You are writing code (scripts, if you prefer) and developing configs that make assumptions. Those assumptions will change—products will get incompatible upgrades, vendors will go under, libraries will become outdated … the list goes on.
We have a long history with technical debt. DevOps partially grew out of the need to spend less time maintaining and more time releasing features, and yet we’re re-creating technical debt; in some cases at a much larger scale. It is unavoidable but can be managed. Keep a reference list of assumptions—“This app assumes environment contains X,” or “This app supports Cisco Network APIs version X.Y”—so you know where to look when things inevitably go wrong. The list conveniently doubles as a handy reference to what needs updating when you find out your middleware vendor is going under or that MySQL is out and MariaDB is in.
The more cutting-edge tools you use, the more likely that you are baking future problems into your environment. This is not advice to avoid cutting-edge; it is advice to recognize reality and keep closer track as you move new things into your environment that might be half-baked or whose market is destined for consolidation.
Our IT environment has become super-complex. DevOps helps us manage that complexity but discourages adequate documentation. We’ve all heard, “It’s self-documenting” (no, it’s not) or “There is basic documentation” (basic almost always means, “We scratched some notes when it was first set up”… and haven’t touched them since). Don’t do that. Make sure that the new guy after all of you have left can figure out what is going on in this highly complex environment. It is not up to new people to be super-learners with mind-reading skills; it is up to implementors to make certain new people can figure out what is going on without wasting 5,000 hours pawing through scripts.
It does not take much time to document dependencies. It doesn’t take much more to document relationships. Future you will be grateful when they walk in and need to come up to speed in a short amount of time. Because it doesn’t matter how automated it is when the automation breaks—it matters how quickly staff on hand can fix it and get things going smoothly again.
You’re keeping the world running. Take a second and make sure the next person can, too. And keep rocking it.