Last month at GWO in Atlanta I met Nathen Harvey with Chef. I liked his DevOps presentation, “DevOp With Me!”, especially how he used “Walk This Way” by Run DMC and Aerosmith as an example for how collaboration in a DevOps environment often ends up playing out. They literally break down walls in the music video.
While not all of Nathen’s presentations are safe for work ( many include some explicit language. It’s safe to assume so unless clearly labeled otherwise) they are all entertaining and informative. I’d encourage you to check his stuff out, especially if you’d like to know more about how and why Chef and DevOps mix well.
I asked Nathen if he minded me linking his deck and giving him a shout out in a blog post. I even promised to say nice things about him. The answer he gave me only reconfirmed he does really get it:
Of course! (even if it’s not all nice things, as long as they’re honest)
If I’m being completely honest I have to admit this changed the topic of this blog post. I liked the idea of setting devOps to music so much I was going to post a DevOps playlist. I may still write or talk about that another time. It ended up being pretty easy to think of other songs that would fit for one reason or another. It actually even makes for a decent drinking game in the right crowd.
Instead I’m going to talk about the one thing I know Nathen and I don’t see eye to eye on. Nathen’s an advocate for doing away with using the word “DevOps” to describe a role or a team. I, being a DevOps Engineer, strongly disagree with this perspective. When I asked Nathen about this he responded with a single question:
Can you describe what you do without using the word DevOps?
It’s true there are a lot of folks with the word DevOps in their title that are adequately described as a systems administrator or a build automation engineer. Coming up with job titles that don’t contain the word DevOps is also a decent drinking game in the right company. A good serious answer for me would be ombudsman or public advocate. I think KTLO (keep the lights on) custodian would also accurately describe how I’m earning a large part of my keep these days. Still, the job I interviewed for was DevOps Engineer, and for now I’m going to keep using those words to describe what I do. I like Nathen’s Socratic response to why we shouldn’t be describing people and teams with the word DevOps, but what I am doing isn’t accurately described by other job titles where I work. If another title is a better fit for the work you do where you’re at, then I would encourage you to take Nathen’s advice.
The more common reason I’m given as to why I should have changed my job title on day one is really pretty disappointing. I’ve read more than once that I should be concerned that my head will be the first one on a pike should the devOps movement fail. This really isn’t a concern I have.
First of all, DevOps does work. I’m not sure who would dispute that the CAMS model for DevOps is made of things any organization should be trying to improve Kaizen style. I’d even say that improving Culture, Automation, Measurement, and Sharing together results in a sum that is greater than any of its parts.
If you’re concerned about a lack of progress in echo chamber, go offer yourself up in a different forum. And bring cookies.
Some of you right now are in an environment where the bigger details that are making life difficult for everyone are actively being ignored. You may have been told not to worry about them or that the real solution is for everyone to work weekends. This is garbage and you know it. Please do not change your title to something safe and hide under your desk while in the office. Be the change you want to see in the world. There are lots of opportunities to help organizations make this transition. Find one that’s a good fit for you and make the jump.
My advice for businesses is to be very careful when you describe a position as a DevOps role. We know this to be a very specific thing, but if you’re simply shoving the word DevOps into a job title in an attempt to attract talent there’s a good chance you’re in for a rude awakening. The person applying for that position knows there’s always room for improvement. They know that any transition is going to cause some friction but are willing to work through it. They’re also not scared to rock the boat. So, if your organization is not ready and willing to collaborate as one big team it won’t take too long for your devOps staff to go somewhere else on their own. Threatening their job security in an effort to maintain the status quo will only accelerate the process. You may very well end up with a lower head count at the company picnic as warned, but if it’s because all of your talent moved on to greener pastures you’ve effectively turned a bad situation into a terrible one.
If you’re a DevOp-er that has a work environment in that gray area between heaven and a coal mine I’d encourage you to push the envelope. Share your honest opinion with someone you know doesn’t agree with you. Set up a meeting to discuss conflicting perspectives diplomatically. Drop an F bomb in a conference room if it will wake the room up and get some blood pumping (use sparingly and with caution). Don’t expect people not to get upset. Instead, try really heard to shut up, listen to everything they’re trying to say and do your best to give them what they need. If DevOps is anywhere near your title then you have some responsibility in getting these conversations started. If your current employer didn’t know this when they used DevOps as an adjective then shame on them.