What a n00b!

DevOpsDays Minneapolis 2015

I had the pleasure of attending DevOpsDays Minneapolis again this year. This is my third time at a DevOpsDays, the 2nd such event here in Minneapolis. Below are some of my highlights and takeaways from the conference this year.

Designated Ops

During Katherine Daniels' talk on DevOps at Etsy, she described what they call there "Designated Ops", which is a person from the Ops team designated (but not dedicated!) to each smaller group within their product engineering team. Each team's designated Ops person would attend standups most days for that team and develop a relationship over time with that team and be their first point of contact into the Ops team. This helps them develop familiarity, trust, and get an operational view of things in the development phase, rather than being reactive when some new feature shipped without any input.

"Developer of the week"

Relatedly, later a similar idea came out during an open space session (unfortunately, I don't know the person or company involved here so I can't give proper credit) where the development team had a rotation of what they called the "developer of the week". During a developer's "week", they would physically be sitting amongst the customer support team, helping answer questions about their company's product, seeing pain points for customers and customer support folks, as well as sharing tips and tricks that maybe they wouldn't have realized would be useful.

Remote Work

During another open space, we talked quite a bit about remote work and how to improve bonds between team members even though we can't often be physically in the same space often (for some people, ever). Some action items for me:

  • buy a real camera! - Using the little web cam that's built into the laptop is not flattering to anyone, you're almost always looking at someone at weird angles. Video chat really is the best way we have today to interact with a remote team today. Invest in making the experience as good as it can (reasonably) be.
  • everyone uses their camera - There can be exceptions to this rule occasionally, but if you're having a meeting everyone should be engaged and connecting which can be made far better by looking at each other and watching responses. If the team is not engaged, what's the point of the meeting?
  • establish protocol for communicating and asking/answering questions - This is especially important when working with teams which are cross-cutural. When asking questions via text or video chat, it can be impossible or difficult to read someone's body language. Examples in the discussion:
    • When answering a question, be sure to ask back "did that answer your question?" if no positive response is given.
    • If someone is intimidated by asking a group and asks via private message, ask the question to the group on their behalf (not revealing who asked it).


Another open space that I got a lot of value from was one proposed to talk on how to "finish" work in an either IT or development that can never really be "done". This is a reality that's faced in a lot of fields. If you're not careful this list of "I'd like to get back to that" can start to become depressing. This topic deserves a post on its own, but I'll add the takeaways that I thought were helpful for my situation.

You don't really need to accomplish more to feel accomplishment. Morale is really the most important thing. While getting tasks completed is important, accomplishing more tasks more quickly will happen naturally as a team accrues wins and gains momentum. In a lot of cases "done" really means finishing with the current iteration. While you should start with an end goal in mind, don't create grandiose tickets with all of the things you'd like to do on a project that stay open indefinitely.

Related to the previous point, retrospectives and demos are really important. Often in Ops work demos are difficult. Patching and maintenance work don't demo well, so this one may be used sparingly for some teams. Retrospecitves are something that I can't say I've ever participated in, will certainly be trying this one.


Recommended followup reading and watching:

  • The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work - a book on remote work at Wordpress, recommended to me by someone in the remote work open space
  • The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger - a book on literal shipping containers, about friction in the shipping industry and how it was changed, recommended by Mary Poppendeick during her talk "The New Software Development Game"
  • Focus: Use Different Ways of Seeing the World for Success and Influence - another recommendation by Mary, on motivation and how we view the world
  • This is Lean: Resolving the Efficiency Paradox - I believe also recommended during Mary's talk, don't remember the context for this one now
  • "How DevOps Can Fix Federal Government IT" by Mark Schwartz at DevOps Enterprise Summit 2014 - recommended by Joshua Zimmerman during his talk on DevOps and public sector


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