Coming back from the San Diego Delivery of Things conference, I had a few thoughts on the DevOps movement that I'd like to share. Positioned as "boutique" conference with only 140 attendees, this event had all the ingredients for good interactions and conversations, and indeed a lot of learning.
As far as DevOps conferences go, you're pretty much guaranteed to have some Netflix engineering manager invited as a keynote speaker. They are the established trend setters in the industry, along with other popular label such as Spotify and Microsoft, who were also invited to the summit. For the brick and mortar companies who send their CTOs and IT managers to sit in, this is gospel: 4000 updates to prod everyday! Canary feature! Minimal downtime! Clearly these guys must have figured it out. All you need is to "leverage", right?
The small problem for the audience in awe, is to figure out how to achieve this nirvana in their own organization.
That's when reality sets in: what about compliance testing? HIPA? PCI? Security validation? Performance?
The conference attendees were coming from a variety of backgrounds and maturity when it comes to their DevOps practice. For instance, on one end of the spectrum, there was a DevOps lead from Under Armor, a respected fitness apparel brand who was well under way to build fully automated Continuous Integration for the MapMyFitness mobile app.
On the other end, there were representative from the defense industry that were just getting started and were trying to figure out how to adjust the rosy picture they heard to the swarm of cultural and technical barriers they had to deal with internally. They certainly had no intention to release directly to prod the application controlling their rocket launcher. Another example was this healthcare provider who shared they would not be able to roll out their telemedicine application unless it meets the strict HIPA compliance standard.
All these conversations got me to reflect on the value the Sandbox concept could bring to these companies. Not everyone had the luxury of doing a greenfield deployment, or having 1000s of top notch developers at your disposal. In such case, a well controlled pre-production environment offered as self service to the CI/CD pipeline tools seems to bring in the DevOps rewards of release acceleration and increased quality in a less disruptive and risky way.
It became very apparent from hearing some of the attendees, that the level of automation that you can achieve with a legacy SAP/ERP application is going to be quite different than the micro-service, cloud based, mobile app designed from scratch. So eventually it also means setting the right expectation from the very start, knowing that application modernization is a long process. Case in point, the IT lead of a large banking companies shared the strong likelihood that some of his applications will still be around in the next 10 years.
To sum up, there is no question listening to the DevOps trendsetters stories is inspiring, but the key learning from this conference was how to ground this powerful message into the reality of established corporations, navigating around the maze of culture, process and people changes.
Finally on a lighter note, we had the pleasure to listen on Thursday evening to Nolan Bushnell, a colorful character from the early days of computers, founder of Atari, the Pac-Man game and buddy of Steve Jobs, who had many fun stories to share (including the time when he declined the offer from Jobs and Wozniak to own 1/3 of Apple). Now at the respectable age of 73, Bushnell is just starting a new venture in VR gaming, still full of energy, reminding everyone to keep learning new skills and experimenting.