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DevOpsDays London - November 2013

Last week saw the second London DevOpsDays conference for 2013. BMC sponsored video of the plenary sessions, all of which are now on Vimeo. I think the videos look better than the sessions did in person (the lighting in the venue wasn’t great). Read on for my thoughts…

Three Recommended Videos

Mark Burgess introduced his talk, “What Science Tells Us About Information Infrastructure”, as attempting to condense the essence of his new book into a brief lecture. The start is a little rough owing to technical hiccoughs, but it’s worth sticking with it. While practical development is often more art than science, operations still struggles to grow beyond finger-painting. On the one hand, it’s great that mugs like me can produce useful operationally-focussed work without learning the lessons of the development profession; on the other, it’s depressing that this is par for the course.

Mark stands out from the crowd by bringing a reasoned, academic approach to his work in operations over the last two decades. “In Search of Certainty” is cheap enough that you should probably just buy it, but watch the video if you’d like a taster.

Ben Hughes gave us “That’s Mr. The Plague to you! Security and this Devops Thing”. A fun talk, peppered with geek cultural references, this session took a look at the current reality of advanced security threats, and showed how Etsy’s security folks work to manage risk. If you believe security means saying “no” to everything, watch this to hear about a cooperative, pragmatic approach.

Jeffrey Fredrick described the title for his talk as “possibly the worst he’d ever come up with”. “Crossing the Uncanny Valley of Culture Through Mutual Learning” is a bit of a mouthful, but this was my favourite session of the conference. As the title suggests, it isn’t a technical talk – instead, it introduces a variety of cultural and psychological ideas that have yet to really make it into the DevOps echo chamber. If you’ve appreciated John Allspaw’s writing about human error investigation, this one’s for you.

However, the breadth of ideas (and limited time) precluded depth in some areas. In particular, the section on Chris Argyris’ work deserves (at least) a session of its own. I hope to see more of that at a future DevOpsDays. Until then, I’d recommend reading Benjamin Mitchell’s post about “The Ladder of Inference”, and William Noonan’s book, “Discussing the Undiscussable”.

Not So Awesome

There was an Ignite session likening Game of Thrones to IT stereotypes, or something. I haven’t read or watched GoT so this was never going to grab me, but I was disappointed that one of the final slides was a picture of an comely woman from the show that the speaker openly described as “gratuitous”. While this was on screen, he explained that he had delivered the deck without that picture at Velocity NYC, and the feedback was that it needed a picture of her.

Honestly, what the fuck?

How much attention does this kind of shit need to get before people cut it out? Even if you personally can’t see anything wrong with it, haven’t the reactions to similarly gratuitous conference presentations over the last couple of years done enough to make you realise that maybe you should reassess your opinions?

Shame on whoever suggested the addition of a gratuitous slide, and shame on the speaker for listening to them. And shame on me for failing to call it out at the time.

Open Spaces

Both afternoons at DevOpsDays are open spaces, where the attendees propose topics of discussion, gather together, follow things where they lead. I have to confess that I can’t review this part of the conference, as I eschewed it in favour of off-site sessions (cough) at the Euston Tap.

I can report that the Euston Tap offered a broad selection of delicious beers, and provided a suitable forum for extended conversations with friends both old and new. I had a great time, but feel more than a little guilty for wasting the opportunity afforded by the conference.

If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any
situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your
two feet, go someplace else.

I did go to the open spaces at DevOpsDays in March, and was left a little underwhelmed. This isn’t a knock against open spaces in general; Scale Camp embraced the format, and blew my mind. I’m not entirely sure why the DevOpsDays didn’t work for me in March (though I have a few ideas), but the Law of Two Feet didn’t really help me. I might argue that I simply applied it more thoroughly this time around, but that’s a bit of a cop-out.

Having spoken to some other attendees, I suspect I would have been disappointed again this time around – but I can’t know that, and I regret not going to find out. In the worst case, I might have developed a better understanding of what wasn’t working for me, in service of more constructive suggestions.

On the flip side, other folks I spoke to clearly got value out of the open space sessions, and I hope that most people fell into that camp.

Final Thoughts

Next time, I will aim to be more involved with the conference. If my opinions represent a wider group, then constructive contribution serves a greater good. If I’m alone in my opinions, perhaps greater engagement will lead me to some kind of enlightenment.

In any case, DevOpsDays remains worthy of a recommendation. “DevOps” still means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and few conferences bring so many of them together and give them the opportunity to work it out.