DevOps Against Inhumanity: Uniting To Put Technology First

Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of giving my talk “DevOps Against Inhumanity” at the first-ever DevOpsDays Toronto. Toronto’s actually my hometown, so it was fun to return and see what’s changed, both in technology and with the city.

What is “DevOps Against Inhumanity?” Well, first, there’s the popular party game Cards Against Humanity, in which the objective is to complete sentences in the most hilariously offensive way possible, Mad Libs-style. And several months ago, DevOpsDays Minneapolis co-organizer Bridget Kromhout adapted it to the technology field by creating DevOps Against Humanity, in which she crowd-sourced material & then actually had the cards printed up.

And my talk? These days, I’m slightly exasperated at various attempts to “define DevOps” (or worse still, have the term co-opted by software vendors that have, up until this point, sold software that deliberately divides people — the antithesis of DevOps). To me, DevOps is not primarily about CAMS, fast feedback, empathy, developers talking to operations, or any of those implementation details. DevOps is fundamentally about standing together as technology professionals to make the field less inhumane.

To be blunt: technology isn’t actually a very nice field in which to work. Too often, developers and operations folks both are treated as little more than line cooks and not chefs (see what I did there?) Examples: Close this volume of tickets this month. Make business projects successful even though IT has no input into the requirements (what I call 100% accountability with 0% responsibility). Be on call 24×7. Worse, be a one-person ops team who’s repeatedly woken up in the middle of the night. The list of indignities goes on, and yet, technology professionals are still seen as indistinguishable from Level 1 Printer Support. You can see this perception through cartoons, t-shirts, and other cultural artifacts of our time — like Bridget’s card game.

DevOps, then, is a banner behind which technology practitioners can unite to make the field more humane. (Treat your servers like cattle, but be an artisan.) But it’s far more than that. DevOps is an opportunity for us to influence and change the way our companies do business, the products they develop, even the way they treat their employees. But we can’t make large-scale, enterprise or industry-wide change if we continue fighting amongst ourselves.

I’m very bullish on the likelihood of change, because (to paraphrase Clay Shirky) within our lifetimes, software is going to define how we organize & accomplish things together. And future patterns of consumption will be driven primarily through software. Businesses that don’t grasp & react to this will perish. Look at print media, or even publishing, for a leading indicator of a field that realized this too late and is paying the price. Therefore, technology professionals are actually well-positioned to make institutional change, presuming we can get along with each other. That’s really why DevOps is not really optional; it’s a prerequisite for survival. Play our cards right, and we’ll see more and more CIOs and CTOs ascending to the CEO chair and leading organizations across all industries into becoming software organizations.

For an expanded version of these points, and for some advice on how you can start making institutional change at your own company, watch the recording of my talk.

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Julian Dunn

Julian is a former Chef employee