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DevOps Days Belgium: Day One


DevOps Days is being held in Ghent, Belgium, October 27 and 28, celebrating 5 years since the initial one, also in Ghent, in 2009. These conferences have popularized the term DevOps, whose use has been growing since, with over 450 people attending, up from the 60 in the original one 5 years ago, and held in 18 cities during 2014.

The conference is composed of talks, lightning talks and open spaces. Speakers on the first day included Jeff Sussna, founder and principal at Ingineering.IT, Nigel Kersten, Puppet Labs CIO, and Lindsay Holmwood, engineering manager at Bulletproof Networks.

The self-steering organization: from cybernetics to DevOps and beyond

Jeff Sussna compared the DevOps movement with the cybernetics theories from early 1940s, an interdisciplinary study connecting the fields of control systems, mechanical engineering, evolutionary biology and neuroscience. The term cybernetics stems from the greek for steersman, governor or pilot. DevOps has in common with cybernetics that it is not a plan set ahead but a continuous steering and adaptation, so teams adopting DevOps should optimize for change over stability.

In the business world, the post-industrial economy demands self-steering, as in adapt or die. The input of the customer must be incorporated into the product and their feedback taken into account, in the same way as in body perception, where information is not only flowing from the brain to the body, but also fed back to the brain.

Applying DevOps to the enterprise is a journey, with continuous adjustments, not just applying a book or a set of practices and be done with it. It involves accepting feedback, encouraging empathy, listen and be listened. The purpose of IT is to try to help create empathic self steering in the organization in continuous efforts.

DevOps is not about provisioning velocity, create servers faster,..., The point of DevOps, Agile, Lean, is to help organizations maximize their ability to listen and adapt.

Cognitive biases in tech: awareness of our own bugs in decision making

Nigel Kersten centered his talk on how the brain processes information, how that affects our decision making and what can we do to minimize its impact. People commit systematic errors in how information is processed and interpreted, with an apparently irrational result. Applied to development and operations practices, it affects the ability of teams to improve.

For example, postmortems analysis gets affected by:

  • Hindsight bias: Seeing events as predictable after the fact.
  • Outcome bias: The assessment of actions is heavily affected by the consequence of those actions.
  • Availability heuristic: Considering easily recalled information to be more important.
  • Fundamental attribution error: Placing too much emphasis on people's internal characteristics rather than external facts.

Fortunately, there are some ways to mitigate those biases:

  • Hindsight bias: Record predictions prior to results, then review after the results.
  • Outcome bias: Focus on and reward quality of judgements, not outcomes.
  • Availability heuristic: Examine the data that will be used to make a decision before making it.

The brain is also unable to grasp probabilities. For example thinking that flipping a doing 5 times and getting 5 heads or 5 tails is an extremely rare event although a 1 in 32 probability is not that rare. Something that can be mitigated by:

  • Working with frequencies rather than probabilities.
  • Thinking diagrammatically, as the brain can manage diagrams better that data.
  • Internalizing that subsets of random data will contain predictable looking sequences.

Some other advice to help with rational decisions include making critical decisions early in the day, when the brain system related to rational thinking is rested, and minimizing unimportant decisions early in the day, so it does not get exhausted.

Other talks include Lindsay Holmwood's 5 years of metrics and monitoring, a retrospective about metrics and monitoring, and Bridget Kromhout, operations engineer at DramaFever, who focused on DevOps culture:

DevOps is culture, anyone who says differently is selling something. Tools are necessary but not sufficient. Talking about DevOps is not DevOps.

The DevOps community keeps growing conference after conference, with DevOps Days being held all around the world, including places as diverse as Silicon Valley, Brisbane or Nairobi. The conference talks are streamed live, and comments can be followed in Twitter using the #devopsdays tag.

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