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DevOps Days Belgium: Day Two

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DevOps Days is being held in Ghent, Belgium, October 27 and 28, celebrating 5 years since the initial one in 2009. After the first day, this second day included talks by David Zwieback, VP of engineering at Next Big Sound, Dave Mangot, architect at SalesForce, and Brian Troutwine, senior software engineer at AdRoll, as well as lightning talks and open spaces.

Running a fully self-organizing/self-managing team (or company)

David Zwieback covered the practices followed at Next Big Sound to run and manage teams. Managers there focus on employees strengths, and things they love doing, as well as long term career plan, whether it is in the company or somewhere else, in order to increase their engagement with the company. Companies with higher employer engagement have in common a higher employee retention, higher customer retention and satisfaction, and higher profits. Studies show that only 30% of employees are engaged with their companies, so there is plenty of room for improvement.

The company tries to increase engagement with some practices like self selection, giving employees the ability to choose what to work on. Managers help clarify employee insecurity, and clarify the constraints:

Managers in the traditional sense, command and control, make absolutely no sense. When constraints are not clear it becomes chaos.

At Next Big Sound, every quarter a brainstorm session is held to decide what to do in the next quarter. Using monopoly money the projects get prioritized, and people self select what they work on. They can lobby or suggest things, but it is up to each individual to decide what to work on. The project lead is a role that can also be self selected, a role about coordination, making sure the scope is clear, manage communication and dependencies across teams. Feedback and communication is very important for self selection:

When there is nobody telling you what to do, the need of feedback is acute.

About salaries, the company does not do performance reviews. People is benchmarked every year using Payscale, and salaries are adjusted, even over inflation or cost of living if needed.

When people are highly engaged they will do some of their best work of their lives. So what else do you need to know? And it is very clear when a person is not happy.

David also warns that it is their personal experience, and may or may not work at a higher scale or in other places. Culture can not be copied, but companies should be designed in a way that they put people first.

The cognitive neuroscience of empathy: you are a DevOps natural

Dave Mangot focused his talk on neuroscience, citing studies and applying them to DevOps practices.

The human brain mirror neurons are responsible for empathy, one of the characteristics of DevOps teams. Mirroring, emotion contagion and spread of emotions are all part of the brain activities to share experiences. But humans also have biases, and one bias that should be minimized, the fundamental attribution error, or correspondence bias, affects how groups interact with each other. Defining groups, or silos, makes empathy work within the groups and treat other groups as external, placing an undue emphasis on internal characteristics to explain the other group behavior. The bias is related to mentalizing, the ability to recognize that other people have a mind, an ability exhibited by children since the age of four, as experimented in the Sally–Anne test.

The way of minimizing this bias is letting the groups know that they are expected to work together and succeed, also making sure that they have access to help as needed. Other studies show that people are a lot more altruistic and helpful than they think themselves, a value consistently underestimated.

A summary of the third talk by Brian Troutwine, "Automation with humans in mind: making complex systems predictable, reliable and humane", is also available at InfoQ, as well a summary of the first day talks.

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