Bratty Redhead

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Devops Consulting: Why I Don't

I had an interesting exchange with Adam Jacob yesterday on Twitter around devops consulting. It’s a topic I’ve discussed often with friends as we work out how to spread the devops message in our consulting adventures. After the Twitter chat, I’m motivated to say a few words about devops consulting, not because there was an argument, but because it’s something I’ve thought about often since I started independent consulting and I think it’s important.

The twitterings began with me trolling Adam on a topic about which I learned my first, best lessons from him. Two years ago, my ideas around devops were still mostly unformed when I saw him give his “What is Devops” and “The No Assholes Rule” vignettes at Velocity. These two 5 minute segments clarified several nebulous thoughts I’d been having and form the base for how I approach devops today.

My trolling quickly transformed into an exchange as to whether devops consulting is a valid thing. Here’s my take:

Devops is The New Black

As far as toolmakers, tool-consumers and recruiters are all concerned, devops is the new black. I get frustrated with the “slap a devops on it and they will come” attitude we see prevailing. It makes me want to never use the word “devops” to describe anything ever because of things like this:

  • If it’s a tool for scaling or automation or monitoring or cloud, it’s now a “devops tool”.

  • If you have a job for some poor schlub to do production support for the dev team, you call it “looking for a devops engineer with build experience.”

  • A tooling company has a giant virtual sticker on the website: “Designed by devops.”

  • If you want to get some other poor schlub to join your overworked ops team you call it a “devops engineering” position but it’s really just another day in the life of duct-taping together prod.

I already hear colleagues succumbing to the terminology “devops Tool” because it’s a phrase understood by (or at least familiar to) upper management and business users. I can even see the day when I give in and start calling things devops tools. This makes me sad.

Emo Devops

Call me cynical, but this sort of devaluation discourages me and has turned me into something of a hipster goth. You know, the girl in all black with the black nail polish listening to Bauhaus and denying she’s goth because she transcends labels in her non-originality. I can make fun of this girl because I was her in high school.

But as I see tool companies and recruiters slapping devops across everything and large companies begging for the devops panacea, I become less and less inclined to talk about devops and the hipster goth in me is damned if she’s going to cash in on all the quick bucks of devops consulting.

Devops Consulting - Why I Don’t

Last year I had a company try to hire me as a devops consultant, but the very idea made me shudder. It felt utterly pretentious even though they had the best of intentions and were knowledgeable about devops. My business card says Devops Enthusiast. That’s it. I love it and I try to live it every day I walk into an office, whether it’s my home office, a client office or any other place with people in it.

But my business card will never say Devops Consultant. Why not?

Devops Isn’t a Deliverable - When I get done with you, you don’t have a devops. It’s possible that the things we’re working on will bring you closer to a lifestyle and culture that is devops. And that’s super. Working at scale demands extraordinary feats of technical prowess, but it also demands empathy and trust, key components of devops culture. I expect this to be a natural byproduct of my tenure, not the thing I craft.

Consultants Have No Moral Authority - This is the classic water and horse thing. You can hire someone to tell you how to do devops, but unless everyone is signed on and excited, it’s going to be the consultant and the person who hired the consultant drinking from the trough and a bunch of other horses standing around dehydrating. I have no desire to earn a living doing this.

I’m Not Qualified - I learn new things every day and I often remind myself that devops isn’t just me preaching DevOplyness, but also involves me actively empathizing with and trusting people I find difficult or frustrating to work with. This stuff is hard, and I’m not even close to perfect. I’d rather lead by example than preach. I feel like a hypocrite telling other people how to put their house in order when I’m still cleaning my own.

I’d Rather Be Crafting - Let’s face it. If I say Devops Consultant, that’s management consulting. As much as I’ve considered going into management because of the ignorance I see in charge of stuff, I’d rather be making things. This is a selfish thing, right? I love to CLI and hack on Ruby and play with Chef and figure out why stuff is broken, mentor newer engineers and coach devs on how to operationalize their apps. I don’t get to do that if I’m teaching senior management about devops. It’s why I like consulting. There’s always a new problem to solve.

Is Continuous Delivery a valid Euphemism for devops?

This was also touched on yesterday. Jeff Sussna wrote a well-articulated article for why we should just call it Continuous Delivery instead of devops. I think Adam and I were not actually disagreeing about anything in our chat today, unless he was postulating that CD is as nebulous as devops. I don’t think it is. I think Continuous Delivery is a measurable deliverable and a valid consulting field. If done right, it results in not just a great pipeline, but also devops culture because CD should be impossible with crappy culture.

What About devops?

I know some folks who are doing the devops consulting thing. They generally want to do the management consulting thing and they believe wholeheartedly in devops as cultural shift and in CAMS, which I think is the key to making it work, if that’s what you really want to do.
There are also some super fantastic companies with amazing cultures; some calling it devops, others not but still living the lifestyle. I’m not panning everything calling itself devops. However, the more I see vendors and recruiters latch onto the word and commoditize it without sincerity, the less I want to actually associate with the word myself and the more grains of salt I require when I get yet another email from someone telling me about their great devops job for which I’d be a perfect fit.