DevOps hype? Sometimes a pizza really is just a pizza

Differentiating between commercial partners, coevolution and clutter

Opinion Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Four friends are sitting on a sofa, and one says to the others, “I’m hungry, I want to learn how to make pizza.”

The first friend responds: “90 per cent of my fiends who ate pizza in 2016 were 80 per cent less hungry.”

The second: “I can make you pizza, 30 per cent quicker and 10 per cent tastier than my closest rival.”

The third replies: “You don’t need pizza, pizza is merely rebranded circle bread with cheese, we’ve been making that since Snowbird 2001.”

Therein lays the problem with DevOps, Continuous Delivery and various other tech movements. The first speaker recognises a problem (hunger) and has heard of a promising solution (pizza), and yet, due to her companions’ preference for hype, she is unable to elicit useful information on how to progress.

This is a noticeable change for someone who has been involved in the DevOps community from fairly early on. The first posts and talks were from practitioners, sharing their direct learnings, helpfully including their failures and dead ends. These days it takes me longer to find accurate information. If I try to learn what DevOps is, and how it might help my problems, I have to wade through a vast number of non-answers, stock photos, and unfographics to reach anything resembling a nugget of useful information.

Interesting things happen as an idea grows beyond its founding community and attracts increasing commercial attention. Interesting, because while we all enjoy a spot of vendor bashing, there are both positive and negative outcomes. So, for those of us that just like to get things done, what does the hype tax yield?

One significant benefit is contribution to Open Source projects. Consider how OpenStack has marched along with input from the likes of Mirantis and HPE. These symbiotic relationships may be seen throughout the DevOps and Continuous Delivery worlds. Last year non-paid developers fell to the third place by number of commits to the Linux Kernel. Contributors benefit from commercial possibilities and publicity. Notwithstanding the politics of corporate commits, the community benefits from a quicker advancement of the project generated by greater numbers and paid talent.

Let’s not forget the sponsor’s role in conferences and meetups. These gatherings extend reach and diversity of a network, creating serendipitous links and encouraging conversations of more than 140 chars. Next time you pick up your lanyard, pause to think about the effort that goes into these events – organisers are generally paying to bring in strong speakers, the kind it would be hard to attract for a smaller gathering, and of course for the venue, lunch and your weekend T-shirts.

A new idea, or buzzword, creates attention, attention which creates demand, and demand means potential customers. Interests compete for those customers, driving innovation. Competition-fuelled innovation is widely considered a good thing. However I notice two types of innovation. Firstly, there is forward innovation - the development of ideas, products and services which move a community forward, enabling it to evolve. The second type is where energy is ploughed into attracting attention, a kind of polluting innovation, innovative ways to attract more sales which do not benefit the community. This is typified by episodes of shameless freebooting. I’ve even seen fundamentals like Deming’s PDCA cycle rebranded and claimed by a well known consultancy.

I feel concerned for those people and organisations which Burch would describe as ‘unconsciously incompetent’. Those who can’t differentiate the authentic from the inauthentic, and may pay a hefty penalty in time or money as a result.

The difference between these forward and polluting innovators may sometimes be sensed, and it’s a valuable skill to develop. Simon Sinek’s theory is that we feel the ‘Why’ of a company, and it pervades their every action. Apple love design, and happen to make phones, he says. Google love tech and also happen to make phones. We feel these motivations in our daily use of the devices and in our interactions with their businesses. Understanding the why of an organisation will often help appraise its output, determine its biases, and determine whether their material is worth more of your time.

Ultimately, I have two pleas to make. The first is for practitioners to recognise the value, and necessity, of commercial interests in developing our networks and pushing forward our practices. The second plea is for commercial interests to seek out valuable ways to work with communities. People will see through the hype, and be deterred by it. An authentic contribution is far more likely to benefit your goals and the communities’.

John Clapham is a coach, trainer and consultant. He specialises in DevOps and Agile, helping teams build great products and organisations to become more effective, productive and enjoyable to work in. His experience ranges from start-up to enterprise in areas including finance, mobile and .Gov. John will be speaking at Continuous Lifecycle London in May. ®

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