Trip Report: DevOpsDays Boston 2014

Posted by Jon Hendren

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"Did you really just say 'thought leader'?"

Everyone laughed. The open space topic we'd gathered to discuss was "DevOps as an Echo Chamber." The room was full of people who wanted faster, more stable deployments, and none of them were getting help from the DevOps blog-industrial complex.

This group was the most vocal about their frustration, but nearly everyone at DevOpsDays Boston had a version of the same story. The goals of DevOps sound great — who doesn't want to ship faster and get fewer alerts? — and as long as you talk in generalities it's a fun mental exercise. Everything works perfectly when you're starting from a blank slate with no legacy infrastructure and no competing personalities. But in the real world, every business is a snowflake, and the endless, self-congratulatory posts speaking in unsubstantiated abstracts never address those problems. We learned that if you see an emperor with no clothes, odds are everyone else is seeing it too.

Our most important takeaway — in case you’re on the fence about going to a DevOpsDays — is to participate in the Open Spaces. It’s not often in this industry you’ll see someone from a 5-person startup exchange useful advice with the manager of a 2,000-person IT department. Very enlightening, and everyone participating was very friendly and down-to-earth. We met folks at every stage of the DevOps adoption process and they all had interesting takes on the subject.

Reflecting on that, I have to believe the reason “DevOps” means something different to everyone has to do with the fact that every company is different, every team is different, and they all face different problems, for which a solution probably exists somewhere under the “DevOps umbrella.” Where one person may be grappling with the finer points of automation, another is dealing with enabling the culture shift, and so on.

To that end, I think vendors are letting the movement down with muddy, buzzwordy messaging and a lack of unique presence. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Yes, Log Monitoring Software Guy, I’m sure your ‘realtime collaborative solution’ is both ‘innovative’ and ‘awesome’, but those are exactly the same words that the guy at the automation software booth said.” At some point they all blurred together, and if it weren’t for the change in hand-out stickers I probably wouldn’t be able to tell where one booth ended and the next began.

Admittedly, UpGuard has at times been guilty of this in the past. The day I met co-founders Mike and Alan they asked me to have a look at the site, and I couldn’t immediately figure out what UpGuard actually did. (Turns out the idea is actually very simple — it monitors the configurations of all of your devices, lets you visualize diffs, and allows you to export to Docker, Chef, Puppet, etc. — but the message was unclear at best, partially due to the cloudy buzzword culture currently surrounding DevOps-related products.)

Our mission going forward is clearer than ever: Demystify DevOps as a concept, cut through the nonsense for the sake of the community, and bring UpGuard even further into the mainstream. And as soon as we get back to Mountain View we’re installing a swear jar, but for buzzwords. (Swearing is still cool.)

Topics: devops

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