The DevOps Therapist

A DevOps Cultural Safe Zone

   

   Ok so I’m going to try an experiment. I need to hire another member for my team, and I want to do it totally different this time. You are interviewing me, as much as I am interviewing you. To that end, I’m going to give you, the applicant, as much information as I can before you even apply. Yes there is a job description for this role, it can be found here, but that is just a fact filled document. It doesn’t really tell you about what it is like to be a part of the team. So instead, I’m going to provide that information here, as well as a few contacts that you can reach out to who have worked with me in the past.

   First off, you will be getting your paycheck from the company, but you will be working with the team. That means that we will build the team culture together. I don’t use pronouns like “me” and “my” when talking about the team. We decide together, we experiment and implement together and win or fail together. This doesn’t mean that we make every design or decision by committee, but we do strive to make sure everyone has a voice and and opportunity.

   So what do we do exactly? Well it’s an interesting and unique role to be sure. Hearst Business Media has 11 business units that are approximately 200-250 people each. They run autonomously, with their own leadership, products/services and goals. My team works for HBM Corporate, meaning that we do not belong to any single BU, but are a part of the overall HBM family. We provide support to the BU’s in a variety of ways. This means that the job is not just dev, not just ops and not just mentorship, it’s all three.

   The projects that come to my team come directly from the BU’s themselves. We build a rough and high-level roadmap with the BU’s each year and remain flexible in how we deliver and support those needs. It’s similar to an internal consultancy, but we aren’t paid on commission. Our interactions with the BU’s are conducted in the following two formats:

  • Dedicated engagements with the BU that can last up to two weeks (1 sprint). This engagement is highly target based, and is normally a portion of a larger project. This can be something like deploying Jenkins server in an automated and recoverable fashion, while teaching both the importance and steps in automating the deployment of code.
  • The second format is developing products/services that the BU’s can consume. These products are open source and are designed to provide benefit to all BU’s and potentially organizations outside of HBM. Some examples are the SLAPI bot framework for Slack, which allows anyone to create plugins in the language of their choice. We also centrally host Chef for configuration automation at all of the BU’s. We are looking to build and manage more product/tools/services for the businesses based on their feedback and needs.

Q&A

  • Q: Why did you put this blog up? What on earth were you hoping to accomplish?
  • A: That’s a great question. Let me break the answer down a bit
    • 1. I love to try new things. I love to experiment with process, tools and approaches. I don’t ever want to stop learning and trying new experiences.
    • 2. I want you to feel like you are interviewing me. You are, after all. You have the right to say no to me as much as I to you.
    • 3. When you work with me, you and I work as a team. This means that I want to hear your feedback. I want you to tell me when you don’t like something, don’t agree with something and/or have a better idea/approach/dance move. I don’t want you to feel intimidated or that you must be a silent objector. There will be times when you we are going to take a direction that you don’t like or agree with. My only request is that you don’t have to agree, but you must support the decision with the rest of the team. This give and take will allow us to all grow together, and if it blows up, you can always just say it was Pauly’s fault.
  • Q:Will I code?
  • A: Yes, you will. While it will not be the primary job, there is definitely dev work involved. We work mostly in Ruby and Node, although we are a small and flexible team willing to use the right tool for the right job, without falling into the “shiny object syndrome”.
  • Q: Will I need to know a lot Ops role type stuff?
  • A: We support both Dev and Ops, so a strong understanding of how infrastructure and support/monitoring of that infrastructure works is needed. This doesn’t mean you need to know everything about everything, but you MUST have an open mind and a willingness to learn.
  • Q: What would you say your leadership style is?
  • A: I believe in guidance rather than guiding. I hire, intelligent and driven individuals that form great teams. I trust my team to do the right thing and I work with the team daily. For the most part, I just help set the strategy, enable the team and then stay out of the way. I do enjoy coding still, and I work with the BU’s directly on a daily basis, but I prefer to set a target and let the creativity of the engineer shine through. If you are someone that likes to have tasks assigned on daily basis, you will most likely not enjoy my style.
  • Q: I see you have “DevOps” in your title. I thought you didn’t like DevOps as a title? What’s up with that? Are you a hypocrite?
  • A: You are quite right and astute at pointing that out. To be completely clear, I do not like DevOps as a specific engineering role, team or title. Especially if you are simply rebranding an Ops Engineer as DevOps but not actually embracing the ideals and tenets of DevOps. To take this further, if you are creating a team thats sole purpose is to exist between Dev and Ops or somehow operates as the “devops approval committee”, I believe you will miss the real value of DevOps. My role is not any of these. I am operating as a support for businesses that are both wanting to start a DevOps type transformation as well as those businesses that are somewhere along the path.
  • Q: I’ve watched some of your talks and it seems like you think you’re funny or something. I don’t want to work with someone that doesn’t take any of this seriously.
  • A: I take what we do seriously, but I don’t take life too seriously. I like to joke, laugh and have fun. This is never more true that in the toughest and most stressful situations. If you are someone that doesn’t like to have fun at work, I could see me being a little tiresome. I recommend you reach out to some of my references (see below) and ask some very honest and thought provoking questions.
  • Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • A: Ideally the Czar of some smallish coastal nation, where the water is blue and clear and the food and drink is plentiful. If that doesn’t pan out, I hope to still be leading strong and passionate engineers through the dragon filled world of software development.
  • Q: Ok last question, why would I want to hire you as my boss?
  • A: I only have one super power, and that is creating great teams. All of the success I have had since starting in management has been from the amazing and talented people that worked with me. They deserved all the credit then and they still do. As your “manager” I will make sure you have what you need to be successful, I will put your needs ahead of mine (but not the teams) and I will always give you all the credit. I love my job and I hope that it shows in those that I have the honor of leading. If all of that sounds too gushy, then look at it this way. I love to code and do Ops type stuff and more than that I love having fun with life. Want to do some cool and interesting things while having a great time doing it? I’m your pick then. Want to sit in a dull cubicle where you have to punch in and out on your phone when you need to go to the little engineers room, then you probably should keep looking.

   If you have more questions that you think would be beneficial to anyone looking to apply, please post it in the blog comments and I will add it to the document.

Pauly’s Resume

  • VP DevOps, Hearst Business Media 2014-Present
  • VP Operations, Chef (formerly Opscdoe) 2011-2014
  • Director Operations, Silverpop 2007-2011
  • Senior Engineer, Intelsat 2000-2007
  • Misc 1200BC-2000AD
    • Ran several of my own small businesses. All were a blast, especially my very first BBS back in the day. I used Excalibur just so I could play LORD with my friends (if you know what LORD stands for you are as old as me, and we likely went to the same prehistoric school together). Ask me about the time I used Dry Ice to keep the servers cool in our closet.
  • REFERENCES: Upon Request. Seriously, ask folks I’ve worked with before what they loved and hated about me.