The DevOps Therapist

A DevOps Cultural Safe Zone

I have had the pleasure of working at some amazing company’s helping them grow their Operations and Development teams. I began my career by starting a BBS (Excalibur) back in the day, growing that and selling it. I then started a partnership with two other guys in the early 90’s to build a larger BBS that became a large internet provider that was later sold. This began my addiction to developing architecture and writing software to provide custom solutions to customers.

I spent ten years in the Air Force, working on the F-117A Stealth Fighter, and it was a great experience for me. I recognized that I wanted to get back out into the civilian world, and rejoin my “tribe” in writing software and designing architecture. Upon my exit from the Military, I was quickly picked up by PanAmSat, a major player in Satellites. Later it was bought by its main competitor, Intelsat. I stayed to manage the migration and consolidation of data centers and technologies. By this time I had finished my MBA, and recognized that real change started with the culture and relationships that existed between Dev and Ops. DevOps wasn’t a thing yet, it was only 2005, but already I knew that we needed to get these two teams working seamlessly if we wanted to really increase quality and velocity.

I moved on to a new company, where I was Director of their Operations team, and that is where I first met Chef. I knew that we needed some changes around Culture and Process, but I wasn’t certain how to support that with tools yet. I began how most of us do in these situations, I started building my own. I realized that we could build it easily enough, but the up-keep was going to kill us. We didn’t have the cycles to maintain the level of quality we would get from the initial deploy.

I started looking at CFEngine and Puppet. I didn’t feel that either fit our specific needs, so I ended up trying out Chef (read the Chef blog post about my DevOps and Chef journey). After some initial learning curve frustration (Chef was still very young at this point) we started seeing great results. I let Chef manage the technical tooling needs, and I focused on the Culture and Process parts. It was a great partnership!

I was out in Seattle Washington on vacation and at a little out of the way bar called “Owl and Thistle” when I ran into someone that worked at Chef (I think it was Lamont). He had the t-shirt on, and I started up a conversation. Turned out they needed someone to lead their Operations. I submitted my resume, and shortly after moved my family from Atlanta GA to Seattle WA. Quite a change! I stayed with Chef for the next 4 years.

I learned an amazing amount from my time there. One of the most important lessons was the power and importance of “Community”. Chef has a the enviable ability to eradicate the barriers between the internal and external community, creating one large shared experience. This changed my view on what a real community could accomplish.

I have since moved on from Chef and now work as the VP of DevOps for Hearst. My role is that of a full time consultant helping over 15 business units with transformational change in Agile and DevOps. I work and collaborate with the businesses, and thus keep myself from becoming another silo.

I’ve had the honor of giving several lectures on Agile and DevOps transformations, and I continue to grow and learn everyday. I’m a veracious reader, and always looking for book recommendations! Happy DevOps-ing!

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