Category Archives: DevOps

Pertaining to agile system administration concepts and techniques.

Crazy Convention Season’s Coming To Austin

Sorry we’ve been quiet around here… Too much real work to do!  Besides real work is our vigorous schedule of conference and user group stuff.  James just spoke on Serverless at RSA, and James and I are working on our second lynda.com DevOps course (Infrastructure Automation) to start drilling down from our DevOps Fundamentals course we released late last year.

And conference season is about to break over Austin like a storm.  It’s insane this year.  So many great events in a two month period.

Our Events

We Agile Admins love the tech community and we spend a lot of our free time organizing stuff to help it out!

Of course we’re working hard on preparing DevOpsDays Austin 2017, the sixth year of one of the biggest DevOpsDays events anywhere!   May 4-5.  This year we’re bringing in a real all star set of speakers as our Monsters of DevOps Reunion Tour – including DevOps OGs like Patrick Debois, John Willis, Damon Edwards, Gene Kim, Andrew Shafer, Adrian Cockroft, Jez Humble, Nicole Fosgren… We’re pulling out all the stops this year! We are also again inviting local user groups to come out and participate – you can get a couple free tickets per group and we’re even going to offer to sponsor a meeting for groups that come out.

User group wise, we’ve retooled CloudAustin a little to be more practitioner focused, come check it out.  Also, Peco’s Austin Monitoring Meetup is putting some really good content in.

The Rest Of The Events

Well, at least the ones on my radar personally.

The giant conference that locks up Austin for two weeks – SXSW is almost upon us.  SXSW Interactive is March 10-16.

The biggest new splash in conferences, Dockercon, is coming to Austin April 17-20!  I’ll totally be there.

Serverlessconf is coming to Austin for the first time on April 26-28.

OSCON is coming back to Austin again this year, May 8-11.

Keep Austin Agile is May 25.

Security conference BSides Austin is on the same dates DevOpsDays is, May 4-5. 😦

In terms of user groups, I’ve started to use Austin Tech Events’ Twitter and email newsletter to keep up with them all.

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But How Can IT Do DevOps?

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That’s how!

While James and I were filming our lynda.com course, DevOps Fundamentals, I was impressed by this LinkedIn tech vending machine in their offices.  Swipe badge, get doodad.  I had just come off two different jobs where it was more like “pester IT for the thing you need, wait a couple weeks, maybe someone will drop by with one.”

It’s not “Chef or Puppet,” but it is self service automation!  Think outside the box.  Or in this case, I guess, inside a box. Kudos to LinkedIn IT for a user friendly solution.

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Loose Lips Sink Ships: Precision in Language

loose_lips_might_sink_shipsWe talk a lot about communication in the DevOps space.  Often the discussion is about how to “talk nice” and be collaborative, but I wanted to take a minute to talk about something even more profound – the precision of your communication in the first place.

I was reminded of this because over the holidays I’ve been doing some nonfiction reading – first, Thomas J. Cutler’s The Battle of Leyte Gulf, and after that, Cornelius Ryan’s classic A Bridge Too Far.

Both books are rife with examples of how imprecise language – often at the highest levels – caused terrible errors and loss of life.

The example that I’ll unpack is the infamous (to WWII wonks, at least) example of Admiral “Bull”  Halsey’s naval charge northward leaving the landing forces at Leyte Gulf completely unprotected. He had previously sent a message indicating his intent to split his forces from three into four task forces. When he later sent a message that he was proceeding north with “three task forces” to pursue Japanese aircraft carriers, Admiral Nimitz and other commanders assumed that the fourth was being left behind to defend the landing forces.  But this was not the case – he had meant “I plan to reform into four groups, you know, sometime in the future, but not now.” By the time the others began to suss out that something was wrong, it was too late – Halsey was too far north to return in time when a large Japanese fleet came upon the much lighter landing forces and forced them into a lengthy fighting retreat. Many American ships sacrificed themselves against an overwhelming opponent to buy time for the doomed task force, until for reasons still not made clear to posterity, Japanese Admiral Kurita broke off the attack for no good reason. (Extensive historical analysis hasn’t clearly determined whether he had bad intel, suffered from battle fatigue, or simply lost his nerve. The after action report of Admiral Sprague of the landing forces simply stated that “The failure of the enemy… to wipe out all vessels of this task unit can be attributed to our successful smoke-screen, our torpedo counterattack, continuous harassment of the enemy by bomb, torpedo, and strafing air attacks, timely maneuvers, and the definite partiality of Almighty God.”)  A happier ending than it could have been, but still, ships sank and men died due to a lack of clear and precise communication.

The same kind of miscommunication happens at work all the time.  A recent real example – I was incident commander on a production incident where a customer-facing server couldn’t be connected to by a support server used to perform interactive customer debugging sessions. It was being coordinated through HipChat. One engineer was looking at the problem from the the customer-facing server.  One of the engineers who administers the support server came on to chat and a discussion ensued. The support engineer indicated that there were hundreds of interactive customer support sessions in progress on that support server. Another senior engineer, an expert on the customer servers, declared, “Well, let’s try rebooting the server.  It’s the only thing to do.” “Really?” says the support engineer?  “Yes, let’s do it,” says the senior engineer.

Of course he meant the customer-facing server, which we knew didn’t have any traffic at the moment, and not the support server.  But the support engineer assumed he meant the support server, and proceeded to begin to reboot it – at this point I intervened and had to say “STOP, HE IS NOT TALKING ABOUT YOUR SERVER.” But it was a reasonable mistake – if you talk about “the server,” then everyone is going to interpret that as “the server most important to me at this time.” Anyway, we stopped the support engineer from disrupting 100 customer support sessions and we restarted the other server instead. (Which didn’t help of course, “reboot the server” is something that went out with Windows NT, it’s a desperate attempt to not perform quality troubleshooting – but that’s material for another post.)

If at any time you find yourself talking to someone else about something there’s clearly more than one of:

  • “the” server – or even “the” support server or “the” bastion server
  • “the” incident/problem
  • “that” ticket
  • “that” email I sent you
  • “the” bug
  • “the” build

You are being a dumbass.  I can’t be blunt enough about this.  You are deliberately courting miscommunication that in the best case adds time and friction and in the worst case causes major errors to be made.  I have seen costly errors happen because of real world exchanges just like this:

“Are you working on the problem?”  “Yes.”  (And by this they mean the other problem the asker doesn’t know about.)

“It’s critical we fix that big bug from this morning!” “Yes, someone’s on it!” (And by this they mean the bug that got ranked as high criticality in the backlog, but the asker means their own special favorite bug.)

“Is the server back up?”  “Yes.” “OK I will now begin a lengthy operation… Hey what the hell?!?”  (Oh, you meant another one of the 5 servers being restarted this hour.)

Everyone in an environment should know, in a sober moment, that there are often multiple incidents going on in a day (and even at the same time), that there are multiple servers and multiple tickets (and apps and environments and builds and developers and customers…).

If you hit me in chat and say “the build broke what could be wrong” – and our build server has somewhere around 100 builds in it, all of which are breaking and being fixed continuously by a large group of developers, at best you are being super inconsiderate and forcing me to do diagnostic work that could be forestalled by you cut-and-pasting an URL or whatnot into your browser, and potentially I’m going to go look at some other build and you get help much later than you wanted it.

And that, if you’ve sent me 10 emails that morning, asking me “if you got that last email I sent you” is pointless verbal masturbation of an excessively time-wasting variety.  Either I’m going to assume and potentially give you the wrong answer, or I have to spend time trying to elicit identifying information from you.

Be Specific

I expect crisp and exact communication out of my engineers, and it’s as simple as hearkening back to grade school and using proper nouns.

You are working on bug BUG-123, “Subject line of the bug.”   You are logged into server i-123456 as ec2-user. You are working on incident I-23, “Customer X’s system is down.” You sent me an email around 10 AM with the subject line “Emergency audit response needed.”

Being in chat vs email vs in person/phone/video call is not an excuse.  This is not a “tone formality” issue, it is a precision and correctness issue.

Having people with different primary languages is not an excuse. Unless you’re from El-Adrel, your language has proper nouns and you know how to use them, and you know which server you’re logged into.  (Well, OK, you might not, but that’s a different problem.) Slang is a language problem, other things are a language problem, but being able to clearly state the proper noun at hand is NOT a language problem.  Proper nouns are the one thing that never need translating!

Detect Fuzzy Language And Make It Specific

But what if you’re not the one initiating the discussion?  What if someone else is already giving you unclear direction or questions?  Well, I’m going to let you in on a little secret – managers are often terrible at this.  Like with Admiral Halsey, sometimes being “hard charging” gets confused with “lack of clarity.” Sometimes it seems like the higher level of management someone’s in, the more they think that the general rules of discourse and process don’t apply to them. You must not be “in tune with the business needs” if you aren’t sure exactly which thing they are vaguely referring to. Frustrating, but you just need to manage up by starting to be precise yourself. Don’t compound the possible error by making an assumption; if there’s not a proper noun in play you need to state one yourself to ensure precision.

“Customer X is angry are you working on that bug?!?”  Obviously “yes” or “no” is probably an answer that, if you’re not on the same page already, will continue to cause confusion. Reply “I am working on bug BUG-123, ‘Subject line of the bug.’  Is that the one  you’re talking about?”

“Did you get that last email I expect a response!” says the call or text.  Well, just saying “yes” because I saw an email from that guy an hour ago I just responded to isn’t right –  it might not be the right one. Get clarification.

Whatever happens, try to verify information you’re being given.  “Reboot the server” – “To confirm, you want me to reboot server i-123436, the customer support server, right?”

Ask fast.  In the example above, Nimitz and the other commanders just let the imprecision slide, thinking “Well…  I’m sure he meant the fourth task group is staying…  I don’t want to look dumb by asking or make him look bad by having to clarify.  It’ll all be fine.”  and by the time they got nervous enough to ask him directly it was too late for him to return in time and people died as a result. Now sometimes issues are timely and the person sending the request/demand doesn’t respond to your request for clarification in a timely manner, even if you respond immediately.  What do you do?  Well, you have to do what you think is best/safest, but try to get things back on the right path ASAP by using all the communication paths at hand to clarify. If the request was unclear, do not let your response be unclear.  “Restart the server!”  “Done.”  You’re both culpable at this point.”I restarted server i-123456 at 10:50 AM.”

Then afterwards, send the person this article so they can understand how important precision is.  Luckily, in IT it is usually less likely to cause deaths than in the military, but poor communication can and has lost many dollars, hours, and jobs.

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DevOps Fundamentals Going Strong!

Our LinkedIn Learning content manager, Jeff Kellum, tells James and I that our DevOps Fundamentals course is “the third most popular IT course in our library right now”!  You can start a free trial period at Lynda by going to http://www.lynda.com/trial/ErnestMueller.  We’ll post more about the experience we had making the course, it was a lot of fun and we learned a lot about going in front of the camera!

 

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The first in a series of LinkedIn Learning blog posts drawn from our lynda.com DevOps Fundamentals course – What DevOps Is (And Why Should You Care)

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A New Way To Learn DevOps!

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James Wickett and Ernest Mueller on the set for DevOps Fundamentals

We’re really excited to announce that James Wickett and I (Ernest Mueller) from The Agile Admin have put together a comprehensive DevOps Fundamentals course for lynda.com – a 3 hour long course covering everything from DevOps’ Agile and Lean roots, to DevOps culture to book recommendations and we even cover future .

As you know we here at The Agile Admin have spent a lot of time trying to help people learn DevOps – for a variety of reasons, many of the original DevOps practitioners were reluctant to even define the term, and were against a lot of the “DevOps” training/certification programs that sprung up because they weren’t really a good reflection of the real scope of the movement. While we understand those factors and agree with some of the specific critiques, we think it’s frankly been criminally difficult to learn DevOps with the available resources to date (best answer: go to a variety of events, crawl some random blogs and twitters, try to piece it together yourself over time, read some kinda-related books…).  The unicorns don’t need any more than that, but all four of the Agile Admins have worked in corporate IT before and have a lot of sympathy for all the folks out there that *don’t* work for Etsy or Netflix and are trying to figure out how this new world can make their work and life better.

In the course, we go into what we consider to be the three primary practice areas of DevOps – continuous delivery, infrastructure automation, and reliability engineering. lynda has a free trial period so feel free and go give it a look to see if it could help you!

To give you an idea of what is included in the course, here’s the course outline. Even in a three hour class there’s no way to comprehensively cover these topics, so we tried to extensively point you out at other resources as we go and have a whole section on great DevOps learning resources.

  • Introduction
  • DevOps Basics
    • What Is DevOps?
    • DevOps Core Values: CAMS
    • DevOps Principles: The Three Ways
    • Your DevOps Playbook
    • 10 Practices For DevOps Success (Part 1)
    • 10 Practices for DevOps Success (Part 2)
    • DevOps Tools: The Cart Or The Horse?
  • DevOps: A Culture Problem
    • The IT Crowd and the Coming Storm
    • Use Your Words
    • Do Unto Others
    • Throwing Things Over Walls
    • Kaizen: Continuous Improvement
  • The Building Blocks of DevOps
    • DevOps Building Block: Agile
    • DevOps Building Block: Lean
    • ITIL, ITSM, and the SDLC
  • Infrastructure Automation
    • Infrastructure As Code
    • Golden Image to Foil Ball
    • Immutable Deployment
    • Your Infrastructure Toolchain
  • Continuous Deployment
    • Small + Fast = Better
    • Continuous Integration Practices
    • The Continuous Delivery Pipeline
    • The Role of QA
    • Your CI Toolchain
  • Reliability Engineering
    • Engineering Doesn’t End With Deployment
    • Design for Operation: Theory
    • Design for Operation: Practice
    • Operate for Design: Metrics and Monitoring
    • Operate for Design: Logging
    • Your SRE Toolchain
  • Additional DevOps Resources
    • Unicorns, Horses, and Donkeys, Oh My
    • The 10 Best DevOps Books You Need To Read
    • Navigating the Series of Tubes
  • The Future of DevOps
    • Cloud to Containers to Serverless
    • The Rugged Frontier of DevOps: Security
  • Conclusion
    • Next Steps: Am I a DevOp Now?

We worked long and hard on the course and we think it represents all the must-know aspects of DevOps and can get you started down the path of implementation with a good foundation.  Check it out and let us know what you think!

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The first scientific survey I’ve seen of the benefits of Lean in software is an ACM-IEEE paper done in the Finnish software industry summarized in this presentation. Enjoy!

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by | November 28, 2016 · 9:31 pm