What’s Next for DevOpsDays? Patrick DeBois Reflects

If every movement needs a founding father, then Patrick DeBois is about as close as close as the DevOps movement has.

The notion of bridging the yawning gap between development and operations had been swirling for years, but his passion for the subject rallied the troops and helped the term gain currency. He organized the very first DevOpsDays in Ghent, Belgium, way back in 2009, and he could sense something big was brewing. Here’s what he had to say about it two weeks later:

“I'll be honest, for the past few years, when I went to some of the Agile conferences, it felt like preaching in the desert. I was kinda giving up, maybe the idea was too crazy: developers and ops working together. But now, oh boy, the fire is really spreading.”

Sure enough, DeBois didn’t light the fire, but he surely added the fuel. Recently, I caught up with him for some reflections on the movement and its successes and where it is headed next.

SK: What made you start this show?

PD: I think it [DevOps] was already working with agile teams in development, and I thought we should have something like this for systems administration. We started talking about Agile systems administration. … Then I saw John Allspaw [formerly at Flickr, now SVP/Technical Ops at Etsy] talking about Dev and Ops working together and 10 deploys per day at Velocity, and I tweeted something similar to ‘We need one of these in Europe.’ One of the replies was ‘OK, run one.’ So that is what I did. The name Agile Systems Administration Conference was a bit too long, so I called it DevOpsDays, and that is how it started.

SK: How big was the first show?

PD: 60 in Belgium. We spread the word only on Twitter. People came from across the globe to Ghent. The demand amazed me.

SK: How have you seen the event evolve?

PD: The earlier events were smaller and cozy. The earlier ones seemed more like a hippie movement.  But slowly I understood how things started to fit together like auto configuration management, then feedback and monitoring.  Not only did this happen at the tool level, but also the people and how they interact together, which was my bigger interest anyhow. You use these tools, but how does it get people to start collaborating? Then in the last years it evolved to include the security people and teams. Further evolution migrated from smaller start-ups or large web scales and then start including enterprises. It is spreading to include more parts of the organization that are resistant to change, and we are getting there.  Currently, there is focus on how to hire, train and get someone up to speed and mentality.  One of the reasons that I think it keeps continuing to expand is the lack of a formal definition. I was always reluctant to write down a manifesto. I know this is good and bad, but I hope it helps to get people together instead of define whether you are in or out. Some may argue this as a bad thing, but I don’t want to limit the thinking by creating boundaries.

SK: What are some of the success stories coming out of DevOpsDays?

PD: The individual stories are very nice. I receive emails from people telling me they changed jobs, established better communication in the new companies and therefore improved their lives and self worth. Those are the ones from an individual level that are the biggest successes and are very rewarding. At the tool or product level, it sometimes helps them focus on what they are doing and it became clearer why they were doing it. One of the most interesting successes that you would never see is Nokia. They totally retransformed the company by understanding the need to create faster feedback loops. The transformation took place over several years so you would not have the opportunity to notice it if you weren’t at every show. First they had lots of questions. Then they were in the mud. And finally, years later [they] are the ones speaking at the show about how they did it. It is very rewarding to have them come back to the event and help others.

SK: What are the future goals for the show?

PD: This year it was all about being able to have more events. The global interest helps expand. Before we tried to limit the number. This year people can run their own and we can help organize with them and that becomes a way for people to get together. There is one strange thing with the growth. Sometimes it feels like we are creating another silo. Therefore maybe we stop organizing and go to all of the other conferences to spread the word. We won’t do that so we will keep amplifying and helping.

SK: What are your fears for the show?

PD: One fear is that the larger the event gets, the interactions amongst the people decrease. If it is too large, then you really can’t talk to a majority of the people and the value decreases. The second fear is that the practitioners stop coming to the event and there is more of a business deal angle at the event. I see this evolving a bit, but it is not a primary concern. Other areas are the content of the show needs to continuously evolve and be new. We don’t want content that is already available online. We want new content and controversial ideas for our audience.

Editor’s note: DevOpsDays events are set for Oct. 3-4 in Atlanta, Oct. 10-11 in Barcelona, Oct. 17-18 in New York City and Oct. 25-26 in Vancouver. The call has been issued for presenters at both meetings. For more information visit devopsdays.org



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