Category Archives: Culture

On the shoulders of giants

“Our minds are all we have. They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others” – Sam Harris

When we talk about DevOps we often talk about it terms of temporal actions. We talk about culture as an observer or actor, we talk about Automation as a series of tasks, we talk about Measurement as things that we can quantify and we talk about sharing as connecting ideas and expressing them for others to know. Interestingly on top of this we still question or debate or convey what DevOps is or isn’t. (just watch #DevOps on twitter for the ceaseless battle)

To me, DevOps is everything above and much more. It’s an expression of not only empathy for fellow human beings, but an expression of love and passion for one another, not a personal love but a connection to other human beings that transcends in a way that connects us above and beyond what mere words can convey.

We often joke about “Thought Leaders” or express our fear of “Imposter Syndrome” or copy and mimic the perceived behaviors of the “Unicorns” but I find this merely an exercise in humility more than anything else.  All uniformly falling into the not seeing one’s self (or not fully crediting one’s self) as being part of this conscious activity we call DevOps.

This is a “big tent” party, there is no admittance card, just an open mind willing to learn, share and in essence respect one each other as one would love each other – not in a transactional “I love you because..” but in a way that connects the human spirit. It’s okay, not just okay, but perfectly reasonable and human to have your own perspective of what DevOps is and I hope more people feel empowered to share their experiences and their story.

It is this essence I think we need to take our discussion to – for the problems it solves aren’t limited to what we call the “DevOps movement”, it could help in anywhere from education, politics, home, work – you name it – anywhere humans are involved, we can take these lessons learned and apply them (and we should!)

I’ve been pondering how to write something on this for ages..  the last thing I want to do is come off all “hippy dippy” but at the same time, I don’t want to not share my thoughts on this – it’s hard finding a balance until I realized that the balance didn’t really matter. I feel the love, I feel the passion, I feel the energy – I should express this maybe as to remove the cloud of “hippy dippyness” and get down to what really matters. I’m not a psychologist, a scientist or even a philosopher but I am a human being so my opinion / views are merely expressed to share and have a conversation and connect with my readers. You bet I feel a sense of imposter syndrome and at the same time a desire (or internal mission/fire) for ”thought leadering”, but that isn’t what this is about.

The truth is, you really matter. Every single one of you. At first I got into this DevOps game because I felt how it helped, not just where I worked, but how it helped me. Years later, I stick to it and have realized how the lessons/concepts learned aren’t “Development” or “Operations” or even technology related, but universal to the human experience. I’ve shared some of my stories of “applied devops” and “how I’ve applied” it and now I’m sharing how I’ve internalized it and what it means to me – and I believe that is the true value of it therein.

Those of us wanting to share this experience often feel what we call “imposter syndrome” not because we’re faking it until we’re making it – but because we didn’t just invent this up even though we seem like “thought leader” on the subject matter, we’re just connecting/resonating with the philosophical and human experience of DevOps.
It’s this “a-ha” that fired me up to write again.. I feel I should not only explain what my message is in a way but open up to making this a series of how people can connect and relate not just to the experience of DevOps, but as human beings.

What I love about this community is the people. I love it that all the familiar names we know day in and day take time out of their busy lives to connect with us all, to speak to you in the hallway, to connect you to others and share experiences, their lives, their love and their passion. Not as celebrities taking time out of their celebrity lives to appease the plebes but as humans that have a general interest in making the world a better place to be.  The world is so small that even my personal and family experiences connect me with others, I’m warmed at the heart that John Willis and I crossed paths in many more ways than one and it’s those paths that we crossed in our unique ways that gave us a shared experience to know and love – and best of all John is just one of the many figures in this concept that go over and beyond to help make the world a better place.

John’s piece on burnout –  Karōjisatsu is heart wrenching, honest and passionate even if not written from the experiences of a professional psychologist or psychiatrist – but someone showing the humility to help those they love and respect and connect emotionally with other human beings who may be suffering from burnout. It’s hard to write and share such experiences in the light of imposter syndrome and it takes guts of steel to continue to share and talk about this at the many amazing conferences he speaks at and excellent (gut wrenching) stories shared on this subject.

We’re often not experts at all this knowledge, we’re merely connecting with it and expressing it through our own stories – Adding upon it.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” – Isaac Newton

On the shoulders of these giants, we learn. We share. We measure. We experiment. We do what we have learned we can do to make our lives, our world, our jobs, our experiences better for us all. When Albert Einstein discovered his theory of Relativity, it was not invented out of thin air, it was a conscious study and internalization of the giants before him and a search for deeper understandings expressed through physics & mathematics. Einstein warrants his contributions to science, physics and the world, there is no doubt – but not as a guilty admittance of imposter syndrome or thought leadering, but as embracing the qualities of the human mind to understand itself and the universe.

We too can (and do) leverage mathematics as the language of measuring and quantifying (and we should get better at it). This is the temporal action of devops, the material result of plan, do, measure act and its super important and well covered in a plethora of other blogs so I’ll say its important, but not really the point. The point is you.

The concepts of DevOps is connecting humans to humans and recognition of our conscious ability to be aware, act on this awareness and respect how each one of us operates, grows and flourishes.  DevOps removes the obscurity of humans getting work done in the frame of “Development” and Operations” and it’s a stepping stone to a better understanding of the human condition so we can remove the influences of bad ideas, failed practices, crackpots and essential mysticisms and philosophies of everything  shaping our way of life and how we get work done.

The point isn’t to convey what we have learned and know as an authority of what should be done, but as a way for us to communicate and share what we know and can know. This is why we don’t say to copy each other and do what works for others – the culture, conscious and soul of a company isn’t universal and can only be understood through introspection and understanding the how and why and removing the barriers of connecting the work to be done through the experience of doing work with other human beings. (which could lend itself to some universality, but that would be a whole ‘nother story.. I don’t think homogenization is the answer 😉 )

We stand on the shoulder of giants recognizing the work of those before us, personalizing the work of today and having empathy for what will come tomorrow – not out of fear of change but the enlightenment of knowing we have the conscious ability to understand and have empathy.

DevOps in essence is the culmination of the human condition, our culture of free (competitive) markets, the popular sharing of ideas and an essence of equanimity as we struggle through our shared experiences and relate to one another. Knowing this helps our internal survival, our cultural survival and our career survival and that’s just the stepping stone of where this movement begins.


As I sit here preparing to click “Publish Post” and I just want to go run and hide in my own conscious safety zone in my mind, but as I grow I learn that what I can share may help others and that sharing is what connects me as a human being and that is what I cherish. Its not the fear of speaking up I should concern myself with, its the fear I could have done something but didn’t that I don’t want.


Engineering the future backwards.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m probably butchering the crap out of what Cognitive Edge put into the “Future backwards” methodology but in butchering the crap out of it, I’ve learned it can be a great vehicle to visualize work but also bridge the communications gap and provide a way to represent emergence, failure, successes, convergence or simply clarify overwhelming decision points.

From Coginitive-edge.comThe Future, Backwards method was created to aid in widening the range of perspectives a group of people can take on understanding their past and the possibilities of their future. The entrained perspectives of people within an organization give them a limited view of the present, and such entrained patterns of past perception can determine its future.

I use the idea of building a future backwards diagram to achieve multiple goals. For me, it helps represent a map of more simple decisions or states and how those states appear to flow from historical perspectives to future perspectives (I try and visualize these forwards and backwards in time and sometimes representative of the decision points made now). Not only to represent as things were, as things are but as things may be and how decision points can lead to future states, surface emergent properties, show how systems adapt & evolve or how things fall back and fade away.

What I love about the ideas behind this future backwards mapping is that it is a visual representation of a complex “thing”. In my talk referenced below I tried to convey that a pterodactyl was misunderstood for YEARS but by visualizing it people were able to convey lessons learned and morph their understanding into a more complete understanding – a pile of bones is simply to incomprehensible of a place to be at to decide what something really is.

Even though this pterodactyl was wrong, it still led to a better understanding of it.


As for the following diagram that looks like a twisted paperclip – that is a Feynman diagram – a picture that conveyed a very complex interaction of subatomic particles that simplified calculation into manageable chunks and conveyed a way for people to communicate very complex and abstract things.


So what is “Future Backwards”?

The future backwards is a method of “sense making” designed/created by cognitive-edge. From Wikipedia “Sensemaking is the process by which people give meaning to experience. While this process has been studied by other disciplines under other names for centuries, the term “sensemaking” has primarily marked three distinct but related research areas since the 1970s: Sensemaking was introduced to Human–computer interaction by PARC researchers Russell, Stefik, Pirolli and Card in 1993, to information science by Brenda Dervin, and to organizational studies by Karl Weick.

Most of all for *ME* – its a diagram of something complex that I can apply a little science to in order to better understand, measure and predict from.

My Butchered Future-Backwards diagram – Getting Started


Again, this example image is completely my take on future-backwards and how I’ve used it to make sense of my work. I’ve used it to show an example “Desired” or “future state” and I’ve used it to show our “current state” and then a “concerned state”. The example current state is not positive or negative but the reality of what is driving the business. (nor is this really the objective of the process as described by cognitive edge)

In some cases mapping this out can help you reinforce what you need to succeed. If you need to “keep the lights on” that “current state” may be the most important thing. This was one of the most important things I let escape my mind in my talk about simple diagrams such as this – the visualization of complex parts & decisions that are often lost in translation as teams are making huge leaps into new territory almost as an act of faith rather than a testable hypothesis of “will this work and how can we know”. You may see that you need to distribute work – hand off the “keep the lights on” to an “SRE” team but move the “future” state to an engineering team that can have the focus, budget and resources needed to sustain apparent states.


When you map our a “Future backwards” diagram you have done some work on visualizing your work and through these representations you can simplify the calculations and more importantly the communications of what works, what didn’t work and what may have worked better or worse than you expected. You can see if decisions lead to alternate paths or if systems/processes you thought would diminish were actually surfaced and expanded. This process of comparing and looking for variance is how I see adaption, exaptation or even extinction. It’s where I “borrow” another method of setting up some of these decisions / states as “safe to fail” experimentations just to know if they’re viable and surfacing or buffering desired or undesired states & outcomes.

Adaptation / Exaptation

By visualizing your future backwards, you may see patterns that surface all the time or patterns that seem to evolve to always survive even in states you didn’t predict them to be. This is hard to quantify unless you’re mapping them out and you may never recognize such value or in some cases, patterns of failure unless you *do* map it out. Some things can be so well entrenched that you may need to represent them in a future-backwards diagram in much finer granularity than the broad-stroke decision graphs i’ve shown in my examples.

In this example future-backwards map I broke things out a bit more specific to a use case and showed how its less a concern of good/bad/status quote but more a realization of containers, physical machines or virtual machines and possible divergence & convergence routes between the paths.


In the above example a Java shop may choose to do design choices of all of the above or one or the other and you can visualize this to show how two decisions may be similar enough that they converge and the others may be divergent.

I could cite examples all day long, but I just wanted to give more breadth to my talk to try and answer some of the questions that came up and whatever I missed in my 5 minute ignite 🙂

A Lightning talk is a darn near impossibility on this topic, but I hope to one day master it because I think 5 minutes of future-backwards has a payback impossible to to quantify to those who embrace it and butcher it for their own way to improve communications & awareness. Here is my deck from DevOpsDays Austin 2015.

BTW, these diagrams are super simple to make if you have a modern wiki or website/editor with the “gliffy” plugin. Just use the standdard basic shapes and lots of decision triangles. It really only takes a few minutes to do but the payoff can be massive.

I look forward to hearing you’re use of such diagrams and what success/thoughts or feedback you get. (or if it fails, I want to hear that too..)

PS, I apologize @snowded if I’ve butchered your hard work, but it has inspired me to do awesome things, so take that for whatever it’s worth 😀

This is just a way to get you thinking and visualizing. Some people like to do super complex overall “Design sessions” and leave this stuff up to management but as a tech person who works with data, graphs and visualizations all day long it just made sense to bridge this gap not only as finding intent/design in my work but communicating it and formalizing it.

Best of all, when you draw this stuff up and put it up on a wiki, go back to it later and see if what you experience “jives” and make sure to discuss and map what worked/didn’t work to better understand and “make sense” of your own environment. BTW, Adaptation and Exaptation are wonderful things, you can really empower people when you see and foster their creative output and translate that or surface that through future states and its also pretty amazing when something created with different intent can be represented as having value even in places you didn’t expect them to be!

Map/draw/graph on!

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Those first few steps..

Hey world, I get nervous as crap when I speak in public. I have an irrational fear of public speaking that takes over my body and does funny things.  If you see me holding the mic close to my chest, its probably because there is no other way to stop that automatic fight or flight response my body is shooting through me and I have a death grip on the mic against my chest to cover that unstoppable shaky hand of mine.

I have no idea where this fight or flight response is coming from. I can’t really think of a situation that changed me from the kid who grew up in participating in school plays and student council to the adult who has something to say but has an irrational fear of speaking in public, but whatever it was, I’m here to win it over and destroy that fear.

Slowly but surely, I honestly feel better about it. Having started to see the changes in myself I guess I felt it was time to share this with the world, to sort of close this chapter of my life so I could get it out of my head once and for all and just maybe, help someone else.

There is no hiding it, the first few talks I gave I was so full of dread & fear.  The first time I grabbed the mic and walked up on the stage I thought I was going to pass out, then that shake started.. oh dear that (&#!n* shake.

I know my subject matter, I can speak about it all day long with friends and people I work with and get tons of great feedback and positive support.. but for some reason when I step up to the podium or stand in front of a large team my body just throws my brain under the bus and overloads my system.

With some practice though. I’m starting to notice changes.  The second time I gave a public talk, I noticed I was remembering more about the experience..  The 3rd time I was actually able to sit back down in the same room after giving the talk.  But something still triggers my fight or flight response..  Not sure what it is..

So with all of this said, I love sharing.. I love talking with people. I love connecting with peers, talking through things and what I do.  I’ve been given the opportunities to speak and have enjoyed every one of them immensely – even through my anxiety attacks. I’m determined to beat this.

When I first started writing this post over a year ago, I just sort of left it as a private reminder but something happened recently that really got me thinking about this. (or maybe procrastination is my problem.. 🙂 )

What really got me thinking about this in a round-about sort of way was John Willis’s article on burnout in IT and especially at startups.. It got me thinking about the pressures people face – to be on top of the world, to be everywhere, to speak, share & present at events, to know & learn everything, to have friends and family (work life balance) and it got me thinking about my fears and concerns and how I react. I actually felt the same nervousness in my gut just reading his post that I feel when I get in front of a large crowd.  I even feel some of the same nervous energy just post *this* post.

Is my anxiety an manifestation of burnout? Irrational fear of letting people down? Concern that I may succeed and have to do this more and spend more time working on work when I should have a better life balance? Am I trying to do and achieve so much that I’m failing at all of it? I want to succeed, provide for my family and flourish – are the demands simply too much and I show it through channeled anxiety?

Again, I don’t know the answers..

What I have learned though is that the community is out there who does want to help and that whatever our fears, concerns and emotions may be that we often internalize and let take the best of us, we can overcome them  – Personally and as a Community.  I appreciate John for reminding us that real people are doing real work and we should be in the now and in the present to help each other. It took a lot of courage to write something like that – In a way, just seeing John put his soul out there on a platter gave me the courage I needed to finally share this post before I let it get the best of me.

Always looking forward to hearing what others may have done to cope and grow or push through these responses.

Does exercise work for you to alleviate rush of adrenaline? Do you do breathing exercises? Have you been able to do better as you talk and share more? Did you have to result to beta blockers or any medication to assist while re-training your brain & body?  Vacation? Holiday?  break from everything? Yoga? (i’ve had lots of recommendations for yoga…)

More to come as I explore and learn..   (nervously awaiting hitting the publish button…)

After all, I enjoy sharing.. I enjoy hearing other people tell their stories.  I don’t know what I’m really afraid of.. other then maybe I always felt alone in this adventure at times (anxiety does that to a person!) but again, I’ve seen some great response from the community as of late that has lit that fire under me to speak up, share and do what I love to do – to have a passion for something and learn to live my life without that fear and not let it turn into burnout or something worse.

oh btw, I hope to see everyone at another #DOES,  PuppetConf, DevOpsDays or other conference.. Talks are out  Be sure to say hi!  I may look nervous but I promise I’m still nice.

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Peaks and Valleys of empathy

This topic has been sitting in my post queue for ages and I don’t feel I did it justice quite as well as I wanted, but it will never get anywhere unless it is published, so better imperfect than never 😉

Lots of talk on the net about DevOps and empathy and it’s got me thinking and reading a lot lately. I’m curious as to what success others have in bringing up empathy in regards to work and how successful they are in trying to create an environment where we convey empathy.  It strikes me as a complex issue in the sense that I correlate empathy to our moral compass and having sympathy and shared values as a foundation, yet, as a society and as an industry, we don’t really talk about this in any quantifiable way.

I’ve been reading papers on empathy, morality and the scientific understanding thereof as well as the books and blogs such as “The Moral Landscape” by Sam Harris and I’ve sort of come to a realization that the call for empathy in the tech industry is mostly describing the end result of empathy in specific frames.  It’s like we’re cheerleading the symptom we describe as empathy but throwing up barriers to the actors and methods to convey empathy (or at least recognize it).

How does one adjust their moral compass to have empathy for one another? How do we get over political, ideological and seemingly more critically religious dispositions of morality and come to an agreement or at least discover shared concerns? Can one really “design” in empathy through force by merely describing how people should perceive it or show it? Does talking about empathy as an end result actually mean anything or fix anything?

One very simplistic but very common theme I see discussed everywhere is this common us vs them thing, its pervasive in almost everything tech from software to devices and choice of gaming platforms. For example,  some people will be altruistic about Open Source, others see value in commercial enterprises or the freedom to choose products and services that we see fit. How can we be empathetic towards people making these decisions on their own if we stand on our beliefs on ideological platforms vs. having a rational foundation? Could we not borrow what Sam Harris talks about and say that both are just as valid and offer “peaks” in the moral landscape?  I bring this up because we often talk about technology, services, software and ideas in these absolutes and in doing so, it seems to train our minds to accept them and take pride in them essentially further removing us from empathy.

I sort of see this pride barrier as being pervasive in the industry and bleeding out as a cultural value. I see it in how people respond or interact with the feminism movement, as if it’s “Us vs Feminists” and not actually feminists out to improve the whole world for everyone. It’s almost like we have learned responses and trained values and that we’re actually pushing empathy further and further away but only talking about empathy in ways and places where empathy is accepted as appropriate and not seeing how universal it could be.

A simple but pervasive example is the “peaks” and “valleys” of software and human interactions and our disdain for empathy is Microsoft. One could say Microsoft really screwed the pooch with Internet explorer and PC lock-in, but now that Microsoft has adjusted and released IE 10 and IE 11 and is now moving on to cyclic monthly updates on most of their platforms and opening up their technologies, can people learn to show a little empathy and recognize that Microsoft of all companies has “left the valley” and is “climbing the peak”?  Do we ever have discussions like this or will people perpetually write off Microsoft because they sat on their laurels for too long and had a lack of vision?  It’s a low on the totem pole discussion of empathy for sure, but if you ask me, it’s the very form that drives so much angst, fear, uncertainty and doubt in the industry that its simply an easy target for such discussions. It seems these simple things are what train us to avoid the complex ones or not just avoid them but set our response thereof.

One could target the ideals of the GNU licensing and how it works and what the beliefs behind it are but instead of talking about it in “peaks and valleys” compared to other licenses and software models, we often choose to hold it as the gold standard ideologically.  Is that really building up an understanding of empathy? Does Open Source or Commercial software have to win absolutely? Is the GNU license built to be divisive and should that be held up as a superior way to achieve empathy (or anything)?

Outside of software, how does one talk about empathy when business is purely a “win it or lose” it concept? It’s fiercely competitive and predatory.  In one aspect this is how people see capitalism as a positive aspect of society but at the same time, if we really want to have empathy for one another, isn’t the preferential system the one that is a little bit less competitive for competitive sake but more altruistic in the human aspect? I’ve read some papers that cite wealthy and successful people have a tough time with empathy yet, we often cherish these people and the notion one day we might be wealthy too as a reason for our drive and passion for what we do. Is our system of work designed to drive out empathy?

I’m often hearing people say we need to take more risk and “don’t do things because you have always done them that way”, yet, we don’t seem to look at work, empathy, and morality as “peaks” and “valleys” but rather ideological absolute points that are driven or accepted by a specific few –  there doesn’t seem to be a process or pattern by which I or anyone can do something separate but equal. Without actually having the discussion of the peaks and valleys how do we know whatever it is that we’re doing is actually working? Do we only get acceptance of peaks when recognized by people apparently more “Superior” to us recognize them – such as executives, board members and C-teams?  In the case of some of my jobs, the compass of the company was set by the CEO and Sr. Management and if you didn’t live up to those “peaks” you were out of your job – regardless of how passionate, moral or empathetic you were. In many ways it seems we’re often predisposed to peaks without actually discussing what these peaks actually are.

How do we change this? How do we grow?  How do we really talk about empathy in the DevOps world and really talk about it? I don’t mean standing up as speakers in conferences and saying “I’ll probably get fired for this” because you’re talking to other humans like human beings but actually talking about the unwritten rules that appear to make us uncomfortable or wrong in having empathy for one another?

I see my friends in the feminist movement saying to stop treating women as if their different and don’t defend them for being women or put them on a pedestal but treat them as equals. Maybe ideas like this should be universal – our managers, CEO’s and executives probably shouldn’t be on a pedestal but seen for the human beings they are not that they deserve more or less than anyone else.  Wouldn’t this help alleviate the concept of wealthy or privileged people having low compassion for others? Wouldn’t this help women generally feel more empowered and respected?  (pillars of empathy?) Do we ever discuss these parallels or will we always see them as movements?  The feminist movement is a constant reminder women need our support, not to be treated like damsels in distress yet the same could be said for every human being. We  males often have a very tough time recognizing or accepting our distress as if that is a cultural and prideful norm so we often write off other movements because of our failure to recognize our own parallels. The feminist movement isn’t separate from us when seen through the eyes of empathy but rather something that empowers us all. Do we ever talk about this?

I for one thank our “nerd culture” because prior to it being accepted I was an outcast shunned from society destined to be a dirty grungy basement dweller who plays D&D (in the publics eye) yet something changed and society seems to embrace this culture but in hindsight only “apparently so” and very superficially..  Maybe its embraced because of TV shows, marketing, branding and rich people getting rich from .COMs and such. Do people really have empathy for my passions in what I do in life or is it merely acceptable because everyone wants in because its apparently cool now? The last thing I want is for everything we work on, from DevOps to feminism to culture and building successful businesses to become passe because we forget it’s really about us in the end.

Should we not talk about our brains? How some people are wired differently? How religion, faith and personal views shape our morality and how that drives our compass and empathy responses? How can we as society learn to disconnect our personal preferences and personal emotions to understand one another if we don’t “map” and visualize our collective “well being” and actually respect those decisions?  If all we talk about is empathy in such a superficial context, are we not perpetuating the ignorance and simply buying what others are saying as true without actually dissecting those truths?

It’s a big question and I don’t expect a black and white response. I just hope people are actually thinking through these concepts in a hundred-foot view and not through their own biases. That is terribly hard for us humans to do, especially when a lot of our biases, ethics, morals and empathetic responses are more cultural, religious and ideologically based rather then derivative of actual study and research.  I’m not the first nor the last but it certainly seem that discussing our moral landscape (thanks Sam Harris)  seems to cause much hate and angst towards us as if we’re trespassing beliefs that shouldn’t be trespassed.  Is that another unwritten rule biting us in the ass keeping us from growing up?

Put on your thinking caps and think about empathy and your moral compass and what you share with others and how you can give credit to different “peaks” and “Valleys”. Look at your choices, your decisions and think for a bit about how you feel, how you act, how you shop, how you live, what you choose to do in your life and why. Is empathy really a driving factor in any of this? If not, how do you make it so? In making it so, are we not recognizing how to better our society, our way of life, our work and our shared feelings? I’m extremely thrilled that many people in the DevOps movement are talking about empathy and there is a huge sense of pride in merely having this discussion.

I don’t have the answers. In this case, I think reminding ourselves to ask the question is the real solution. I don’t think the answer is my peaks and valleys, but that we all have shared peaks and valleys even if we view them differently.

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