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August 17, 2016

DOES London 2016: Courage is Not Optional

By Manuel Pais

DevOps Enterprise Summit London

DevOps Enterprise Summit 2015 in San Francisco last October felt very different from the other DevOps conferences I usually attend. It felt very exciting as well. Large organizations, typically conservative (if not secretive) in their external communications, coming forward with stories of progress and challenges in their DevOps journey. They’re leading the pack of Horses by presenting impressive numbers in terms of IT delivery and business gains.

DevOps Enterprise Summit 2016 in London was no different. Albeit focusing more on the finance and insurance sectors than its US counterpart, the stories presented were equally impressive (such as SIX’s debunking of some DevOps myths in financial industry) and motivating for anyone familiar with the intricacies and challenges of introducing change in large organizations.

Legacy? This is Legacy!

One remarkable difference between DOES US and DOES Europe is how old some of the organizations presenting in London are… Barclays, for instance, was founded in 1690, that is 86 years before US independence! Other examples go as far back as the late 18th century.

We often look at 4- or 5-year-old IT systems as legacy. The technology and tools they were built upon are no longer the best of breed. We still look at mainframes as dinosaurs (well, you might want to reconsider that one). Now imagine dealing with regulations and controls dating back hundreds of years. Legacy processes entrenched in the organization’s DNA over centuries. That is the level of challenge these organizations are facing: an archaeological excavation to remove layers of waste woven into the ways of working. Compounded, of course, by duplication and parallelization of rules and processes introduced by mergers and acquisitions.

But these organizations understand it’s now a matter of survival to tackle these challenges. The pace of innovation has never been so fast with a combination of digital services, quick delivery, and a push for inter-operability and open standards—even in traditional sectors such as banking.

Courage as Enabler for Change

Courage is the only path to change. You will face many challenges. Fear do not.”

This message could be heard in many of the talks, as if Yoda was whispering in our ears:

  • Courage to put your job on the line in order to change traditional ways of working.
  • Courage to keep pushing when everyone tells you “This is how we’ve always done it.”
  • Courage to ask for forgiveness instead of permission.
  • Courage to accept questioning but be persistent, even when it gets lonely out there.

We heard “DevOps is about People” repeated in presentation after presentation. Trying to change the organization via new hires is borderline impossible. So what to do?

One example came from Barclays: have the courage to scale DevOps by descaling the work first, then support local cultures/businesses by sharing principles but not prescribing practices (or tools). Provide the top-down support necessary for localized bottom-up practices to emerge, to fail, and to improve.

Clash of Civilizations – Part I

DevOps has thrived in fast-paced technical environments where open source tooling and inter-operability reign. After having reaped the benefits in standalone web and mobile apps, many large organizations are now reaching the stage where their backend systems (often using proprietary systems) are now the bottleneck to increasing delivery speed in highly coupled applications. Or, as Lyndsay Prewer from HMRC put it, “plumbing digital services into legacy back-ends.”

But if SAP can automate testing at scale and perform blue-green deployments on their cloud SAP offerings, then it looks like there’s nothing that can’t be done.


- About The Authors
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Manuel Pais

Manuel Pais is a DevOps and Delivery Coach and Consultant, focused on teams and flow first. He helps organizations adopt test automation and continuous delivery, as well as understand DevOps from both technical and human perspectives. Manuel has been in the industry since 2000, having worked in Belgium, Portugal, Spain, and the UK.

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