LISA16 conference highlights: change is coming!

Posted in: Business Insights, Site Reliability Engineering

Last week I had the pleasure of attending and delivering a Bird of a Feather session with my colleague Bill Fraser at the LISA’16 Conference in Boston. From the opening keynote to the end of the conference it was clear that the topic on everyone’s mind was change.

We heard from innovators in the industry that breaking changes are coming which will redefine how we work at all layers of the stack. This change, which in the past used to be slower, and more isolated to one area of innovation at a time is now happening across the entire stack in parallel and will fundamentally change how Systems Administration, Systems & Network Architecture, and Application Development, Deployment, and Management is done.

As an SRE I have been advocating for this coming shift for many years. At LISA16 it seems that we have hit a critical mass of voices, and the message is clear; evolve or be left behind.

As with most change, it will come whether we like it or not. Countless examples were given of companies which only a short time ago were on the fortune 500 list who are either not, or no longer exist due to their inability to evolve and continue to remain competitive or even relevant in their market.

The question that many then asked themselves was how do I change and evolve so that I am not left behind, or, I manage a team of traditional ops people, how can help them to evolve new skills, processes and mindsets to navigate the coming change.

The Pythian BOF Session provided another opportunity for both individuals and managers to come together to discuss this very topic. The discussion centered around the question of bringing SRE to the Ops professional. How to do you take traditional ops people who have been set in their ways for 10-20 years and give them the opportunity to move towards an SRE / DevOps paradigm.

This is a transformation which we set out on 3 years ago at Pythian taking our (at the time) traditional systems administration team and moving towards an SRE model of engagement. As a company and cluster, we are still very much on this journey.

We shared our successes and failures with the room and listened to what others had tried, or were thinking of trying. Almost everyone was struggling with the same challenges and the shared sense of community. That we were all not alone in this challenge, was important to hear.

Did we solve the problem and come up with the perfect road map to transform the BOFH into a lean, mean, SRE machine? – No, we confirmed that what we are doing at Pythian is moving in the right direction towards our goals. We reconfirmed what we already knew, change is feared and slow. We were able to help some people who were a few steps behind us on this journey and learn from those who are a few steps ahead.

Often times the technology is the quick part. We can build and implement new solutions far quicker then affecting the cultural shift required to really drive those systems to perform to their fullest.

It is critical to start now, while we are staring at the coming change in front of us, rather than trying to catch up after it has already past us by.

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