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Interview with Anton Weiss

“We want to do DevOps, how do we get engineers on board?”

JAX Editorial Team
DevOps

DevOps needs support from the top. Without management buying in, it will never truly succeed. We talked to Anton Weiss a while back about transforming a company culture, DevOps enablers, and the challenges involved in having an almost perfect DevOps implementation.

Any DevOps transformation must start with the leadership’s support because otherwise, it will never become a concise, definitive transformation process. When we talk about culture, it seems to be something complicated but in reality, it is just a story to tell. JAXenter editor Gabriela Motroc talked to Anton Weiss at DevOpsCon 2016 about how to become DevOps enablers and what is the correct way to enable DevOps within an organization.

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JAXenter: Hi Anton, how was your session? 

Anton Weiss: I loved it. I hope the audience loved it, that’s the important thing.

JAXenter: So, a true DevOps transformation consists of a lot of elements. Culture seems to be at the center of that transformation. What does a true DevOps transformation require?

Anton Weiss: At the session, I just tried to outline the things that the leadership has to do in order to enable such a transformation. It definitely has to start with leadership. Throughout the practice, the career we’ve seen DevOps actually starting from the bottom.

Originally, it was a grassroots movement. In many cases it all started with engineers starting to automate a couple of things, trying to change the way they collaborate. But there’s never a true transformation if the leadership doesn’t become a part of it. The real full-scale transformation should start with changing the culture, with management actually accepting the change that comes from the bottom, and allowing for it to happen.

JAXenter: You’re saying that a true DevOps transformation only begins at the top and not top-down, bottom-up or both perhaps?

Anton Weiss: I wish it was that easy. It generally starts from the bottom, but the management or the leadership has to be there to identify the signs of its starting up, and it has to provide support. Otherwise, it will never become a concise definitive transformation process.

We see this at some of our customers, and what happens is that each department tries to implement their own kind of DevOps. Everybody starts arguing who’s responsible for DevOps here. Suddenly you have all different types of DevOps in the same organization, instead of having one picture, one story, one single DevOps story. It all has to start there, from having a DevOps story.

When we talk about culture, it seems to be something complicated. Because culture is something hard to define – we have all these complicated definitions – but if it’s taken to its bare essentials, I think culture is just the story you tell. It’s the task for the leadership or the management to compile the story. It doesn’t have to be the storyteller itself, it can find the storytellers in the organization, but it has to back up their story.

SEE MORE:  “DevOps is often misinterpreted as ‘everybody now does everything’”

JAXenter: How can the management be convinced to be part of the transformation and to support the transformation?

Anton Weiss: What we are seeing lately is that the management doesn’t get to be convinced, even though there’s a lot of buzz around DevOps and all these DevOps conferences. The management has already started to realize that this is something they need to do. They need to restructure their systems because their customers won’t want to work with them if they’re not modern, if they’re not agile, if they don’t have scalable architectures, and so they realize they need to do DevOps.

The problem is that they don’t how, and that’s what we as a consulting agency see. We have managers coming to us, saying: “We want to do DevOps, how do we get engineers on board?”, whereas previously the question was: “We’re engineers, how do we get the management on board?” The question is now upside down somehow.

JAXenter: And how can we become DevOps enablers? I’ve been hearing this term “DevOps enablers” quite a lot in the past few years. How can we become DevOps enablers?

Anton Weiss: Originally, DevOps was talking about development and operations collaborating in a different way. But with time, it has led to DevOps teams suddenly appearing in many places. For many, this was seen as a sign of a problem. We had had those silos before between the Devs and the Ops. Suddenly, we have a new silo in the organization called DevOps – and they’re responsible for the DevOps in the organization. Instead of calling it a DevOps team or DevOps engineers, it was like giving birth to a whole new profession that’s now suddenly responsible for DevOps.

Because DevOps is actually how your whole organization should be functioning, instead of calling it that we’re trying to call it the DevOps Enablement. Those are usually the people responsible for the process automation, for enabling the collaboration and communication patterns that are associated with DevOps. Those are the enablers – the people who have probably done this in another organization or the people who are ready to learn about this and take it upon them, specifically this function of bringing in the tools, of integrating the tools, of changing how people collaborate.

JAXenter: What are the challenges that prevent us from having a perfect or almost perfect DevOps implementation? – Or the gaps, if there are no challenges.

Anton Weiss: Well, the challenges are the same challenges that always exist when we try to change existing human organizations. We’re all reluctant to change. The example I like to give is my wife, she’s a shiatsu therapist, and she has customers coming to her and saying, “My back hurts”, or “I can’t sleep”.  She tells them, “Well, I can provide therapy, but in order for this to go away you need to change your diet and do more sports and go to bed earlier and abandon alcohol”. People suddenly say, “Wow, I really have to do all these things? Can’t you just do a few tricks and it will all go away?”

So the main problem is, we’re actually very reluctant to change. This reluctance mainly comes out of our fear of failure. These are the main challenges. Again, the leadership of an organization plays a very important role here, by providing a safe environment where we’re less scared of failing and more incentivized to experiment. Where we’re ready to embrace change, because it’s fun. Because there is a story out there in our organization that tells that change is fun, that change will make our lives better.

SEE MORE: “The codebase is a minefield —there will be casualties”

JAXenter: But at the same time, DevOps is not a magic bullet, so one should implement it correctly. Just saying that you want to do it doesn’t mean that you will do it. So what’s your number one tip for helping companies to have a smoother DevOps transformation?

Anton Weiss: My number one tip is ” understand the why?” You know, Greg was also talking about this in his keynote at DevOps Con – Greg Bledsoe from Accenture. There is also a book by a guy named Simon Sinek; I think it’s called “It starts with ‘Why?'”. With any transformation you need to understand why you want to do this. What I see is that putting business goals as the reason for the day of transformation is the wrong thing to do. This will only lead to people being incentivized for incorrect stuff. You need to create another ‘Why’, a vision of a better company, better world, better work environment – along these lines. But is has to be very authentic and very specific to what you’re doing.

JAXenter: Thank you!

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