Genesis: Terraforming a New Home for Firefox Crash Reporter

Last year, my esteemed colleague JP Schneider and I were invited to keynote at a couple of conferences last year. We gave two variations on the same talk, entitled “Genesis: Terraforming a New Home for Firefox Crash Reporter”, at each of Hashiconf 2015 and Velocity EU 2015 respectively.

The blurb for these talks is as follows:

Everyone loves talking about different stacks used in migrating applications to DevOps methodologies, but the most important and valuable change is not a technology stack; instead, it is the human stack.

In this keynote address, we will cover the intersection of technology and humans, and walk the audience through a real life example of the move of Firefox crash reporter. The three engineers tasked with this had to build the plane while it was in the air, all without landing or crashing.

As with many projects, hard deadlines and requirements made the team work through a lot of tough decisions and compromises while simultaneously training devs, product managers, managers, and other engineers in the new world of DevOps and Continuous Delivery.

The talks were a lot of fun and were well received by both audiences.  We keep things light (including images and quotes from Shakespeare to Mobb Deep) and we keep them honest (both our successes and failures).

The Velocity talk, which at 25 minutes in length is the shorter of the two, is aimed at a more general audience; the Hashiconf talk is longer, and includes a lot more detail about the Hashicorp tools that we used to reach our goals. I hope you enjoy either or both of them. 🙂

Devopsdays Belgium 2014; recap

Devopsdays Belgium 2014 was held over 27 and 28 October in the charming town of Ghent (or Gent, or Gand), Belgium.  This event marked the five-year anniversary of the Devopsdays series of conferences – and with such an important milestone in play, expectations were running high.  I’m happy to report that those expectations were met.

First off, the basic details:

  • The Devopsdays format is half-day presentations and half-day open spaces (the programme is available here).
  • All of the presentations were recorded by BMC and are available on Ustream for your viewing pleasure.
  • Perusing #devopsdays on Twitter is probably the fastest way to tap into the over-mind of the conference attendees, both in real-time and in retrospect.
  • The popular Hangops show/podcast did a recap of the event featuring speakers, attendees, and even Patrick Debois himself (if briefly).

Looking at the programme, it’s interesting to note that there were no strictly-technical talks (the same was true, more or less, for the ignites as well).  Broadly speaking, the topics ranged from management skills, to brain chemistry, and as far as a post-modern analysis of the Devops movement itself.  Indeed, in terms of content, this was one of the most human-centric conferences I’ve ever attended.  Five years ago this wouldn’t have been the case and it is an indicator of just how far we’ve come as a community – in other words, huzzah, we’ve finally managed to stop talking about tools constantly.

Concerning the presentations specifically, much has already been written, and I don’t feel like I can add much more to the existing discourse.  While I would recommend watching the videos themselves, for those looking for an executive summary of the two mornings, you could do worse than Carlos Sanchez’s posts at InfoQ here, here, and here.

The best part of almost any conference, for me, is the so-called hallway track: those serendipitous encounters near the coffee machine or spontaneous introductions around a lunch table.  In many ways, the open space format is a formalisation of the hallway track, and one that works for everybody (not just people who are comfortable approaching strangers).  In either case, when combined with the highly-local nature of Devopsdays, it made for a great opportunity to meet and speak with people whom I’d normally never encounter – the perfect environment for challenging discussions and generating fresh ideas.

A great example of this environment came courtesy of Bridget Kromhout, who (bravely) challenged the conference at large to use more inclusive language, especially when referring to groups within our industry (i.e. say “people” instead of “guys”).  The subsequent conversation was civil, reasoned, thought-provoking, and – notably – itself inclusive, not only in terms of gender, but culture as well.  This was interesting since it reminded everybody that, hey, different languages have different ways of dealing with this, and that while the problem exists everywhere, specific characteristics can vary wildly from region to region.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Dave Mangot who turned me on to something called the “1-1-1 model” (as pioneered by Salesforce).  Basically the idea is to donate 1% of profits, product, and time (respectively) to charitable ends.  This got us thinking about how we could apply the model to Devopsdays, and by extension, tech conferences in general.  Put another way, is it possible to leverage our industry’s many social gatherings as a force for social good?  I would submit that the answer is a resounding yes.  For example, following the model, a given conference could:

  • Donate 1% (or more, there’s no upper limit!) of the profits to charity.
  • Set aside a pool of tickets for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to attend – or better yet, put together a grant programme to help for the cost of transport, accommodation, etc.
  • Facilitate an open space where attendees can volunteer to assemble care packages, sort clothing or food donations, or other types of manual activities along those lines.

Personally, I’d love to see Devopsdays adopt a model such as this one.  Given the local, grassroots nature of the conference series, it seems like a perfect fit.  Perhaps even the upcoming Devopsdays Paris, scheduled for April of 2015?  Something to think about.

As always, if you want to chat, feel free to leave a comment, or hit me up on the twitters.  Salut!

DevOpsDays Paris 2013, the event that was

I recently helped organise the inaugural Paris edition of the popular DevOpsDays series of conferences.  It was a great event, and I’d like to share some of my thoughts and observations here.

The DevOpsDays series of events is, as the name implies, centred around the “devops” movement, and is intended as a way to introduce people to this style of IT workflow, project, and people management.  Since this is not related to a programming language, this conference falls outside of the normal sorts of events that Mozilla generally finds itself involved in.  I believe this to be a very good thing, and I am proud to have represented Mozilla both as a sponsor of the event, and as a European devops community member.

The audience was mostly French in composition with a not-insignificant number of attendees from both Francophone and non-Francophone European countries.  Said audience was a healthy mix of developers, IT operations, and managers across a wide spectrum of company sizes, types, and even industries; frankly, I was impressed at how broad the composition was, and it was refreshing to see interest in the devops movement from such a wide group.

Though the event was held in Paris, all of the talks (with the exception of some of the ignites) were done in English.  This was by design – a internally contentious decision that, in my opinion, ultimately proved itself to be the correct one.  The open spaces during the afternoon were in a mix of English and French in order to ensure that everybody could participate equally.  Concerning the open spaces, we weren’t sure if the format would work here in France, but they were a smash success!  Everybody seemed to really enjoy the format as a platform for discussion, debate, and idea-generation.  I’d wager that for many of the attendees, it was the first time they’d ever been exposed to such a thing, and my hope is that they can bring the format to others in the future.

Since devops is so new to France, the majority of the presentations themselves were entry-level, and thus not particularly interesting to me directly.  That said, there were two presentations that really stood out (and would have held their own even at a more “advanced” event): “CustomerOps” by Alexis Lê-Quôc, and “Map & Territory” by Pierre-Yves Ritschard.

Alexis’ presentation on “CustomerOps” centred around the concept of providing customer support using engineering principles – and, indeed, delivered by engineers themselves.  This really hit home for me because in Mozilla IT/Ops, we’re not only the people who build and provide technical infrastructure, but are also the people who provide direct support to the consumers of that infrastructure – a situation that is absolutely not a given in many other companies (i.e. the admins and the customer reps are not the same people).  Alexis illustrated the importance of communication, and how to measure success (read: customer satisfaction) in meaningful ways.

Pierre-Yves’ presentation was based on a very interesting philosophical conjecture: that our mental model of the world is not the same as the reality said model attempts to describe.  Put another way, a map isn’t actually land, it’s a representation of the territory it describes (hence the title).  Therefore, the most valuable models are the ones that can describe reality in useful ways, and it’s in defining “usefulness” that the real effort must be made.  In a more applicable sense his thesis was simple: identify your “key metrics” – the numbers which literally describe the success or failure of your business – and make sure you are collecting, analysing, and modelling them above all.  Every other metric is either secondary or potentially uninteresting in the first place.

Personally, I spent a lot of time mingling with the attendees, talking about Mozilla, our projects, and our mission.  Generally speaking, the first question was, “Can I have one of those Firefox stickers?”, but the second question was, “When can I get my hands on a FirefoxOS phone?”  As usual, everybody wanted to see one, and (unfortunately), as usual, I didn’t have one to show them.  The more events that I attend on behalf of Mozilla, the more I realise that continues to be a wasted opportunity to promote our most exciting new project.  I’ll have to work on this going forward.

Of course, since this was a devops-related event, people were also very curious about if and how Mozilla is implementing devops internally.  The overarching theme of devops is communication, so this event was an excellent opportunity to talk about IT at Mozilla, and to promote not only our successes, but dig into our failures as well.  This sort of interaction is vital in order to avoid stagnation.

In summary, it was a fine showing for our first Parisian event, and I am looking forward to the next edition.  Hopefully I’ll see you there!