A light dew settles on the leaves of the venerable elm trees which track Melbourne’s, St Kilda road. The bulk of the noble Yarra River moves majestically past the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, as it does every morning unaware about what is about to take place within. Light rail service number 96, which I had boarded at the iconic Luna Park, will carry me on my sovereign journey to the DevOps Talks Conference, 2017.  

Yet still, those lingering words circle around my mind, like plastic bags caught in the wind, waiting to be sucked into a stormwater drain. Self-doubt is setting in. Am I clearly delusional?

“You’re going to a DevOps conference? Aren’t you a developer?”

This is something I had been asked on more than one occasion in the lead up to this conference. Each time I’m questioned, I point out that the term DevOps is exactly six characters long, and that more or less fifty percent of those characters are “Dev”. I have at least half a right to be here.

Having spent the last four years with Shine Solutions, I have been working with a client who asked us to transition their regular managed infrastructure to an almost one-hundred percent cloud-based megastructure. Continuous Delivery. Blue / Green stacks. Cloud storage. Scriptable everything. The works.

Now this was, for the most part, all in the hands of regular “devs”. It didn’t happen overnight and we all spent most of our time writing actual code. But I knew that DevOps was a thing, or at least is going to be thing that cannot to be discounted by a developer as noise.

It’s not simply more annoying tooling we have to learn. And even if you never edit any of these shell scripts yourself (I did my best to to avoid it), knowing the architecture of your system, rather than just committing your code and walking away, is going to become ever more relevant.

To be fair, when I first heard the term DevOps, my immediate assumption was that some system admin was going to, on a whim, commit breaking changes into my perfectly engineered Java code. Did I say engineered? I meant “crafted”. Or is that “scienced”?

Or would I be fielding phone calls 2 am, demanding to know why a CISCO router I didn’t know existed was being DoSed with ICMP packets from a toaster in Madagascar?

So while DevOps is the new thing which means different things to different people, there is one definition which some people smarter than me are putting on their conference slides. That’s a lot of people and also a lot of slides.

DevOps – A cultural and professional movement focussed on how we build and operate high velocity organisations, born from the experiences of its practitioners.

– Adam Jacob, Chef style DevOps KungFu

So I arrived at the conference, collected my name tag thingy and my swag. There are people with an espresso machine and miniature toasted sandwiches. Some of the non-locals confuse them for waffles. But these are the dangers of the Australian wilderness.

MV-29

The conference opened with a keynote from John Willis, Director Ecosystem Development at Docker. John is an passionate and lively character. He emphasised the fundamental benefits of container technologies, ie that they lower the risks of “works on my machine” situations while simultaneously allowing more rapid workflows to production. I get the feeling containers are still on the list of “things you didn’t know you needed until you’ve used them.”

Keith Bawden, Chief technology officer at Flippa, then took a perspective on rapid deployment that is almost 180 degrees opposite. Keith disagreed with the “deploy fast because you can” approach, which could be seen as an expectation of DevOps, rather than simply a feature for those who actually need it.

“I thought I was awesome. My mum agreed”

The highlight of course was his animation of a “chocolate swirl emoji” representing less than ideal code transitioning from desktop to production. It had a bow on it and everything.

MV-117

Now while Keith took the conference direction 180 degrees, Peter Sbarski, VP of Engineering at A Cloud Guru found a way to turn it back negative 270 degrees with a perfectly executed handbrake turn. He was reminding us we might not even want containers at all, using Serverless Architectures. The training system he had developed did not use a single provisioned server, relying on Lambdas and SaaS building blocks to run an entire system.  He claimed the costs were minimal also.

Lunch, Day 1: There was salmon.

Ariel M. Moskovich, DevOps Lead at AppsFlyer gave us Kafka Bad / Bed time Stories. AppsFlyer process torrents of telemetry data from mobile applications. Odds are your phone is sending data to these guys. Ariel showed us lots of scary looking graphs and discussed various approaches to partitioning Kafka to handle all this load. I say “scary” because I would not want to be responsible for those servers.

Later in the bar, Ariel suggested I was in fact a fabled developer operations Unicorn. On the positive side, that’s a nice complement for which I am eternally humbled. On the negative, I’m now going to have to get my business cards reprinted.

Branko Juric, Founder at Gwenify talked through Continuous Acceptance with Gwen. Gwen takes an Acceptance Criteria Specifications written in Gherkin, which you can get regular humanoids to write, and performs acceptance tests. His demonstration ran parallel tests and it all looked pretty cool. My concern was how well Gherkin scales as the test criteria get more complicated. Branko claimed there were doing this successfully.

MV-7373

Shiva Narayanaswamy, the Development Team Lead at Envato, presented ‘Natural evolution of the Homo-Devopsificus’, in which he paralleled the evolution of development teams with the evolution of culture, tool making and the structure of cooperative society.

The catering staff were kind enough to locate some toothpicks for me. I was going to need these to prop my eyelids open because the final two sessions of the day were Security & Compliance Audits and Information Security Governance. Back to back. Get comfortable.

But you know what? Something extraordinary happened. I enjoyed both of these presentations. Aria Vaziri, IRAP Assessor, Co-Founder at Salted Signal discussed certification frameworks such as ISO27001, PCI-DSS and ISM. Speaking to us as engineers who know we might need to do deal with this stuff, he explained the fundamentals of some common compliance frameworks, the myths surrounding them and what you can certainly not wing if you were underprepared for an audit.

Conversely he reminded us of which frameworks are not as strict as you would expect – as long as you have your own process that works, you might be compliant already. Payment cards industry compliance is commonly misunderstood. So you think you don’t need to be PCI compliant because your code only transports credit card details but doesn’t store them? You might want to look into that.

MV-50

We were to be graced with the presence of Philip Dalidakis, the Minister of Small Business, Innovation and Trade of Victoria. Sadly, Philip couldn’t make it. I can only assume he had double booked at another local DevOps conference or found another event with better catering (unlikely). To his credit, he sent in his place Steve Hodgkinson. Steve is the department CIO and Director of the Business Technology & Information Management branch.

If you are unaware of how well government departments deliver software, I’ll ask you to think about how well government departments deliver just about anything. Philip seemed to knows his stuff technically, and also seemed to know how to get government teams to stop complaining and actually deliver something.

He gave examples of initiatives that were initially written off as too complex and expensive, yet were ultimately delivered by leveraging systems which were already in place. (I’ve used the word ‘leveraging’ once and I won’t use it again). There is now an abandoned pile of fax machines somewhere because someone had the forethought to expand the scope of an existing document management system. If anyone can clone Mr Dalidakis, please let the Victorian Government know.

Lunch, Day 2: Not salmon, but it was good anyway.

The lack of gender diversity within software engineering in general is… what’s the word… crap. Arriving at the conference, I can see that adding “ops” really doesn’t change a lot. Now, conference organizers can’t mandate who registers, but to their credit they did invite Carina Parisella, Senior Manager Innovation at ANZ.

Carina talked to us about DevOps Kids. This is about Education in STEM & Digital Literacy. Having helped out with the Melbourne Coder Dojo, I am familiar with the aims of these organisations. Carina highlighted the importance of teaching kids technology in such a way that gender would simply become a non-issue.

“We don’t want to get girls into a room with pink lego and say ‘girl power'”

MV-82

“DBA. Database Administrator, Don’t Bother Asking or Default Blame Acceptor”

– Erika Harris, Data Solution Architect at Microsoft Azure

The emerging nature of DevOps lends itself to big ideas. This was apparent in the diversity of topics and attitudes presented at DevOps Talks. However, there was a common theme: making the creation and deployment of software as agreeable and efficient as possible. It was a conference as much about next-generation architectures as it was about product demos and think pieces.

DevOps is not a tool set, a checklist or a manifesto. It’s a culture. A culture in which everyone must be on board to streamline the interaction between development and operations activities. It’ll be different for each organisation, and specific to the problems they are trying to solve. But however you do it, everybody has to get onto it.

View the list of DevOpsTalks Speakers for 2017 and their slide decks here.

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