Computing recently caught up with Nigel Kersten, Field CTO at Puppet in advance of his presentation at our Deskflix event on DevOps on the 30th June.
Computing: Why is it important for organisations to move data more quickly?
Nigel Kersten: With the rapidly changing technology landscape and the overarching pressure on most companies to innovate in the face of disruption and upheaval in their industries, it's important for everything to move quickly nowadays. Data is a special problem however due to data gravity, the tendency for datasets and their applications to be attracted to each other. With infrastructure as code and DevOps practices we have the ability to move applications around very quickly from cloud to on-premise and all the hybrid worlds in between, yet as datasets get larger and larger, they become "heavier" and slower to move. If we also consider the regulatory burdens many organisations face around customer data, it's not surprising that speed of data movement is a common bottleneck for organisations looking to modernise their applications.
CTG: What are the business benefits of faster dev cycles?
NK: Every single time you ship code to production you're creating learning events and an opportunity for improvement. You're testing the end to end software delivery lifecycle and you get to validate the changes you've made in the real world with real users. As long as you're taking advantage of these learning opportunities and acting upon the information you've received, then increasing their frequency increases quality across the board.
It's also important to note that faster dev cycles lead to better developer happiness and engagement. Accomplishing defined goals more frequently and experiencing users actually using the work you'd done is a huge morale boost, and being happier at work and being more empowered is a valuable goal in and of itself.
CTG: DevOps engineers have become expensive in recent years. How can organisations attract them?
NK: I find it difficult to generalise over the term "DevOps engineers" as I see a huge variety of roles advertised using it, and many of them seem to be build engineers or CI/CD maintainers - both of which are incredibly important roles, but don't encompass all of DevOps. If we think about the value that employees provide who have a good understanding of infrastructure and application architecture, a strong desire to automate problems away, experience with infrastructure as code, development skills to extend existing systems, the facility to apply systems thinking to the whole delivery lifecycle and the interpersonal skills to work successfully cross-functionally - then it's not surprising that these roles have become more expensive. They provide an incredible amount of value, and people with these skills are in high demand. To attract these folks and enable them to be successful in your organisation you need to demonstrate that your company is willing to change, that cross-functional work is valued, and that your management chain will be supportive. Without that you're just asking them to rearrange deckchairs on the Titanic, and the good people will jump ship to another organisation where they're empowered to stop it from sinking.
CTG: What are the benefits of democratising access to data across the organisation?
NK: Assuming you're responsibly dealing with customer privacy, the benefits of access to data across the organisation is that it enables people to make better decisions and provides the most fundamental building blocks for them to come up with innovative improvements. You need more than just data access to empower people to innovate, but it's definitely a necessary component.
CTG: What problems can automation introduce into the process, and how can organisations avoid them?
NK: I see a lot of overblown fear in organisations about automation, specifically the fear that automation will cause widespread breakage quickly. A good automation platform will enable testing and guardrails, and investing in those aspects early will sooth a lot of concerns, particularly if the benefits of being able to respond quickly and efficiently at scale to all sorts of unforeseen events are taken into account. Most of the fears I see are cultural and come from outside the team building the automation, and the best antidote is to collaborate early with adjacent teams such as change management and security in automation designs.
CTG: What are the business benefits of greater automation?
NK: Predictability, agility, quality, and efficiency, but only when the business is willing to make cultural, process, and organisational changes in the face of new automation capabilities.
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