DevOpsDays Paris 2013 re-cap

phrawzty

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 us 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 get my hands on one for upcoming events – but I digress.

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!