Lindsay Hill network control, visibility, management

SREcon, DevOpsDays and Seattle vs Sillicon Valley

I am the Product Manager for StackStorm. This gives me the opportunity to attend several industry events. This year I attended SREcon in San Francisco, and devopsdays Seattle. I found both events interesting, but also found them more different than I expected.

SREcon Americas

This year SREcon Americas was held in San Francisco, a nice walk along the Embarcadero from where I live. This is bliss compared to my regular daily tour of the Californian outdoor antique railway museum, aka Caltrain.

According to the organizers, SREcon is:

…a gathering of engineers who care deeply about site reliability, systems engineering, and working with complex distributed systems at scale

That was pretty much true to form. Two things stood out to me:

  • The number of smart people, working on interesting problems
  • The number of companies aggressively hiring in this space.

I had many interesting conversations at SREcon. We had a booth, so would briefly start describing what StackStorm is, but would very quickly move past that. Conversations often went “Oh yeah, we’ve built something along those lines in-house, because there was nothing on the market back when we needed it. But I wouldn’t do it again. How did you solve <insert knotty problem here>?” Great conversations.

The problems that people were solving were very, very interesting too. I’ve done plenty of sysadmin work in my past, and I miss it. I look at what the SRE folks are doing, and can see that as an evolution of the very best sysadmins. Less of the drudgery, more focus on solving problems at speed & scale. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that developers can do everything. There is still a need for people that can glue disparate systems together. The challenges have changed, that’s all.

If my circumstances were a little different, it might be an area for me to explore more.

Related to that, I was very surprised at just how many of the booths were companies actively hiring people. Normally at these events the booths are companies like mine, with relevant products to pitch. But there were very few product pitch booths. Instead it was companies like LinkedIn, Google, Twitter, Capital One, all talking about the cool things they are doing, and actively pitching their company to prospective employees.

Very different to what I was expecting. Take note, potential SREs: get yourself along to an SREcon and talk to the companies there. Find out if it sounds like what you want to do, and talk to hiring managers.

Oh and it’s not news to anyone here, but if you think that you’re a special case and can’t use public cloud: You’re probably wrong. Plenty of companies at SREcon were not Web 2.0 companies. They have complex technical, regulatory and legal challenges, but they are aggressively moving to public cloud.

Devopsdays

Devopsdays are more localized affairs, with many events happening all around the world.

Devopsdays is a worldwide series of technical conferences covering topics of software development, IT infrastructure operations, and the intersection between them. Topics often include automation, testing, security, and organizational culture. (From)

This event had a very different feel to SREcon, more so than I expected. Conversations took on a couple of different flavors:

  • “How do we get started on this journey? We’re still dealing with many legacy processes. How do we get started?”
  • “How do we take our staff on this transition?” Not just “how do we implement blah at our company?” but “What are the impacts on our staff? We want to keep our existing team together, how do we do that?” People are thinking about culture, and the impact of changing roles through move to cloud & automation.

Both were a little surprising to me. The first one because when I think of Seattle, the first thing that comes to mind is Cloud City. All the major Western public cloud teams are based there. Sorry Oracle, you don’t yet count.

As ever, the future is here; it’s just unevenly distributed. There are many smart people in Seattle doing amazing cloudy things. There’s also many people just like the rest of us, struggling to figure out what to do. It’s reassuring really.

On the second item, I’m trying to figure out if this is an SRE vs DevOps thing, or a Seattle vs Silly Valley thing.

Tools & Techniques vs Culture & People

One group is thinking about tools & techniques, while the other is thinking about culture & people. The impression from the SRE event was that people will have the skills, or that they will develop them. But then it’s all about using the skills.

The chatter at the DevOps event wasabout how to change cultures in teams, how to take people along that journey, and how to adapt to reflect the realities of people, not just tools.

What I’m trying to figure out is this due to differences in SRE vs DevOps, or about locations? Someone pointed out to me that DevOps has always been more about the culture, so I should not be surprised that many of the conversations revolved around culture rather than tools.

But I’m also wondering how much of it is due to Seattle vs San Francisco. The Seattle has several large employers that have been in business for decades, e.g. Boeing and Microsoft. People have long careers with the same company. Companies value people, and want to keep them over a long period. They know that it’s tough to find good people, so you should develop those you have, rather than just expecting to find skills on the open market. Employees expect to work for one company for a long time.

The Bay Area feels like it has a high turnover of technology companies, with people moving around as company fortunes rise and fall. There is more of an expectation to hire people with a given set of skills, and if they no longer match what you need, drop them and find new people. On the other side, employees expect to move frequently, seeking the ever-elusive right role.

Or is my impression mistaken?

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