The Operations engineer’s perspectives

While eagle feeding @ backwaters, Palolem Beach , Goa

The lives of the engineer’s in Operations teams is stressful. From being on-call, to working on business driven projects and the equally important infrastructure improvement goals they tend to get pulled in all directions and often feel helpless. They sacrifice their personal time to manage on-call incidents and find difficulty in either learning something or spending time with their families.

With the engineers and the leaders energies focussed so much on keeping the lights on, people management never becomes a priority. Feedback at the end of the year during performance appraisals are awful surprises. Engineers don’t get the mentorship , coaching & feedback they deserve frequently and when 1:1s do happen their suggestions don’t get actioned. They distrust the organisations leadership and their intentions as they are not invested in their growth and likewise don’t feel invested in the organisation.

This leads to four kinds of behavioural groups in those teams.

Driven and impatient engineers: These engineers usually have the right mindset & skills to implement infrastructure as code and create agile infrastructures. They dislike routine, they want to solve the problems using available technology well, save their time, learn and do something useful for themselves , their teams and organisations. When operations side of work is not explicitly factored into projects or when clear infra-ops goals are not defined and facilitated, they tend to assume that their roles are to support the development teams. They then give up on the role & company they contribute to and move on to other companies where they believe things will be different.

The stable and patient: These engineers are fiercely loyal to their immediate lead & team, back each other, stick around and push on. They are very hardworking, skilled to deliver the results , are learners and given time can solve most problems well. They are extremely resilient to stress and channel their frustrations constructively. They contribute their bit, are often vocal, learn & try new things, prioritise & implement what they can work towards a better future. As good engineers leave the stable ones get buried with all types of work making it hard to focus on any improvement projects.

The laggards: Some get adjusted to the routine, become comfortable with the norm and end up numb to that stress. Work for them becomes a mean to an end. Their learning stops, they resist change & continue to follow broken or manual practices. With frequent honest advice & actionable feedback most of them can be transformed to be as efficient as the second group.

Future leaders often emerge from the second group. I will call them “the fourth kind”. They revel in adversarial situations. They work on their communication skills and build alignment within their teams , peers & leaders. The Internet & external communities is their mentor. They build friendships. They are extremely self-driven, they reach out to their peers, managers and other leaders in the organisation to build visibility for themselves and their teams. They use this information, synthesise and come up with detail oriented plans with clear thinking and are biased towards action. While they might be all the things an organisation wants in a employee they also need feedback, nurturing, support, autonomy and clear expectations to believe & succeed.

Given these perspectives, what is the role of the organisation and its leaders (CxOs, VPs, Directors) ?

  • Empathise: Reach out often, listen and affirm that their lives are hard.
  • Choose the right leadership style: Whether it is being Servant leader or practising Buildership/Constructivism or Intent based leadership. Your duty to your people is to help them grow, be better version of themselves, one that builds a caring and inclusive community and in turn make a better you.
  • Infrastructure Operations: Recognise that this unit of work cannot be a after thought. The technology capabilities required to run software in production and at scale does not magically develop. It requires thoughtful planning, investment in the right people , technology and developing the right skills.

If you are still here, I hope you connect with these perspectives and understand the role the organisation and its leaders play towards infra-ops agility.

If we are on the same page, the next challenge is Managing priorities — “The Now struggle”. Thoughts on that in the next installment..