DevOps Saved My Life (Probably)

When I think about the effects that stress and anxiety can have on your health, I am surprised I got out of Release Management alive.

Recently I’ve been reflecting on how practices like Continuous Delivery are changing roles within IT and whilst I love to chat about the business benefits this can bring, I’m also interested in the human benefits. The relentless stress and disappointment of managing big-bang, quarterly releases is now a thing of the past, and we have automation to thank for that.

So, to Release Managers everywhere I say: DevOps is not here to make you redundant, it’s here to SAVE YOUR LIFE.

My recent reflections began when I read the following article on Information Age Myth busting: why automation software will create, not replace, human jobs

This article makes a great point, that with greater automation the roles that exist within IT are, far from being eliminated, actually becoming more interesting and rewarding — and I couldn’t agree more.

“Automation has therefore freed up resource for people to think about what they do and to find better ways of doing it. Far from removing jobs, automation has led to the creation of more interesting work”

One of my first roles as a trainee Project Manager was to plan and coordinate releases. This was not an easy job in a complex matrix organisation where at least 10 teams were required to closely coordinate activities precisely and efficiently during a 12-hour overnight deployment.

(I’m talking about Development, Testing, Application Support, DB Support, Networks, Server & Storage, Change and Configuration, Change Management, Web Operations and Third Party Suppliers.)

Weeks of planning would go into releases and (ignoring for the moment the challenges of delivering a working build through pre-production) these nights were fraught with unprecedented issues. We had a different version of .NET running in production, we had a DB migration script take 4 hours longer than it should have, we had missing permissions, issues with firewalls and of course those bugs that only rear their ugly heads in production (because “real” data is never quite what you think it is going to be). Oh the fun we had!

The nights would begin with confidence and curry, and end (weeks later) in fall out. “RAT” teams, post-mortems, performance issues and multiple emergency patches were standard after every release. As we finished mopping up the mess left by one release, engineering were completing development on the next and we would start the cycle of pain all over again.

Dilbert sums up the relentless optimism of a Release Manager

Although I do look back on these days with great fondness (every failure taught me a valuable lesson) I do not envy anyone who is still doing this style of release management today. These were long days full of stress and disappointment, testing even the most resilient among us; straining our working relationships and team spirit.

In a cross functional team, that have embraced DevOps culture, tools and principles, my old role as Release Manager is largely obsolete (a subject for a future blog post!), as are many others, because these tasks are automated and releases are delivered continuously into production. It used to sound like a pipe dream but more and more companies are making it a reality, and reaping the benefits of a more responsive — but also happier and healthier — IT team.

State of DevOps 2015 by Puppet Labs also points the finger at Deployment Pain as a major contributor to team burnout.

Deployment Pain. Unplanned work and constant firefighting contribute to high stress and feelings of lack of control. With the right practices in place, deployments don’t have to be painful events. Managers should be asking their teams how painful their deployments are, and fixing the things that hurt the most.”

I have felt that pain so I wholeheartedly agree that DevOps should not be viewed as eliminating jobs but changing them for better. Removing high impact, super stressful everything-is-on-fire deployments removes a huge source of stress and burnout, improving the wellness of your team.

I had so much fun as a Release Manager but that was because I worked with a great team, who could see the funny side of everything, even while the house burnt down. Not everyone is that lucky or that resilient and I have witnessed the burnout of fellow Project Managers too often.

Thankfully, due to the automation of many of their roles, they are now more likely to be pulling all-nighters down the pub than in the office putting out fires. I should probably be more worried about their livers than their stress levels!

So in summary, to protect your team, support your local pubs and live longer embrace Continuous Delivery. DevOps saves lives.


Originally published at hannahfoxwell.net on August 22, 2015.