Chaos Engineering: Why the Label Matters

An evening of fun and conversation on microservices and chaos engineering at Peakwork

Lightbulb moments on Microservices and Chaos Engineering

Yesterday evening I had a complete blast giving my “Microservices Hell” cautionary talk at Peakwork. I was even lucky enough to be loaned a great guitar from the wonderful Daniel for which I am eternally grateful!

Peakwork’s venue was great, the local beer was superb and the crowd were awesome, especially the folks getting into the groove for my rendition of “Highway to Hell”. To everyone that came, and especially the organisers, thank you! (Oh and sorry I didn’t use the whiteboard again! I feel so guilty after watching it being carried around the campus…).

Throughout the evening there were a number of conversations that really got me thinking and I’d like to share some of the epiphanies here. First off, the main theme of my talk, which used to be somewhat controversial, is that “microservices” is more about how you organise your people and engineer your tech so that it doesn’t hold you back. This promise is tempered by the not-inconsiderable cost of coordination amongst teams and, of course, the plethora of design decisions and technical challenges that are to be expected of any distributed system. The great news is that it is emerging that, for particular types of organisations (those growing fast in particular), the approach is really delivering.

The really nice thing I noticed is that this is an idea that is very much becoming the mainstream understanding, at least amongst non-technical folks. The general motivation for these stakeholders to even be at a microservices-themed evening event , almost across the board, can be paraphrased as, “We need to grow; growth with our existing sociotechnical system is hurting badly (if not hitting a wall); does this help?”.

Personally, I think that this emphasis is a really great thing as it broadens the topic from just, “Where should I put my circuit breakers?” and, “What scheduler and CI system should I use?” to, “How can I now organise my people and projects to get more out of things?”. It’s like the microservices message going full circle, and not a moment too soon.

Along the same lines, the second topic that dominated the evening was Chaos Engineering. This was a bit of a surprise as many people came up to me and wanted to know more about it. Right now, it’s a hot topic although many people have been doing it for a long time! But why now? Well the recent user groups and books help, but I think there’s more to it even than that.

For me, up until recently, it just didn’t seem to have the right label, and in our fickle, social-media drenched word-of-mouth world having the right label is a big deal. People I spoke to admitted that they would have struggled in the past (see: a couple of weeks ago) to get a budget for simply “hurting production”. Now, they are able to get that budget for 3 main reasons:

  1. The approach is getting better understood to be part of “how we get better”, not least because the Principles of Chaos Engineering are getting some attention.
  2. The wonderful “Chaos Engineering” book is published and free!(and I encourage everyone to grab a copy RIGHT NOW).
  3. Finally, just giving the practice a label is a crucial factor.

So why is the label “Chaos Engineering” important? Well for me it’s not really about the fact it has chaos in the title, although I love that. If anything, the label is a little confusing in some respects as it’s actually a very controlled, coordinated, practical and empirical approach (although of course it’s trying to work with a chaotic system environment, so it all fits).

The label is important because you can get a budget for a good label. A good label has business value. Already I have clients talking about creating Chaos Engineering practices and it’s only a matter of time before there’s the fantastic opportunity for people to get the role of “Director of Chaos”. In itself this alone would be a great contribution to any org chart in my opinion!

Chaos Engineering is coming out of the technical shadows at last, and thank goodness people are recognising it because it has a catchy label that fronts real business value. Chaos Engineering can be your edge. The people at the evening event understood this, and that was a bit of a shock and a wonderful message to take away from the event.

Yesterday evening was really great and I enjoyed all the chats immensely. I really hope I get invited back again soon to do another talk and maybe continue some of those conversations here on this blog or on the continual stream of consciousness that is Twitter.

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Russ Miles can be followed on Twitter and delivers courses and consultancy on how to build software systems and teams applying Antifragility through Microservices and Chaos Engineering. As the Geek on a Harley he also travels to and speaks at many conferences and user groups around the world.