Dev(st)Ops: a rant

DevOps is the combination of cultural philosophies, practices, and tools that increases an organization’s ability to deliver applications and services at high velocity: evolving and improving products at a faster pace than organizations using traditional software development and infrastructure management processes. This speed enables organizations to better serve their customers and compete more effectively in the market.

Yes, that’s an outhouse

This post is about DevOps. It begins in Africa.

Burkina Faso is a land-locked country in West Africa on the southern edge of the Sahara. It is a very poor country. After graduating college with a B.S. in general science, which basically meant I had no job prospects but maybe could have gone to medical school if I had better grades, I found myself in Burkina Faso as a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching science. I vividly remember flying into the country for the first time. It was nighttime, and as we felt our jet start the final descent, I looked out the window and saw an enormous patchwork of fires. They were campfire-style fires, not forest fires, and especially not electric city lights as you would expect to see from a plane about to land in the United States. Although dark, it was still early in the evening (Burkina Faso is close to the equator and the sun goes down early), and people were cooking dinner. That’s how poor Burkina Faso is.

After landing, I vividly remember getting off the plane (via stairs), and almost being bowled over by stifling the heat, and wondering if it was from the jet engine next to us. It wasn’t. That’s how hot Burkina Faso is.

There are many stories I could tell about how the heat made life miserable, but one stands out for the purpose of this post. Malaria is a huge problem in West Africa. Mosquito nets are supposed to be able to cheaply prevent malaria. Have you tried to sleep under a net when the temperature is over 100°F? It’s horrible. You need all the air circulation you can get. That’s why mosquito nets haven’t solved malaria.

Everyone in Burkina Faso had a mosquito net, of course, which they never used because they were too hot top sleep under. Bill Gates or some other charitable entity had kindly bought a net for everyone. Charity has spent vast amounts of money in Burkina Faso.

Another item charity bought was speed bumps. With poorly maintained vehicles, no rules to speak of, and nonexistent medical care, the mortality rate due to traffic accidents was quite high. Therefore, at some point before I arrived in country, vast strips of speed bumps were installed on the major thoroughfares leading into the capital city of Ouagadougou with charity dollars. Like, hundreds of yards of speed bumps, and they were very sharp, axle breaking bumps. Anecdotes are not data, but I saw multiple accidents at these speed bumps. There were no signs to mark when they started, and of course there were no street lights. Another item charity dollars bought in Burkina Faso was outhouses.

Today I work for a very large company that has been around for quite some time. I work with ‘big data’ for online marketing. As a marketer, I am not considered to be in a very technical role – we have a DevOps team to help with the technical stuff. What does DevOps do for us marketers? In my opinion, they provide the mosquito nets, speed bumps, and outhouses.

It makes sense to start with the outhouse analogy. I’m not talking about a honeypot to catch hackers. Burkina Faso has next to no portable water or plumbing, and sanitation is an enormous issue. Outhouses really do have the potential to vastly increase the quality of life for people living there. Vast amounts of outhouses were paid for and built by charity dollars. There was one major problem with the implementation: after the contractors that built all of these extremely nice outhouses left, the locals in charge immediately went to each and every one and slapped a padlock on it. They didn’t want the pristine outhouses to be ruined by use.

At work, IT has been building on-prem servers for 50 years and spawned DevOps sometime in the last two decades. But now we have the cloud. A few months ago I provisioned a private Factorio server for my son and myself to play on AWS. It took about 20 minutes to set up and it costs $9 per month, billed to my credit card. At work, it takes about 3 months to get a cloud resource up and running. We aren’t allowed to just do it ourselves – we open a ticket and submit an architecture diagram and then escalate the ticket after it doesn’t get a response in 5 business days and then amend the architecture diagram 5 times and then we do a security review and revise some more, and then finally we get the resource. Guess what happens when the project requirements inevitably change.

So I would argue that in my situation DevOps has put the lock on the proverbial outhouse, and prevents me from doing something I know how to do. I have the DevOps counterparts in my head for speed bumps (obvious) and mosquito nets (maybe slightly less obvious?) but that would take another post. Oh and about DevOps and security? Let’s just say that would be yet another separate blog post, but I’m probably not allowed to post that one.

To be continued . . .

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