DevOps depends on a lot of human qualities. That may sound a bit strange -- it's an approach to development, after all -- but it is true. At least it is to Matt Zelesko, Comcast's senior vice president of software development engineering. DevOps, in his eyes, empowers those in the development chain. They must take ownership of what they do and, at the end of the day, understand that they are accountable.
It truly is a new approach. The payoff is a more engaged workforce -- and one that can do in days or weeks what formerly took months or years. Zelesko is the latest service provider executive to speak with Telco Transformation about DevOps. All the interviews feature the same set of questions.
Telco Transformation: What cultural transformations need to take place in order to implement a DevOps mindset across the entire workforce?
Matt Zelesko: The cultural hallmarks of DevOps are trust and accountability. One of the ways DevOps accelerates the deployment cycle is by empowering a larger number of technologists in the organization to make customer facing changes and updates to code. This is the "Ops" in "DevOps." Rather than having a large team of developers writing code, and a small group of operators deploying it, DevOps teams are empowered to manage the process from end to end. This creates tremendous efficiencies, and engenders a vital sense of ownership in engineers, but those benefits depend on a culture of trust and accountability.
As leaders, we have to trust developers to do the right thing when it comes to putting new code into production. This doesn't mean abandoning checks and balances. To the contrary, quality engineering is actually more deeply embedded into DevOps teams than in traditional development models. What it does mean, in a large organization, is that a lot of teams are doing a lot of concurrent work, and leaders have to trust both the people and the process. The other side of that coin is accountability. In a DevOps model, engineers don't just toss code over the wall and trust the next team to troubleshoot it. Teams own products from inception to deployment and beyond, and are accountable for how they perform.
Fostering a culture of accountability isn't always easy at first. When something does go wrong, teams need to step up and own their mistakes, and leaders need to react in a manner that is constructive and forward looking. It takes time to integrate into the culture, but the rewards -- in terms of productivity, employee satisfaction and overall quality of work -- make the effort worthwhile.
TT: How are employees being trained for new services and applications?
MZ: Every DevOps team or "pod" contains a mix of not just skillsets (product leaders, software developers, quality engineers, etc.) but also experience levels and seniority. As we've progressed with DevOps, we've found that the very best way to train an employee on a new skillset or platform is to bring that employee into a pod working in those areas. Senior members of our pods have really embraced the expectation that a core function of the job is mentorship. When you combine a bright technologist with an experienced team, the learning curve starts to look like a hockey stick.
TT: How are new employees being recruited?
MZ: We have a tremendous talent team that leverages digital, social and traditional platforms to reach the best candidates at all levels of experience from recent graduates to seasoned technologists. On the technology side, the best thing we can do to support our colleagues on the talent side is to make sure we're continuously cultivating an environment where technologists are able to flourish. DevOps plays an important role in helping to define that environment.
TT: What is the impact of DevOps on breaking down service silos? Are there cross-disciplinary groups?
MZ: DevOps pods are cross-disciplinary groups by design. Any given pod will include representation from the business/product side, engineering, design quality assurance and potentially several other groups, depending on the project.
TT: What are some examples of how DevOps have changed and/or impacted services and applications?
MZ: One of the hallmarks of X1 -- our flagship video product -- is how fast we're able to deliver updates and new features. We went from updating the video experience over the course of months or years, to updating it in real time over the course of days and weeks. X1 customers see a continuous stream of new features, apps and improvements, ranging from barely noticeable to enormous (such as the Rio 2016 Olympics experience). That pace is enabled by DevOps. It's hard to imagine how X1 would look without it.
The DevOps model also gives us the tools to ensure that innovation velocity doesn't come at the expense of reliability. Through a combination of incremental software rollouts, effective monitoring, and easy rollback in the event of an issue, the DevOps approach provides speed coupled with stability.
For previous Q&As on DevOps, check out:
— Carl Weinschenk, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation