By Liz Cohen
Yes we did; we ‘asked them anything’ and they obliged, with flair. Meet the colorful DevOps AMA panel we chatted with at DevOpsDays Tel Aviv:
- Mandi Walls, DevOps Advocate at PagerDuty
- Ilya Fish, DevOps Manager at SentinelOne
- Niv Yungelson, DevOps Team Lead at Melio
- Tal Kain, CEO at Velocity
- Moderated by Or Yahud, Principal at Hetz Ventures
What good is an AMA if it doesn’t get weird? Together with the DevOps Days audience, we covered a range of topics:
- Ok, we know ‘developer advocate’ but what’s a devops advocate, and why?
- Why and how Melio’s team decided to go totally serverless
- ChatGPT - for devops?!
- The age old build vs buy - as viewed by a devops startup founder
- What’s the must-have devops tool - that doesn’t exist yet?
- What’s ‘success’ for devops at a company?
So let’s get to it. Watch the original panel or read on for the highlights:
What’s a DevOps advocate? (And when do you hire one?)
“We understand that DevOps is a combination of tools and culture, and PagerDuty is a tool, but to make the best use of it, you have to adjust your culture a little bit.”
As a DevOps advocate, Mandi Walls, DevOps Advocate at PagerDuty, understands that DevOps combines tools and culture. Mandi takes a more cultural approach to help teams succeed with the product and foster a thriving DevOps culture within the organization. "When working with large companies, I noticed that they are using outdated methods. In these cases, I may suggest implementing blameless post mortems and cleaning up alerts to improve the experience of those on call."
Mandi's role differs from day-to-day DevOps. One of her responsibilities is communicating with customers, attending events and participating in various multimedia activities such as running a podcast and a Twitch stream. The goal is to help people understand there is a 360-degree view when implementing DevOps. Sounds a lot like developer relations - but designed to connect with devops teams.
Timing for implementing a community management and developer relations function within a company depends on the product. A startup building an open-source product may need to fill these roles earlier in the company's development, as managing and supporting the community is essential when running with a product-led growth mindset.
An enterprise SaaS product such as PagerDuty may only require these roles later in the company's life cycle, as the customer base may not be as closely aligned with the company's internal culture.
Mandi also mentioned that a marketing role should be established before implementing these roles, as someone must track and ensure that communication with customers is targeted and effective. Overall, she suggested that having these roles early on is beneficial as it allows for more open and direct customer conversations.
Hey, Melio - what’s it like to run entirely serverless?
One thing that Niv Yungelson, DevOps Team Lead at Melio, is glad they did at her company is choose to be almost entirely serverless - meaning they don't have a single Kubernetes cluster (!). This choice was made after evaluating the actual needs of their infrastructure rather than following industry trends. Niv explains what it’s like, and why she stands by the decision:
“Sometimes it's for the best and sometimes it's for the worst. For example, there are people here who work on [job] candidates at Melio for the DevOps team and they chose other teams that do have Kubernetes. So sometimes not having Kubernetes is not the most attractive thing for candidates, but it is the right thing for us because we actually evaluated the actual needs of our infrastructure before choosing the technology and we didn't just follow the trend in the industry.”
Niv added that “DevOps is a culture”, and that the DevOps team should work to minimize the learning curve for developers who work both with Kubernetes, and serverless.
Should DevOps teams use AI tools like ChatGPT?
“That's going to be a huge benefit over finding something that's been locked in a reddit thread for the last ten years.”
From Mandi's perspective, using ChatGPT as a tool for replacing boilerplate text and providing a starting point for various tasks is highly intriguing. She imagines using a ‘TerraForm GPT’ as a tool for automating the creation and management of infrastructure, which would be a significant advantage. Mandi is excited about the ability of AI tools to actually learn and improve over time, providing more recent and accurate information and perspectives instead of relying on outdated information found on last decade’s Stack Overflow and Reddit threads.
Build vs. Buy is a common debate for heads of R&D
“It's always about the focus. Can we focus on what the customers need and what the company is trying to solve. From my point of view, when you want to move as fast as possible, everything that is not your core business is something that you need to think really hard about, whether you actually want to move your focus from your target and actually build something like that [in-house].”
Tal Kain, CEO at Velocity, shares how his own company was born out of an observation that many companies struggled with maintaining production and development environments, even though it was not a core focus of their business. This required a significant investment of resources in terms of money and developer time. The cost of building and maintaining such a solution can be notoriously high.
Ultimately, deciding whether to build or buy a solution is often about focus. Even if a company can create a solution, the question is whether it is the best use of its resources and whether a pre-built solution can effectively address the needs of the company and its customers.
What tool doesn’t exist yet that you’d want?
“One of the biggest challenges is not lacking some tool that we can use, but the time of the adoption and the integration of this tool.”
For Ilya Fish, DevOps Manager at SentinelOne, one of the biggest challenges is not lacking a specific tool, but the friction caused by adoption time and integration of tools. When evaluating new tools, he makes sure to consider the amount of time it will take to use them effectively, as intended by the vendor. Often, he finds that the time investment required should be lowered, and it would be more cost-effective to build the necessary functionality in-house and unit-test it using Terraform.
How do you know you’re successful when leading DevOps?
“People from the R&D that are outside of the DevOps team are not afraid to reach out to us.”
According to Niv, the DevOps team at the company is approachable and non-intimidating to those in the R&D department. They are encouraged to reach out to the DevOps team with any questions without fear of being turned away or made to feel foolish. This is considered a positive aspect of the company culture.
“My big focus is that everyone on the team will feel growth every quarter or two quarters.”
Ilya’s philosophy is that DevOps success is ensuring that every team member feels their own professional development or growth over time. If he thinks that if team members have yet to experience their own growth, it’s a problem and as a manager, he prioritizes this.
“It's always about the people.”
Tal believes that success for a DevOps team is the ability to effectively communicate and provide the best service both within and outside of the organization. It is also essential for team members to feel a sense of growth and development and for the team to be connected to the business and customer needs. Also, having strong internal communication and feeling like a valuable part of the product and mission is crucial for a successful DevOps team. In short: people are at the center of DevOps success.
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