Thursday, June 28, 2018

Caution: The DevOps explosion

Everything in moderation - Let's not overdo the DevOps !

Recently, working as a startup CTO and adviser, I have seen what I call a "DevOps" craze. Developers, especially younger ones seem totally swept up in the DevOps revolution. Continuous deployment, auto-scaling groups, hot back-ups, containers etc etc.

Many times these implementations, whilst impressive, are unnecessary for the stage of the company or the product development. Many times, they are difficult to document, relatively expensive, difficult to maintain and can be hard to debug. In many circumstances, it would be far easier to have some old-fashioned deployment or back-up scripts until the company or product has some traction in the market and there are the resources available to properly administer the complexity of the DevOps setup.  This is somewhat of a paradox, initially it would seem that by automating many of the mundane operational tasks that the development team face, you would be saving not only time and resource but also money. However, this is not always the case. Like anything you should implement exactly what is needed and not more. Many service providers make some of these DevOps tasks almost trivial to implement (individually) that the temptation exists to over-engineer the DevOps. This should be avoided.

The main reason to avoid over-engineering of DevOps is not the potential to loose control of cost, it is not the risk of spending much needed development time on DevOps tasks. The main risk is creating an overall system that is reliant on a number of DevOps tool providers, which when used in conjunction create systems that are unnecessarily complex to understand and maintain. For example you push your code to source control, which integrates with another 3rd party, this runs some unit tests and pushes to production servers, these servers have a number of containers that are "networked" together and there servers themselves have various firewall rules and scaling rules etc etc. One can see that this can get very complex, very quickly. Yes, it's wonderful to have these tools and in principle it is wonderful conceptually. But is it really needed ? How often do you really need to deploy to production ? How difficult is the deployment ? How many people take the time to properly document the DevOps configuration and setup ? Is DevOps becoming a risk to your business ?

If you are not carefully managing this, DevOps can become more of a risk than a asset to the business.

Sometimes, less is more. Everything in moderation - especially when it comes to software engineering. 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Hire for Engineers not for Frameworks

I have been faced with hiring great engineering teams on a number of occasions, I am constantly amazed at home many hiring managers and recruiters seem to focus on particular technologies and experience in those technologies.

My experience has taught me to hire engineers and I have always viewed the technology as a secondary consideration. I always focuses on a grasp of engineering fundamentals and not on information about some current or past technology. In our current world these technologies are out of date by the time the ink on the contract is dry.

Recently, I was approached by a leading company for a very senior role. The in-house recruiter laid on his wonderful resume with world leading software companies before affording me the chance to explain my career-to-date. He then proceeded to ask me a number of questions on specific Java libraries and how they were used. This is all information that is readily available on reference sites and in API documentation and does not  highlight any engineering ability whatsoever.

Unfortunately, this practice is common place. Hiring tests are geared to determining how good someone is with a particular language or technology and not how good they are at thinking or learning a new framework or technology.

I have never hired teams this way. The best engineering or software teams are made up of good solid engineers, who can solve problems and can adapt to a very fast paced and moving technological landscape.