James Governor's Monkchips

Tools lead culture change: Happy Birthday DevOpsDays

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Inspired by this great post by my colleague Rachel – DevOps: Tools Can Lead The Culture Change – I wanted to get a few thoughts down. I think Rachel has surfaced something important. It’s all too easy to run from conference to conference saying that DevOps isn’t about tools, but culture change. I have made this pitch myself. The core idea here makes sense – you can’t buy DevOps. There is no silver bullet, no product or service that will make the company more effective. And yet, tools, people, and process have a relationship.

It is the 10th anniversary of DevOpsDays next week in Ghent. I can’t think of an example of “giving it a name” that had a more profound effect on our industry. DevOps is indeed a culture change. But it is also a change in toolsets. As far as I am concerned it’s not incidental that Andrew Clay Shafer coined the term DevOps with Patrick Debois. Andrew cofounded Puppet with Luke Kanies. I don’t think it’s even possible to contextualise DevOps without an understanding of Configuration as Code. Without Puppet, Chef, Ansible or SaltStack DevOps makes no sense. Or modern monitoring- New Relic was founded in 2008. Or incident management and the idea of pagers and responsibility for your own code that became so central to DevOps thinking: PagerDuty was founded in 2009.

A few years back my colleague Stephen noted that frameworks lead language adoption. I would argue the same is true in this case- Tools Lead Culture Change. Rachel has it exactly right.

Try and imagine modern open source or inner source approaches without using GitHub, GitLab or Bitbucket.

Slack isn’t just a tool, it’s a new way of working.

Culture change doesn’t rely on any one specific product, but there are new categories that map to any culture change. Observability is a culture change, but it’s also a set of tools and platforms.

The lesson here is that IT change is never one thing, it’s a complex interrelated set of changes based on people, platform and personnel.  But – and here is the kicker – the platforms that enable culture change at scale come first. A pattern is identified, instantiated in tooling, and that enables a far-reaching change in how people work. Tools lead culture change.


disclosure: GitHub, GitLab, New Relic and PagerDuty are clients, but this is an independent piece of research.


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