Kelsey Hightower on Spinnaker: Culture is what you DO
“Let Google’s CloudBuild handle building, testing, and pushing the artifact to your repository. #WithSpinnaker, you can go as fast as you want, whenever you’re ready.”
Calling all infrastructure nerds, SREs, platforms engineers, and the like: if you’ve never seen Kelsey Hightower speak in person, add it to your bucket list. Last week, he gave a talk at Portland’s first Spinnaker meetup, hosted at New Relic by the amazing PDX DevOps GroundUp. I cackled and cried at the world’s most poignant ‘Ops standup’ routine. Of course, he thrilled the Armory tribe with his praise of Spinnaker’s “decoupling of high level primitives,” and I can share some key benefits that Kelsey highlighted:
- Even with many different build systems, you can consolidate deployments #withSpinnaker. Each can notify Spinnaker to pick up new artifacts as they are ready.
- Spinnaker’s application-centric approach helps achieve continuous delivery buy-in. It gives application owners the control they crave, within automated guardrails that serialize your software delivery culture.
- Building manual judgements into heavy deployment automation is a “holy grail” for some. #WithSpinnaker, we can end the fallacy of “just check in code and everything goes to prod.” We can codify the steps in between as part of the pipeline.
- Spinnaker uses the perfect integration point. It removes the brittleness of scripting out the transition between a ‘ready-to-rock’ artifact and an application running in production.
Kelsey’s words have profound impact. He did give some practical advice, like “Don’t run Spinnaker on the same cluster you’re deploying to,” and of course, keep separate build and deploy target environments. But the way Kelsey talked about culture struck a chord. We called the meetup, “Serializing culture into continuous delivery,” and in his story, Kelsey explained that culture is what you do: the actions you take as you work; your steps in approaching problems.
I’m reminded of working on a team struggling with an “agile transformation” through a series of long, circular discussions. I urged my team, “Scrum is just something that you do!” You go to standups, and do demos. You get better at pointing work over time. The ceremonies matter because you adapt by doing the work.
Kelsey says his doing approach starts with raising his hand and saying, “I would like to own that particular problem,” and then figuring it out as he goes. Really owning a problem requires jumping in to achieve a deep understanding of it. It’s living it, and sharing with others who have lived it. We can BE our culture by learning processes hands-on, digging into the business reasons behind constraints, and using that knowledge to take ownership. Hiding behind culture talk doesn’t cut it, since you have to do it before you can change it.
Another important way of doing: recognizing when you don’t know how to do it and need some help. Powerful open source projects like Kubernetes and Spinnaker can become incredibly complicated to implement in a way that faithfully serializes your culture. Responsible ownership means getting the help you need to execute.
I love how Kelsey juxtaposed the theatrics and hero mythology behind change management and outage “war rooms” with the stark truth of the business needs behind our vital services. As Kelsey shared his Ops origins story, I recalled my own – the rocket launch music that played in my head the first time I successfully restarted the java process for an LMS I held the pager for, contrasted with the sick feeling I got when reading the complaining tweets from university students who relied on the system and had their costly education disrupted by the outage. I knew the vast majority of our students worked full time and paid their own way, and that many had families to juggle as I do. This was the real story of our work. It drove home the importance of continuous improvement, and meant that our slow-moving software delivery culture frustrated the heck out of me.
So what do you do if you’re Kelsey? You become an expert at serializing a company’s decisions around software delivery and telling them, as a quietly functioning story, with the best-in-class open source and Google tooling of the moment. He tells the story of his first automation journey: “So I started to serialize culture,” he says, when most of the IT department left him to fend for himself over the winter holidays. Without trying to refactor applications, he set to work codifying the software delivery practices he had come to understand through Ops. He automated processes, using tools his team felt comfortable with.
He said, “We never walked around talking about all of our automation tools,” and that’s not a secrecy move, it’s his awareness of cognitive dissonance and cognitive overload. Because he had created a system based on application owners expectations, their comfort zone, he didn’t need to talk about it! It just worked (better and more efficiently over time, of course), and fulfilled the business case. Like Agile, this approach limits the scope of what one has to wrap their brain around to be excellent. Like Spinnaker, it empowers developers to focus on what they do best.
Instead of talking about the transformation you need, start by starting. Then change will begin.
Join Spinnaker Slack to learn more about Spinnaker and connect with folks who use and operate it. Read more about starting where you are, with what you have, or reach out to [email protected] to set up a value stream mapping discovery day with experts from Armory and Continuity.