Thought Leadership: Entrepreneur Gene Kim and IBM's Rosalind Radcliffe Delve into DevOps

There is an old African proverb that a lot of team leaders and decision-makers use for motivation. "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." DevOps is a practice that emphasizes the need for collaboration and communication between software developers and other information technology professionals, while automating the process of software delivery and infrastructure changes.

Two people who are big proponents of DevOps are IBM Distinguished Engineer Rosalind Radcliffe and Tripwire founder Gene Kim, author of "The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win." The former is Chief Architect for CLM and DevOps and is responsible for driving the DevOps for multi-platform architecture at IBM. The latter hosted the three-day DevOps Enterprise Summit this past October in San Francisco, at which Radcliffe was a speaker.

Radcliffe sees her session as an opportunity to help her industry and colleagues. "The biggest challenge I face," she says, "is people not accepting or believing or understanding that DevOps really can apply to their system of record, and it really can transform. That's the real challenge, and we need to get over that."

DevOps indeed requires an organizational culture shift, which is especially difficult considering the conflicting nature of departmental roles. Getting these groups to work cohesively is a critical challenge in enterprise DevOps adoption, as DevOps principles demand strong interdepartmental communication. "It's breaking down the silos and getting the organizations to actually talk," Radcliffe remarks. "I am somewhat amazed that I have managed to go into companies still on a regular basis and have to introduce the people in operations to the people working in development and introduce the people who are working on the system of record to those people working on the system of engagement. This is a separation that has built up over the years because of processes and procedures, and that's not a good thing."

She continues, "Everybody needs to play a role in the DevOps story. It's not this team versus that team. There can't be teams that don't participate. Everyone should be part of the process. There's no doubt that the historical nature of what's gone on in an enterprise has really separated the teams. We have to stop this separation. We have to make these teams come together. We have to have them participating together or we end up with incompatibility between processes and procedures after having been built up over time to be separate and distinct."

Kim agrees with Radcliffe's assessment. The goal of DevOps (a clipped compound of "development" and "operations") has long been to establish a culture where building, testing and releasing software can happen rapidly and reliably. "For decades," he states, "we've been able to get away with zSystem teams and mobile teams working somewhat in isolation. Now more than ever, those teams are required to work together. In any system, you're only as fast as the slowest team. I've been studying high-performing technology organizations since 1999. My focus right now is studying how large, complex organizations are adapting DevOps principles and patterns that have succeeded so well at Google, Amazon, Netflix and so forth. Now, I am looking at organizations like Disney, Raytheon and Nordstrom . . . organizations that are happily using mainframes and adopting those same principles and patterns for the mainframe community."

When asked what level of competence a DevOps professional should have, Radcliffe is quick to answer. "The questions you have to ask yourself are: 'How do I do this transformation?' and 'How do I actually improve or increase my skills in order to follow these new processes and procedures?' It's critical that this transformation actually happens. Having the z teams actually start learning how to do things like test-driven development — things they haven't even thought about before — is vital. Automated testing is one thing currently lacking in the mainframe. That's a big area they need to work on and understand."

In fact, her session at the last DevOps Enterprise Summit centered on automated testing for mainframe applications and included a discussion of integration testing and using virtual services to improve early testing. Many organizations have very limited automated testing for mainframe applications. With the concepts of shift left testing and the new tooling specifically targeted to improve test capability on z/OS, Radcliffe believes there are opportunities to quickly improve the lack of testing.

She states, "One of the biggest problems we have is the lack of modern tooling. We have people who have been using ISPS forever, and that's what they're used to and comfortable with. But you're not going to bring the next generation in to do development on these systems if we continue to use the old development tools. They need to learn the things that the distributed side has been doing for a long time. They don't have to give up the values of z. They don't have to give up the core fundamentals of what we've done in terms of maintaining reliable systems, but they can take advantage of all these processes that have developed over the years. It really does take an 'up-skilling' of the development team of how to use modern tools, how to do test-driven development and automated testing. Automated testing is difficult for everyone. But if you've not thought about doing any automated testing ever, you have a large set of systems that you now need to deal with."

Both Radcliffe and Kim describe themselves as "people persons." Radcliffe says, "I love working with clients to help them understand the value of transformation. It's really interesting to help them along this path and have them see what they are getting by moving in the direction of a DevOps strategy from their enterprise standpoint. They really can do it, and it really will improve things. And the best advice ever given to me, and the advice I try to provide, is make sure you are enjoying what you do. There are always challenges. Enjoy the parts that you can and put up with the rest."

Kim adds, " I love hanging out with the best in the game, people who are advancing the field. That only happens when you surround yourself with a peer group that is constantly learning. My journey in studying high-performing technology organizations has allowed me to hang out with the DevOps enterprise community, where they are replicating the same sort of amazing outcomes that we only saw previously at Google, Amazon and Twitter. They're doing this in organizations and with workforces that have been around for decades, often in cultures that have a long tradition of command and control. Seeing the bravery required in bringing in new practices and new technologies is really exhilarating."

Looking ahead, both express optimism at where the technology is headed — so much so that Radcliffe expects 2016 will be a year of transformation. She concludes, "I think the last few years, we've seen companies deciding to do the transformation. I want this to be year where people say, 'Yes, we're really going to do it!'"

Gene Kim is a multiple award winning CTO, researcher and author. He was the founder and CTO of Tripwire for 13 years. He has written three books, including “The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win” and the upcoming “DevOps Handbook.”

Rosalind Radcliffe is a Distinguished Engineer at IBM. She has been at IBM for 29 years, working in many different product and service areas. She is a frequent presenter and an author of many articles and the “Mobile to Mainframe DevOps for Dummies” book. She is currently the chief architect for DevOps for Enterprise Systems, a master inventor and a member of the IBM Academy of Technology.

— Information Inc.

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