What is a DevOps Advocate?

What is a DevOps Advocate

My role is to help accelerate the adoption of DevOps outcomes with Nutanix. Fortunately, this is easier now than the twenty+ year journey it took to arrive in front of you today. By way of introduction, I’d like to explain where I came from, what my role entails, and how I can help the Nutanix community.

1997: Technology Evangelist, Industry and Developer Relations, Netscape Marketing

My third job out of college was a pay cut and a one-way ticket of 4000 KM or 2500 miles from my home, but in 1996, I became one of Netscape’s webmasters. I worked with engineering, product management, and the entire marketing department to improve www.netscape.com: the world’s highest visited web site.

Despite a few programing courses in college, I was self-taught programmer when it came to PERL. I wrote the Plug-in Finder (a PERL CGI) and worked with Server Engineering to insure it would perform under load while working with marketing to make a web application database to manage plug-in providers. I also produced and modernized the first banner and search page advertising programs on the web, which brought in millions of dollars annually.

In 1997, I was recruited by Netscape’s first Technology Evangelist to help cover JavaScript, expanding the tutorials and sample code for all of the new features that came out with every major release of Navigator. Technology Evangelism had been popularized by Guy Kawasaki at Apple to help attract developers to write application on the Macintosh OS platform, thereby driving adoption of Macs. This early model was primarily a one-to-many role to lead the way for others to follow in your footsteps, akin to tele-evanglism over mass-media of TV and radio, but for platform developers.

Netscape’s adoption of Technology Evangelism necessarily made communication a two-way street. When Engineering and Product Management would create new features and APIs, technical writers in the engineering documentation and technical publishing teams publishing their work was not enough to attract developers. The Internet way of public, published, open RFC standards (or other standards bodies), were often viewed as immature in the market when compared to their proprietary competition. Going to developers, showing them the benefits of adoption, arguing for better ways to work, and demonstrating the reality of this work took a unique set of skills, including public speaking.

It was just as important to bring external feedback from the field of customers, partners, and developers across the world to Engineering and Product Management for what doesn’t work or didn’t work well enough in the real world and what developers needed next. All the time there were new use cases of the Internet, web server, and web browser technologies. I learned to stop saying “You can’t do that” and learned to say “You can’t do that… yet!” I brought feedback directly into Netscape because I sat in on weekly engineering status meetings for a number of product teams. As an adjunct and sometimes honorary member, I would help write release notes, try early release candidates, and review technical documentation to offload engineering work. The marketing work was creating technical notes, tutorials, and demos, going to conferences and speaking to present these materials, writing articles and books in publications, and so on.

The world hunger to understand the Internet way, combined with Netscape’s engineering and product leadership, and feedback from the field made a new, tight loop of global innovation on the web the world had never seen. It created a new sector of the economy and has had an everlasting impact on traditional business, a digital transformation that continues today.

The Continued Rise of the Developer

Looking back on when my first Developer Relations career ended at Netscape in 1998, I had gained a unique Silicon Valley viewpoint of how commercial Internet software development could be performed at scale. Since that time, I cite a few landmarks that are evidence of the growing awareness spreading across the world over time; they follow in the next sections.

2000: Developers, Developers, Developers!

Recall Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s fanatical call for them to join the Windows platform: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSJS6mgqV64 at the Windows Developer Conference in 2000. The CEO was working for Developer Relations on that day and following in the footsteps of Apple evangelism. The developer experience has been a continued strength of Microsoft to this day as it continues to defend and expand its platforms.

2009: The Birth of Agile Infrastructure, DevOps, and Nutanix

With the creation of the term DevOps from the groundswell creation of the Agile SysAdmin Google Group, Patrick Dubois founded a community and a movement that sought to break down the traditional silos between application developers and infrastructure operators to deliver their work to customers.

This same year Nutanix was founded, pioneering the term Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI), which disrupts the entire infrastructure industry by combining the storage, virtualization, and network silos into a software defined cluster, delivering an Enterprise Cloud experience for Agile Infrastructure and SysAdmins.

2011: Why Software is Eating the World

At Netscape, our co-founder Marc Andreessen was part of my reporting chain, and after Netscape Marc gained experience in creating Loudcloud/Opsware, an early SaaS/Managed Service Cloud Provider. In 2011, he wrote a pivotal observation and coined a beautiful phrase: https://a16z.com/2011/08/20/why-software-is-eating-the-world/, which I would summarize as the business transformation of physical to virtual via software. This revolution continues with the cloud mindset’s continued impact on IT.

2013: The New Kingmakers

Another realization of how software developers power disruption in our economy and in business organizations was coined https://thenewkingmakers.com/. What started as blog entry progressed into a rallying cry for a shift in power of the gross domestic product of every country in the world. Every company now wanted to command a digital presence on the web, but they first needed developers to implement, innovate, and compete in the market before shifting to attract, promote, and grow customers to engage with their platform. This trend has accelerated and Nutanix represents exactly the disruption software has had on the hardware industry.

A small quote from author Stephen O’Grady:

“The most successful companies today are those that understand the strategic role that developers will play in their success or failure. Not just successful technology companies – virtually every company today needs a developer strategy. There’s a reason that ESPN and Sears have rolled out API programs, that companies are being bought not for their products but their people. The reason is that developers are the most valuable resource in business.”

2019: Everyone is a Developer

My colleague Jared Rypka-Hauer and I presented at .NEXT Europe 2019 in Copenhagen a well received talk to a packed room on how to “Accelerate Your DevOps Journey.” To underscore how everyone needs development skills today, slide #14 outlined the parallel progression and goals for Developers & Testers, DevOps, and Operator teams in each of their domains:

Simply put:

  • Operations teams in IT are trying to make infrastructure invisible with cloud experiences through automation to get to continuous operations.
  • DevOps teams spanning Development and Operations domains continue to automate and reduce the friction in delivering business to converge the domains.
  • The Developers and Testers themselves are working to reduce the amount of operations needed for their work through increasing automation tooling and methods.

There is no lack of work to pursue the state of the art in business today, nor is there any question what the direction for any team should be!

A Critique of Technology Evangelism

Much of technology evangelism’s early broadcast model does not scale to cover the world over the long-term because it is limited to the quantify and quality of talent in Developer Relations teams; they must exploit media to reach their audience of platform developers. If your value is limited to how many flight air miles you cover to reach developers across in the world, then the further you go, the more time you have wasted in transit. The employees of a platform vendor are a necessarily a unique, constrained resource and hard to find or replace; they are pets and the limitations to scale are apparent.

Worse, when viewed in an outbound only manner, there is a definite direction to power and communication. Because the term “evangelism” carries historical and religious connections, they can be conflated with technology evangelism. Since the goal of Developer Relations is promote adoption and reduce barriers, the use of the term has been examined and deprecated for Advocacy, which implies the cultivating value of a diverse audience.

Given a platform of any value, developers will try amplify their mastery and use of the platform. When developers feel they cannot progress or are not listened to, they will spend their effort elsewhere in our attention economy. With the rise of the early Internet, there were listservs, Usenet newsgroups, IRC, and FTP for email distribution lists, forums, chat, and file transfer, respectively. The web has greatly consolidated these facilities into modern, typically advertising sponsored but free to consume counterparts, with superior navigation and search for a much larger global audience. The expectations for developer support grow and no matter the excellence provided by a vendor, communities evolve outside of their control on the web under Github, Meetup, Youtube, Reddit, and StackOverflow and many other mechanisms every day.

These developer communities can achieve a positive impact, grow to a global reach, and support many of their own needs. At this point, word of mouth, community support, tutorials, blogs, chat rooms, and other help can be even more powerful, numerous, and localized than any vendor’s resource. So a partnership formed on the basis of combined vendor and community advocacy really represents a hybrid, mature model of positive, reinforcing growth pattern for platform and career success.

At Netscape, much of this happened or started while I was there, but never at the scale and velocity seen in 2019!

2019: Principal DevOps Advocate, DevOps Marketing, Nutanix

At Nutanix, one year after incorporating Developer Marketing with two people, senior management’s leadership grew the team and changed the focus to DevOps Marketing. The Partner Alliance team supports independent software vendors and partners directly, Nutanix Customer Support offers superior service for all, and the .NEXT community forums address most of the remainder when there isn’t a Reddit or StackOverflow question on the web. The DevOps Marketing team will continue to promote the Nutanix platform APIs for developers, but the focus has become building a bridge between Operators and Developers, perhaps the simplest definition of DevOps. IT and Operators represent the bulk of Nutanix customers today and there is a huge need for industry practitioners to evolve in this cloud era. Nutanix already makes computing invisible anywhere for hybrid clouds, but DevOps outcomes naturally fit on and are accelerated by Nutanix. Let’s get started, grow your capabilities, and lead your organization to new levels of success!

Three years ago, my experience led to the creation of the first Nutanix Solutions Automation Architect working, defending, and improving our platform with some of the world’s largest enterprises and institutions. It was the culmination of over twenty years in Internet, web-scale engineering and operations management, but the next step has begun. As a Principal of the company, a DevOps champion, and an Advocate for all, I couldn’t be more excited to be in this role, because I am back to the future!