Thursday, September 29, 2016

Agile DevOps

If you're surprised at how frequently in this blog I mention articles from Communications of the ACM ("CACM"), you're missing out. Especially if you're a student, membership is inexpensive and the flagship monthly magazine tends to be full of really good stuff relevant to both practice and research.

Today I'm blogging about an article in the July 2016 issue (yes, I'm behind in my reading) talking about the "small batches principle" for Dev/Ops tasks. The article is written by a Dev/Ops engineer at Stack Overflow, the now-legendary site where all programmers go to give and receive coding help and which was co-founded by Joel Spolsky, one of my software heroes and author of the excellent Joel On Software blog and books.

This article talks about various in-house tasks associated with deploying software, such as pre-release testing and hot-patching, building and running a monitoring system, and other tasks that this company (and many others) historically did once in a great while. The month during which a new release was being tested and deployed became known as "hell month" because of the magnitude and pain of the tasks.

The article describes how Stack Overflow has migrated to a model of doing smaller chunks of work incrementally to avoid having to do very large chunks every few months; how they moved to a "minimum viable product" mentality (what is the simplest product you can build that will enable you to get feedback from the customer to validate or reject the features and product direction); how they adopted a "What can get done by Friday"-driven mentality, so that there would always be some new work on which their customers (in this case, the development and test engineers) could comment on; and so on.

Essentially, they moved to an Agile model of Dev/Ops: do work in small batches so each batch minimizes the risk of going off in the wrong direction; deploy incremental new changes frequently to stimulate customer feedback; thereby avoid painful "hell months" (possibly analogous to "merges from hell" on long lived development branches).

Agile applies to a lot of things, but this article does a nice job of mapping the concepts to the Dev/Ops world from the pure development world.

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