What is your day job?
I just spent a much-needed two weeks funemployed, then started my new gig as an operations engineer at DramaFever on Monday July 28th. I’ll be working remotely from Minneapolis; our offices are in New York and Philadelphia. DramaFever is the largest streaming video site for international content, and I’ll be working on scaling, monitoring, deployments, and all those infrastructure bits off in the cloud. (Note: “the cloud” never stops being funny.)
What is most rewarding about your job?
In my old job doing operations for a Minneapolis startup called 8thBridge, I loved when I could make someone’s day easier (sometimes even mine!) by automating something that started life as a painful manual process. I’m hoping to continue contributing to co-worker bliss by helping make stable, scalable systems happen for DramaFever. I’ll be able to play with some of the shiniest new tech toys while making people happy; isn’t that pretty much every geek’s dream?
What are the challenges of your job?
General #opslife challenges can be summed up as follows: production services need to stay available or no work is getting done. Sometimes that means getting paged in the middle of the night -- not that we use actual pagers for this anymore; instead, a website called PagerDuty texts and then if you don’t answer, calls you in a creepy but hilarious robotic monotone. (Less hilarious when it’s 3am).
One of the coming challenges at DramaFever (which made me excited about this new role) includes scaling out to a global customer base, which means using (and synchronizing) data stores in multiple geographical regions. This is every bit as nontrivial as it sounds.
When did you get into technology and what inspired you?
While a voracious reader of sci-fi since childhood, I first got access to a computer and the internet at the same time when I started taking college classes as a high school student at the University of Minnesota. The 90s were an exciting time to be a geeky kid kicking around that Computer Science department. I finally got to live in the sci-fi future I’d been reading about: computer vision research with working facial recognition software, robots that could find their way across a room, solar-powered vehicles… good times. (The funny part is that of course we actually live in more of a cyberpunk dystopia now. Can’t deny that eighties kids got the future we were promised.)
What made you decide to be the head organizer for the first ever DevOpsDays Minneapolis that was held last week?
Back in February after I walked through the snow to the Minneapolis DevOps meetup (as one does), one of the meetup organizers, Michael Ducy, convinced me to sign on to make a local DevOpsDays happen. I’ve done organizing for fandom conferences, so I knew what I was getting into (and I still said yes, because I wanted it to happen and knew I could do it). I’d been to DevOpsDays in Silicon Valley and New York City, and I wanted to bring that kind of awesome home.
What did you learn while leading this event?
So many things! The postmortem document is over 7K words and isn’t finished. Getting and staying on the radar for the people who don’t know your event exists but would benefit from attending is something that requires more than a few months’ lead time. Marketing, messaging, positioning, whatever you’d call it: we need to up our game on that. Also learned the exact opening and closing hours of the closest FedEx Kinko’s print shop and the first names of their friendly and helpful employees. And intangibles, most of all: how great it feels to support and promote new and experienced speakers alike. How to listen to attendee feedback and make adjustments. How happy you can make a speaker if you have a friend of theirs who couldn’t attend do their intro over Google hangouts.
In your recent blog post recap of the event, you mentioned the major themes were empathy, inclusion, and organizational communication. Can you touch on how these play into your own work?
To quote John Vincent and every devops speaker deck in the foreseeable future, “Devops means giving a shit about your job enough to not pass the buck.” That includes caring about your co-workers and about what they are trying to accomplish. As an ops person, that means I need to care enough to learn about Node.js, Bower, Grunt, or whatever front-end stuff our devteam is using so that I can make the builds run smoothly or make monitoring alert if it’s broken. It might not be tech I’m interested in using myself, but I have to care that they care.
The inclusion theme hit home for me when our opening keynote speaker Sascha Bates mentioned “hipster devops” as something we want to avoid. I’m sure I’m guilty of that, and I am trying not to be. People who don’t work at startups still can play in this space, and reaching out to them is super important. That’s why I’m so happy we had Heather O’Sullivan and Ross Clanton from Target talks about their DevOps journey in what by any measure is an enormous IT organization. For me, being inclusive also means talking with former co-workers who are at larger organizations and luring them into this shiny new DevOps stuff by showing them that hey, I’m just like them and it works for me.
As for organizational communication, that’s key to fast but safe iterations. When I worked at a place where we had to submit all changes to a Change Control Review Board we’d never met who didn’t understand what we did, it’s amazing how many “emergency” changes we made. (Spoiler alert: all of them.) When as a sysadmin I can talk directly to QA, client success, product, sales, and yes, developers, I can get a much better picture of what to monitor and where to scale up the infrastructure and when that all-important demo is going to be running. Even in a place too large for all the individuals to talk directly with one another, there have to be easy ways for information to flow. Kevin Behr recently called it “respiratory permeability” between cells; the overarching metaphor around silos means essentially that teams cannot remain walled off from one another and work effectively.
How do you keep up with constantly changing technology?
I think it’s impossible for any one human being to completely keep up! That said, I find it useful to follow interesting tech people on Twitter, go to what conferences I can and watch the talks from the ones where I can’t, read the well-curated Devops Weekly newsletter, and finally (in 2014!) I’ve started listening to tech podcasts (The Ship Show and Arrested DevOps, for starters).
Outside of your day job, what interests (tech or non-tech related)?
We’ve got a fantastic cycling scene here in Minnesota (without endless supply of “up” you find in the other top bike-friendly city of Portland), so you can find me and my partner Joe Laha bicycling around town as well as to state parks for camping. We also love to head north to the Boundary Waters for canoeing and snowshoeing depending on how frozen the lakes are. Home brewing and canning (and gardening) are also on the list. And of course, I go to as many tech conferences as I can get away with, speaking at the ones that will have me!
What excites you about the tech scene in Minneapolis-St. Paul?
It’s an eclectic mix of startup people, academics, folks at big IT shops who are pulling their companies into the modern day, and lots more. I love how we have so many people solving real issues outside of the “tech bubble” trends of Silicon Valley. For example, OMG Transit makes it easy to look at all your available real-time bus, train, bikeshare, and carshare options in one app made right here in Minneapolis! We also have a vibrant meetup scene (with one of the largest and fastest-growing DevOps meetups in the nation, among other excellent ones), multiple co-working options, and Minne* bringing us great local unconference and demo events. Even though I’ll be remoting to the coast, there’s plenty of local tech scene excitement to keep me connected!
Anything you’d like to share with the Geekettes community, either locally in the Twin Cities or globally???
More women in tech should try speaking at conferences! Is it scary at first? Sure! But there are a lot of resources out there to help you, and it’s so rewarding both personally and professionally. I’ve seen doors open for me and other women where that likely wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t make ourselves visible and heard. I’m @bridgetkromhout on Twitter if you’d like to talk more about this.