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Top takeaways from DevOps Enterprise Summit 2015: No longer on the fringes of IT

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Juan Carlos Perez, Writer, Freelance

They came, 1,200 of them, to the City by the Bay to bathe in the sea of DevOps, whose miracle waters are said to be able to transform into nimble software producers even the most rigid of IT departments.

They came to tell and to hear fantastic stories about how, after adopting DevOps, development and operations team stransmogrify from Hatfields and McCoys into bands of brothers. Then there is no more finger pointing. No more distrust. No more misunderstandings. Just one team, pursuing common goals, for the good of the business.

They came, representing about 500 companies, to give and listen to testimonials about slow, clunky, error-filled software development and delivery processes that, thanks to DevOps, metamorphose, and code begins flowing off the pipeline swiftly, bug-free and continuously.

Yes, for three days, the sold-out DevOps Enterprise Summit, held at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco and live-streamed to the world, brought together a fervent group of believers in this novel and controversial approach to software creation and deployment.

Here, for the faithful and the skeptical, are some key takeaways from the conference.

The DevOps community isn't quite a cult, but it's very tight

In interviews, tweets and blog posts, an oft-repeated observation was that there is a strong emotional bond among those who are spearheading DevOps adoption in their respective IT organizations. "What did I get most value out of you wonder? One hundred percent the discussions with people in the hallway, with fellow speakers, with all the people who are on the journey with me," wrote Mirco Hering, one of the conference's speakers, in a blog post. "Looking forward to make the next steps together and share our stories again next year," wrote Hering, a Senior Manager at Accenture whole leads DevOps and Agile in the Asia-Pacific region.

Meanwhile, technology consultant and analyst Brian Gracely described the atmosphere as pragmatic, with a focus on how to make real business changes that have a real financial impact, and the interactions among attendees as genuine, touching not just on successes. "DOES is a community event. Sharing is extensive, and not just the rock-star kind of sharing. Speakers talk about failures and bad decision and incorrect assumptions," Gracely, an attendee, wrote. "Attendees sympathize with their colleagues, because just like the unicorns, there is not a handbook for transforming a dinosaur into a cheetah."

Nicole Forsgren, Ph.D, director of organizational performance and analytics at Chef, which makes software to automate infrastructure management, concurs. "We want to help each other do amazing things, and we do," Forsgren said in an interview with TechBeacon.

DevOps is good for IT and for the business

Another topic that was on the table at the event was the impact that a DevOps transformation has not only on the IT organization but also on the business. That was one of the key findings of the recently released fourth annual State of DevOps Report from Puppet Labs, another maker of IT automation software. "I don't see this trend going away," said Forsgren, who discussed the report findings during her talk at the conference. "DevOps is a strong place to place your bets."

The reason why improving the quality and frequency of software via DevOps can be linked with business performance is because software plays a key role in most businesses. "At this point, every company is a software company," Forsgren said. "If you can start to show clear value delivery using software doing DevOps, then you've got a stake in the game and you're not just doing things with IT."

A real life example of this: Jody Mulkey, a DevOps Enterprise Summit speaker, who told the Wall Street Journal that he was promoted to CTO at Live Nation's Ticketmaster in 2014, thanks in part to his DevOps skills, and his achievement of business-related goals during the year when he worked as executive VP of techops and platform engineering.

DevOps is no longer an outlier in enterprise IT

DevOps has traditionally been associated with leading edge tech companies such as Netflix, Amazon, Etsy, Google, which have famously adopted its way of working. This led many to question whether DevOps could only be implemented successfully at companies with extraordinary IT resources and knowledge.

At the conference, the testimonials came from very large companies with very large IT organizations but not precisely Silicon Valley giants: Target, Disney, Nordstrom, Capital One, Live Nation's Ticketmaster, Western Union. "The very existence of the DevOps Enterprise Summit in San Francisco was evidence of the extent to which DevOps has moved into the mainstream of corporate software development," wrote Rachael King, the Wall Street Journal reporter who covered the event.

Courtney Kissler, Vice President of E-Commerce and Store Technologies at Nordstrom, said during her presentation: "Everything that goes on in all areas of our business, technology is a key enabler. We're really focused on strategic flexibility so we don't paint ourselves into a corner."

To improve the chances of DevOps succeeding, nurture it from within in a methodic manner, and clear out bureaucratic obstacles. Holding internal mini-conferences, workshops, open labs, and setting up a team of inside experts helps to spread the word and generate enthusiasm about adopting DevOps and related practices and processes like lean, agile and continuous delivery.

That seemed to be the consensus from several presenters who spoke about implementing these tactics, including Target, which has opened a "dojo" to provide staff with immersive learning on DevOps and related topics. "I walked out of the Target talk seeing how dedicated space could be a measure of leadership buy-in for implementing DevOps and continuous improvement," wrote Dominica DeGrandis, LeanKit's Director of Learning & Development, in her blog.

Big Bang isn't the most effective way to introduce DevOps

Trying to mandate a top-down, wholesale adoption of DevOps in a large IT organization may not be the best approach. "We do see the greatest success when you do it on a project or product basis," Chef's Forsgren said.

Also key is that the initiative involve everyone on the value chain, from all teams: ops, devs, testing, quality assurance, compliance, user experience and so on. That way, the team can show business chiefs concrete improvements in a concrete project, for example, developing a customer-facing mobile app. From the success of such a specific project, a broader effort can start to spread organically. "You start building this groundswell," Forsgren said.

Nordstrom's Kissler stressed during her talk that it's important to recognize that in a large IT organization, different groups will be at different stages of proficiency in DevOps and related processes. The most advanced are at the "run" stage, while others are "walking" and "crawling."

"Not all teams are at the same pace," Kissler said.