Saturday, December 5, 2015

Receding from the clouds, time to land


Starting on the first day of 2016, I will be back from the clouds and into the world of software development.

By then, I will have completed two years on the operations floor for the largest Cloud Foundry deployment(s) in the world, a detour from my original mission as Agile scrum master for the DevOps team.

Looking back...

During these two years I immersed myself in the daily operations for Bluemix, ranging from manning pager schedules (by the way, PagerDuty rocks) , from jockeying critsits in war rooms, to becoming its operations engineering lead, tasked with the role of bridging the gap between the system operators and the teams writing the tools used by the operations team.

In that period I acquired a new-found respect for Bash scripting and its ability to shame most scripted languages on the operations floor (I am giving a pass to Python, which may not be as efficient in some cases, but can never be shamed) .

It was also a great opportunity to get exposure to all the cool developments in PaaS market, where IBM and Pivotal keep on partnering in the Cloud Foundry foundation. I will sorely miss many people since I am going all the way back to development and somewhat far from some of the greatest cloud thinkers in the company. There is no avoiding the clouds, but it is one thing to take the occasional flight as a passenger and another thing entirely to be piloting the planes.

It was also my first opportunity to attempt using a MacPro as a regular workstation (that is what Pivotal recommends to people working with Cloud Foundry source code) . Very sleek, awesome screen, if not a wrist-hurting experience paired with the bizarre absence of essential keyboard keys, which made the usage of a bash shell a tolerable, rather than great, experience.

This environment taught me everything I wanted to know about operations, including the answers I didn't know I wanted to know. Whereas in development there are webs and flows that allow you to control your schedule even if you decide to work very hard, operations is a true crucible of skills, availability and stamina. It is also a vicious educator when you don't treat it with the respect it demands. There is no hiding, there is no winging it, every mistake is made in plain sight, recorded a dozen times over, charted, alerted, and felt everywhere by hundreds of thousands of users.

Leaving Bluemix was a very personal decision and in as much as there have been challenging times (I particularly remember staying awake for 42 hours at one point, spanning nearly two consecutive nights) the defining moments happened away from those times, on every rare occasion I had the opportunity to create one of our more complex engineering tools (my favorite was a Java RESTful webservice integration with the PagerDuty Webhook API) and remind myself of how much I enjoyed software development.

These moments were too rare and, coincidentally, two months after I made my decision, came the invitation to return to development, which I will cover in a moment, but not before I take yet another moment to thank the entire Bluemix team for the welcome, for the opportunity, for the trust, for the stories, and for the lessons learned.



...to look forward

Watson Health will be my new home, more specifically working in the Watson Genomic Analytics project.

In the first interview, it was clear this was somewhat more challenging than previous experiences. I am used to hearing about (and advocating for) use cases and stories and sprints, often telling people to focus on how the final solution can be used to make user's lives simpler or better.

Then I read announcements like this, which is a confirmation of earlier impressions on what the context of the work will be, on where the expectations will be drawn and what success will mean for everyone involved. I am still a geek at heart, but I feel like those 0's and 1's are about to take on a whole new meaning.

I am looking forward to the opportunity to meet my new colleagues, to work more closely with our research team, to be exposed to the various partnerships being established with clinics and hospitals, and to contribute whatever is possible to meet what many consider to be the ultimate use cases.

I will write more as I learn more, and there is a lot to learn.