December 13, 2019

Day 13 - A Year of DevOps Days Around the Globe

By: JJ Asghar (@jjasghar)
Edited By: Jon Topper (@jtopper)


Over the last year, I had the privilege of travelling the world, representing IBM,and speaking at DevOpsDays around the globe. I saw different cultures and demographics share in the teachings of digital transformation and DevOps cultural change. I saw many successes and a few failures, and I’d like to share them here. Additionally, after many years of attending DevOpsDays, I became an Organizer at my local event. I hope to make an impact with all I’ve learned and experienced in order to make my local event the best possible.

I’m the type of human that eats his vegetables first, so let me highlight some friction points before the grand successes. I’m going to do my best not to call out any specific DevOpsDays because I know organizers work inexhaustibly to provide the best experience possible to attendees. Of course the necessary disclaimer here, this is simply my perspective.

Don’t let a single voice dominate the conversation

“Cult of Personalities” is a term that has become more mainstream recently and I believe it runs rampant in our DevOpsDays culture. It’s good to see champions of this cultural movement but I started to see an almost “cult” reverence for specific humans.

I saw open spaces with 10-20 people and only that one personality would hold the conversation. I noticed that the ritual of the Open Spaces wasn’t enforced, and the saying “you have two ears and one mouth, listen 2x then speak” went ignored. In other words, we need to practice as we preach, be more inclusive, and encourage more participation from those that shy away from the spotlight. Easier said than done, I know. I’m the guy that had an ignite talk about surviving conferences as an introvert. Shameless self-promotion here:

Delegate responsibilities

I also saw the personality problem in the organizer space too. There was one event where every decision seemed to go through one human. This individual became the be all end all for any decision; ranging from tactical issues with AV to signing the check for the catering. This individual was everywhere and didn’t seem to let any “sub-team” be empowered to make any decisions. You could see the exhaustion in this person’s eyes by the end of the day. Being a one-person team is not in the spirit of DevOpsDays. The moral of this observation is, where you can, empower the community and other organizers and lean on them: that’s why they volunteered.

Reiterate the format, and the advantages of Open Spaces

I mentioned the Open Space ritual earlier and I want to revisit it. I am a very strong proponent of the Open Spaces; years ago it’s what brought me into the DevOps world. One constant thing I saw was that if there wasn’t a clear explanation of what Open Spaces are, they would fall into some weird half Open Space, half presentation, half people sitting staring at each other. (Yes, I have 3 halfs there, it was weird and not always all three)

Daniel “phrawzty” Maher has an amazing slide deck on Open Spaces. The rules and “law” of Open Spaces and some strong suggestions on how to make them successful. Many of us have seen this ritual multiple times, but just like your safety briefing on a plane, it’s important because you never know who hasn’t seen it before and it’s always good to have a refresher.

Something I saw at only one or two events was a volunteer moderator. (There were calls for note-takers too, but only once was this successful). The volunteer moderator was a great tool to make sure lesser voices were heard, but at the same time if they weren’t careful they could cause issues. Moderators are good, but they can cut both ways.

Some of the best run DevOpsDays were not the ones with the longest history, or the newest ones, but the ones that you could tell would iterate and pivot real-time. They trusted the teams or humans who were responsible for their sections, and empowered them to make decisions. They both preached and practiced the DevOps culture, and it paid off.

Provide a dedicated space for Speakers and Introverts

There were a couple of DevOpsDays that had intentionally provided on-call and quiet rooms. There was a saying I heard, “Using a laptop at a conference is like a virus, one person starts working and it gives permission for others to start working and conversations and interactions die out.” If you give people a room to work at, in a limited space, you can contain the spread and also make sure the people that do need to work on an emergency can.

Quiet rooms gave humans some space to decompress and recharge themselves. Having power squids, water and some tables and chairs also allowed humans to get their phones charged too. There was one event that doubled up the quiet room as a mother’s room; it worked great and promotes inclusivity to an underrepresented demographic. It’s a good sign for next year. There was a third type of room for humans needing to respond to on-call situations. In addition there was a small extra room with a live stream of the event. This had a few round tables and water, and was off in the corner, but it was amazing. I actually spent a lot of time in that room, engaging with cohorts being able to see the main stage and hack on some code. I had a game called Love Letter in my backpack and got quite a few rounds in and met some new gaming friends. Reference to my introverted side from above.

As a speaker at all of these events I spent a lot of time in the “green rooms”. I had an interesting observation about green rooms. First, they seem to be a US-centric thing: the EU the ones didn’t give us speakers space. As a speaker, I have a routine before I speak and I’d have to find a spot to do it. I strongly recommend giving your speakers a room, you never know if a speaker needs that space.

One thing I saw in the green room that I want to see at all the DevOpsDays was the “block of help.” I’ve seen the random volunteer sitting in the room approach, but that never seemed to work. Out of the few I saw they always seemed bored stuck there never knowing what to do, and that’s where this “block of help” comes into play. Every organizer and most volunteers have walkie talkies. At this event, in the green room, there was a walkie with big letters that said “HELP”. We were told if we needed anything, all we had to do was press the talk button and we had direct access to the team. Such a simple idea and it worked so well.

Acknowledge people have different ways of interacting

The final win I want to mention is board games. Like quiet rooms, board game rooms are becoming more and more mainstream. I went to a couple of DevOpsDays that had a boardgame portion to the evening event. Most were at bars, but some found a bar or event location that had a quiet place to have a beer and play a collection of games. This worked amazingly, it allowed for people not to feel pressured to drink, and also gave people who normally don’t frequent drinking establishments a place to enjoy socializing.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post about what I’ve learned visiting DevOpsDays around the world. I’m taking all of these lessons learned to my local DevOpsDays, and already had some amazing feedback on of these influenced ideas. Hopefully, this has highlighted some easy things our community and organizers can iterate on. For instance, start involving underrepresented attendees in open spaces, allowing for more diverse voices.

I really hope that organizers engage more with their organizing teams and allowing the group to take the brunt of the stress, instead of only a couple of people carrying most of the water. Finally, I really hope that organizers realize that speakers are not only attendees but do need some space to focus their energies, in order to put their best foot forward. Having this space, like the on-call room, giving people the space they need, can allow everyone to feel empowered.

I really see DevOpsDays only growing more and more. It’s a cultural movement that encourages people to bring their best, and collaborate.

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