December 25, 2019

Day 25 - The “Just” Basics

By: C.A. Corriere (@cacorriere)
Edited by: Michelle Carroll (@miiiiiche)

This year we celebrated the ten year anniversary of devopsdays in Ghent, Belgium, where the conference originated in 2009. I was lucky enough to have my talk “Cookies, Mapping, & Complexity” selected for the event. The feedback I received was mixed, but it was aligned with a broader theme that emerged from the conference: given the impact technology has on our society in 2019, we can’t afford to ignore the complexity of our sociotechnical systems. The problem we’re now faced with is, how do we raise awareness around this complexity and make it more accessible to beginners?

If the answer to this question were obvious I could list a few examples here. If it were just complicated I could draw you a map or two. Sociotechnical problems, like this one, happen to be centered in a complex domain where models are often helpful. This question is one of multiple safe-to-fail experiments with negative hypotheses I am currently running, intended to serve as probes into a model of our communities I built. There’s a lot of specific jargon in this paragraph tied to complexity science, and the cynefin framework specifically.

I facilitated ninety minutes of open space workshops around mapping and complexity science in Ghent, but a workshop on complexity science alone can easily fill a week. Shorter workshops manifested at quite a few events I attended this year. Where I prefer sitting through a day of lecture, 30 minute segments with more specific content seem to be a better fit for most people.

I’ve also noticed that using common examples, like baking cookies or making a cup of tea, help folks connect the theory to an area of practice where they already have some experience. Even if you’ve never made tea or baked cookies, the barrier to entry is low enough that someone could try them for the sake of learning about complexity science and mapping.

I wouldn’t keep offering the workshops if people didn’t both show up and tell me they were useful, but I must admit I’ve covered the basics on these topics enough times that I worry I sound a bit like a broken record. I have been pulling a lot of this into a book, which I hope to be available in early 2020. For now, I am going to hope some folks can connect the dots between the language I’m using here and the picture of the framework provided. I’d encourage you to study this some on your own too, and you’re always welcome to ask questions on twitter. If I can’t answer them I probably know some clever person that can. What can we do to help make this type of content more accessible? Are you even convinced you need to learn it yet?

During the closing panel of Map Camp London, Cat Swetel referred to both cynefin and wardley mapping as “tools of epistemic justice”. I understand this to mean cynefin and wardley mapping are tools that can help us know how we know (or don’t know) something, and why our beliefs are (or aren’t) justified. Personally, I like being able to check my work and knowing when I’m wrong. It’s a humbling experience, but I do think it’s a pretty basic life lesson that’s easily justified.

What else counts as basic, introductory content in 2020? Is it installing an SDK and writing “Hello World!”? Do we start with a git repo and some yaml files? Maybe it’s a map of our application’s carbon footprint? Mapping and complexity science (among other tools) can help justify the answers to these questions, but I have no doubt those answers are context dependent. I would recommend learning to read a map before trying to draw one. This post on maturity mapping by Chris McDermott is based on cynefin and wardley mapping and serves as a solid example of the emergent justification I’m talking about. I’m looking forward to learning more about philosophy, epistemology, and tools that can help us change our minds and come to new understandings as the world shifts around us in the new year, but I really need to do a better job of pacing myself.

If a month of travel and research abroad weren’t enough for this year, then it’s a good thing I helped pull together three conferences at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta too. I have organized devopsdays Atlanta for a few years. When we saw an opportunity to host the first Map Camp outside of the U.K. and the first ServerlessDays Atlanta along with our conference we decided it was worth the effort. Watching the ripples from that event since April has warmed my heart, but 2019 has also brought my attention back to one of my first principles:

I cannot take care of anything if I am not taking care of myself.

This year has been very global for me. My goal is to make 2020 much more local and regional by comparison, and I’m not alone. More and more presenters are refusing to fly for tech conferences given the growing concerns around global warming, which ended up being the main theme for Map Camp London this year. I think it’s important for our international communities to gather on a regular basis, but the cost of doing so should have little to no impact on our local communities, our planet, or our individual health. It must be done sustainably.

I doubt I’m leaving the country next year, but I’m thankful to be part of the vibrant tech community we have in Atlanta. I’ll be speaking at devnexus this February, we’re organizing a minimally viable devopsdays Atlanta this April (the same week as REFACTR.TECH), and it seems like there are a few meetups to choose from here every week.

If you aren’t participating in your local tech community then maybe 2020 is the year to try attending more events. If there aren’t any events, maybe you’d like to try organizing one. Maybe 2020 is the right time to visit some other cities (like Atlanta : ) or even a different country. Maybe you’ve been doing plenty of that, and like me you’re ready to tap the brakes and invest a little more energy in your own backyard. Please join me in using the days we have left this year to rest, reflect, and justify how we can co-create intentional futures during our next decade together, and for the ones that will follow afterwards.

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