Why startups need techops

devops divide

I was at a talk recently on node.js. Even if I’m not working with a technology directly, it’s exciting to see what’s out there, and node.js is bringing some hyper fast performance to a certain category of web applications.

During the keynote, the speaker mentioned a service to deploy applications on. I can’t name names unfortunately but it was a cloud solution on top of which you could deploy your application. Go this route
and you can do without an operations team. Avoid overhead of hiring ops, he claimed. And hey, then you can hire more developers!

To be fair I’ve heard much of the same thing at DBA or linux conferences. I can’t count the number of stories that start with “what some idiot developer did that took down our production systems…”.

Yes, it seems dev & ops are still just a tad bit adverserial.

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1. My little known origins as a developer

Many colleagues and clients I’ve met in the New York City startup industry know me primarily as an operations & scalability guy. I tune databases, infrastructure and components to make things lightening fast.

I spent my earliest years at university on the computer lab operations staff. We watched and managed, made sure level zero backups were taken care of, and moved the tapes. Directly after college, I started at a software firm. I did C++ GUI development on the Mac, using the toolbox libraries with Metrowerks Codewarrior. I built split windows, and scroll bars, and displayed rows of data with nice resizable columns. All this wasn’t built into the class library, so for a lot of it we needed to roll our own solution.

We always had a long list of features coming from the business units. I also fielded many support calls, often from the windows platform as the code there hadn’t been managed and built as carefully. But that too was instructive as you could feel the pain of customers day-to-day challenges. It also illustrated the tradeoffs between new code and features, and existing bug fixes and support.

Also: Why generalists are better at scaling the web

2. A trip through the dot-com bubble as Oracle DBA

Through a circuitous path, I moved to New York in the mid-nineties and joined a startup. I had the opportunity to wear a lot of hats there, and apply my computer lab and Linux operating systems experience to the challenge of managed Oracle. I got a lot more involved with operations quick.

As the dot-com bubble grew, I saw a hot and growing demand for Oracle DBAs as most startups used Oracle, but the talent was in short supply. In one startup 80 million dollars was on the line as performance hobbled the website, and investors feared the worst.

Read: Why the Twitter IPO made a shocking admission about scalability

3. Different priorities & mandates

I remember working at Starmedia a media darling at the time. I was analyzing the database & server systems, and finding some code & jobs running during peak daytime hours. Management claimed that could not be the case. Yet for the next days and weeks I saw the same jobs running. I held strong and spoke truth to power as they say. That’s not always easy when you have a lot of investors, screaming CTOs and 100+ hour weeks. But eventually the source of the job was located, and disabled. And the website returned to it’s speedy self.

These experiences though do underline in my mind the different priorities and focus that developers and operations staff have.

Techops, system administrators & DBAs are typically averse to change. They fight it tooth and nail. That isn’t because they like to be curmudgeons though. They are typically very concerned about the business, but from a dramatically different perspective of stability, and reliability, even at 2am in the morning. They are concerned about the longevity of data, consistency, and durability of it.

Developers on the other hand have a different mandate. They are responsible for new business features, solutions to business requirements. Rapid prototyping & reactive or agile is embraced because it means you can deliver quicker to the business.

Crucially, both of these folks care very much for the business. Just with very different priorities.

Check this: Why AirBNB didn’t have to fail

4. Can developers do operations for you?

In a lot of small startups, the initial phase is obviously on building a product. That’s the build phase, and not surprisingly you hire a lot of developers. As you should. But as you grow you may find the operational tasks that are defaulting to one or more developers are taking more and more of their time. As your customer base grows and you’ve seen your first few spikes, it’s time to start thinking about hiring for a real ops role.

In summary, yes they can, but perhaps not well.

Related: How to hire a developer that you can work with

5. Volume discount, made to order or instant coffee

You may choose to go with instant coffee, by bringing someone in-house. You may find the right talent is hard to find. I wrote about this: Why techops and DBAs are in short supply.

Alternatively you may prefer a volume discount from one of the larger remote DBA or managed support solutions such as Oracle’s, Pythian or Percona. These guys all provide great service, but keep in mind how big of a fish you are. You’ll likely work through a ticketing system, and in some cases different engineers will look at your systems at different times. You will likely need either a very hands-on technical CTO or other in-house person to take ownership, and manage things closely.

The third option is a made-to-order coffee. Yes you pay more for Toby’s, Blue Bottle, or Ninth Street Espresso but you get what you pay for as they say. A boutique shop or independent consultant will provide a lot more hand holding, help your internal staff get up to speed, and communicate intimately about the process. If you’re a more non-technical CTO, or you’re very busy running the business, this solution may make a lot of sense for you.

Also: Why cloud detractors need a history lesson

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Round up of recent scalability, startup & social media posts

strawberries

If you’re checking back in, we’ve written a lot of new content recently. Here are some highlights for digging a little deeper.

Join 13,000 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.

1. Why you should evaluate carefully before hiring a consultant

You’re a startup, and you’re grappling with some particularly thorny problems. You’ve gotten pocked and scratched, and are still struggling with big issues. So you’ve decided to hire a consultant, now what?

Evaluating consultants is a key step to ensure you find someone you can work with. But how is the process different from interviewing a candidate for a fulltime role? Here’s our thoughts on it.

2. Why a killer title can make or break your content efforts

For devops & techops bloggers out there, I’ve put together this quick howto guide. Titles really make the difference as to whether your content gets noticed, or ends up dying on the vine.

Don’t let it happen. Practice some creative title writing and other tips and you’ll be zooming your way to the top!

3. Why real world high availability is so hard to deliver

Five nines, goes the saying, is the gold standard for availability. But if it is really a standard, then why the heck isn’t anybody really achieving it?

4. Why a four letter word divides dev and ops

The on-going battle between developers and operations teams rages, devops be damned. Here’s our take on the age-old turf war!

5. Why Amazon RDS doesn’t support Percona or MariaDB

Should I use Amazon RDS or build my own MySQL box on EC2? It’s a question I hear constantly from clients and prospects. The answer of course is it depends!

In this short article, I hit on some of the typical use cases, and discuss which solution is best. If you’re interested in Percona & MariaDB, you’ll want to take a look.

6. Why techops talent is in short supply

Database administrators? Systems administrators? Ops teams? They don’t carry the sexy allure that rock star developers do, but once code is deployed, and out in the wild, these are the swat teams, and national guardsmen that you’ll rely on everyday. They’ll monitor your systems, and when necessary wake at 3am to repair things that have fallen over.

Despite their crucial role in web application deployments in the cloud, they remain in short supply.

7. 5 more things deadly to scalability

Scalability is the goal every fast growth startup struggles with. Here are some key best practices to keep reliability and capacity in the crosshairs.

8. Why the Twitter IPO makes a shocking admission about scalability

Flip through a tech company IPO filing, and you’ll find some rather vulnerable admissions about data centers and fragile architectures. How can this even be possible, for a major internet firm that’s dealt with the fail whale many times before?

9. Why reaching journalists with email fails where social media & twitter succeed

After reading Adrienne Erin’s 7 deadly sins of pitching I felt discouraged. Everything she said in there I had done. Pitching is a game neither writers or journalists enjoy. I’d long since given up on it.

Then I thought about it some more. Actually I’d had some good success reaching journalists on social media. I just didn’t really think of it as pitching per se. That’s because it was more like getting into the conversation. It was almost like the networking and hob nobbing we do naturally at conferences and meetups. So I wrote about what worked for me. Read more

10. 25 Rumsfelds Rules for startups & managers with tweetible links

Donald Rumsfeld, what can be said? What can’t be said? Well for all controversy and bad press you have to give him credit for some great one liners.

I picked up his new book, and couldn’t put it down. There’s inspiration on every page!

So I selected out my twenty five favorite quotes, and included them here for your twitter enjoyment!

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Why email pitching fails when social media succeeds

Editor & writer in friendly dialog

I was reading Adrienne Erin’s muck rack list 7 deadly sins of pitching. It struck me that I had committed many of the sins she mentioned. Maybe I was writing too much, or emailing at the wrong time, or being boring. It’s possible. Unfortunately I don’t know which of the sins to work on. Because there was no dialog.

But thinking about it more, maybe it’s just the nature of email? I’ve definitely tried pitching before, and didn’t seem to get anywhere. Not even a response. It seemed all that formality was falling flat. Ultimately email pitching is a waste of time. There I said it. I’ve sent them, never seemed to get me very far, try, try as I might.

Join 13,000 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.

Reading her sins though, I did feel inspired a bit to write about what has worked for me. And what has worked from time to time is having real conversations on twitter.

What I’ve learned is, drum roll please… don’t make pitching like cold calling or online dating. Because those lack context. Without that, you’re just a stranger…

So what do I do? Here’s what’s worked for me.

1. Twitter has tools, make a list

Search google for a Gigaom, Forbes, Pando or ReadWrite and you can find a list of twitter handles. But they’re all not created equally.

Some folks use twitter as a one-way ticker, but don’t converse much. Or they focus on topics not related to industry & business. Others actively use twitter professionally. Look for the latter folks.

Related: Why the Twitter IPO makes a shocking admission on scalability

2. Check that list, get interested

I could use the word “engage” but I feel it’s lost it’s meaning. The point here is that twitter is one giant conversation, among folks some known personally, and some only in the social sphere..

Comment on articles, add your opinion, or mention a quote or bit of the piece you thought really struck a nerve.

Also: Why a killer title can make or break your content efforts

3. Be helpful, share something you know

Don’t just charge in like a bull, asking for something. No one likes this in business. It’s why I’m frustrated sometimes with recruiters.

See a typo in a title or article, or something that might be awry? Spot a fact that needs clarification? Why not help a reporter out. LOL Think if you were hiring, what type of people would you most likely hire? Those who are helpful.

Read: Why high availability is so very hard to deliver

4. Strike while the iron is hot!

Making a connection is great. And not easy. So don’t go screwing it up asking for too much. Ask if they’re looking for guest bloggers, and who to talk to on your selected topic. Hopefully if you’re already working this hard for a publication, you’ve checked that!

When you have someone’s ear it’s important to avail yourself of it. Email offline, and share some topic ideas, and sexy titles. To me the title is the name of the game these days. Have some in mind. Show that you’re already playing with titles. If you get a good, vibe, write some new material

Read this: Why you should evaluate before hiring a consultant

5. Be open to criticism

Listen more than you speak and heed the guest posting guidelines.

Hear what the editor is suggesting, and be willing to move in a direction that might appeal to the largest audience.

Get something back in a few days. Extending the hot iron metaphor, no time like the present!

Good luck!

Read: Why generalists are better at scaling the web

Get more. Grab our exclusive monthly Scalable Startups. We share tips and special content. Our latest Why I don’t work with recruiters

25 Rumsfelds Rules for Startups

RumsfeldsRules

Join 12,100 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.

While we are still deep in the woods of a government shutdown, I thought it would be interesting to sum up some of our former Defense Secretary’s words of wisdom.

Rumsfeld may not have done everything right, but some of his quotes are priceless. What’s more they appeal to Startups quite nicely…

1 If you are working from your inbox, you are working on other people’s priorities.

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2 Men count up the faults of those who keep them waiting.

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3 In unanimity, there may well be either cowardice or uncritical thinking.

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4 Test ideas in the marketplace. You learn from hearing a range of perspectives.

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5. You can’t recover a fumble unless you’re on the field. Get out there.

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Read this: Why the Twitter IPO mentioned scalability

6. First law of holes. If you get in one, stop digging.

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7. Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.

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8. You pay the same price for doing something halfway as for doing it completely so you might as well do it completely.

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9. It is difficulties that show what men are.

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10. What you measure, improves.

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Also: Why I don’t work with recruiters

11. If you are lost, “climb, conserve and confess”

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12. It is not the strongest species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

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13. Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

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14. People don’t spend money earned by others with the same care that they spend their own.

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15. Disagreement is not disloyalty.

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Related: Why a CTO must never do this

16. A lie travels halfway around the world before the truth gets its shoes on.

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17. It is easier to convince someone they’re right, than to convince them they’re wrong.

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18. Your best question is often why.

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19. Simply because a problem is shown to exist, it doesn’t necessarily follow that there is a solution.

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20. The world is run by those who show up.

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Read: Who is Sean Hull?

21. Don’t panic. Things may be going better than they seem from the inside.

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22. Know that the amount of criticism you receive may correlate closely to the amount of publicity you get.

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23. Sunshine is a weather report, a flood is news.

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24. If you expect people to be in on the landing, include them in the takeoff.

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25. If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it.

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Read this: Why a killer title can make or break your content efforts

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Why the Twitter IPO mentions scalability

ShannaBanan-o-rama

Join 12,000 others and follow Sean Hull on twitter @hullsean.

1. High availability is hard

After seven years in the business you might think Twitter has operations and scalability nailed. I wouldn’t blame you for hoping, but here’s one thing they said in their IPO filing:

“we are not currently serving traffic equally through our co-located data centers”

What does this mean exactly? Let’s think of your drive to work everyday. Remember that one intersection that’s always congested? Could the city designers have envisioned that 50 or 100 years ago? Probably not. In the present day, with all the buildings & roads, can we redesign around it? Not easily. So we adapt, and evolve and deal with the day-to-day realities of an evolving city.

James Urquhart says these are complex systems. The internet, the cloud and your startup infrastructure are by nature brittle.

Also: Why generalists are better at scaling the web.

2. Fail whale is part of the DNA

The graphic above is a whimsical remake of Twitter’s own by Shanna Banan. Consider though, someone at twitter was tasked with designing a graphic for when the site fails. The devops team then built a page for failure, and have itat the ready, for when there’s an outage, not if. It’s symbolic of the many other things your operations team does behind the scenes in expectation of that fateful day.

As Eric Ries argues, design for failure. Then manage it.

Related: 5 reasons why scalability is a process.

3. Investors, wall street: we’re working on it

What Twitter is really saying is, hey investors, we understand that five nines is extremely difficult, we’re vulnerable in certain ways and want to disclose that.

ReadWrite argues Twitter has not banished the fail whale and is “surprisingly vulnerable”. Readwrite, I ask you… who has? Google? Nope. Facebook? Nope. Not AirBNB or Reddit either.

These are world class firms. They’ve got the deep pockets to do it right, and the engineering talent to match. They still have failures.

Read this: How to hire a developer that doesn’t suck.

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