Remoting into DevOps

Emily Freeman

Emily

The impacts of the COVID-19 global health pandemic on our lives and work will ripple out for years. With almost no notice, nearly the entire world has been thrust into remote work. As we adjust to this new normal, DevOps can help.

Wait… what’s DevOps? Simply put, it’s an engineering culture of collaboration, ownership, and learning with the purpose of accelerating the software development lifecycle. First introduced about 10 years ago, DevOps built on the foundation of Agile to focus on culture, process and tools — in that order.

While DevOps is designed for developers and operations engineers, I believe the methodology applies to anyone in tech, and beyond. Whether you’re a manager, a PM, an engineer, a business owner, or a marketing specialist, you can apply pieces of DevOps to improve your workflow.

Focusing on People

Many of the challenges of remote work are technical, but human. And how we interact with tools and each other will greatly impact your success.

Improving Morale

I have news for you… no one’s primary priority is work right now. I know, I know. Our quarterly reports aren’t going to be pretty. But that’s just not important right now. People are.

Within a few weeks of exponential acceleration, our priorities shifted from shipping software and setting strategy to surviving. Many of us are worried about family far away, doing our best to establish a makeshift homeschool for our kids, and deeply scared about what comes next. That’s completely normal. It’s OK to not be OK. But how do we support our colleagues without hugs and the gift of in-person connection?

GIFs. OK, not just GIFs, but they are fun! You have to create community remotely. And the best way to do that is via video calls and chat. At Microsoft, we use Microsoft Teams for both.

There’s a few ways to make the most of video and chat tools while working remotely:

  • Create a watercooler channel. You know how people congregate naturally to chat throughout the day in an office? This channel is for random chitchat and funny memes.
  • Set up virtual game hours or happy hours (mocktails encouraged). I run remote games 2-3 times a week for my team as a distraction from the current stress and a chance to socialize.
  • Be mindful of time zones. Depending on how distributed your newly-remote team is, it’s a good idea to keep normal working hours in mind throughout the world. Schedule meetings accordingly.

Setting Priorities

I don’t know about you, I’m having some trouble focusing right now. It’s a bit like my cerebral cortex was just like, “Nah, I’m out!” Which means I’m relying more on systems like my calendar, endless to-do notes, and planning boards.

DevOps is all about rapid iteration and it’s nice to have a place to break down big projects into small chunks. This helps me feel like I’m actually accomplishing something between baking cookies and checking twitter for CDC updates.

For this, I use Azure Boards. I like to work in a Kanban style, which is a way of visualizing work that needs to be done, is being done, or has been done.

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Generally speaking, there are three categories:

  • New: This is work that hasn’t been started. Other names include “To Do,” “Backlog,” and “Upcoming.”
  • Active: These cards on the board are actively being worked on by you or someone on your team. Other names include “Doing” and “Work in Progress.”
  • Resolved: This work has been completed. It may not yet have been reviewed or ready for release, but the bulk of the planned work is finished. Other names include “Done,” “Finished,” and “Needs Review.”

Communicate

There is no better time to start (or continue) communicating clearly and concisely. And sometimes there’s no better way to communicate than to stop talking and listen.

Your employees and colleagues need to know they’re secure in their job, you understand the constraints their facing at home working – I’m looking at you, toddlers! – and you’re ready to support them in whatever way they need.

Culture is the absolute foundation of successful DevOps organizations. These companies build cultures that focus on collaboration, engineer empowerment, and cross-functionality. You may not realize it, but you model your company culture in your everyday work. How you show up in this says a lot about the health of your organization going forward. Now is not the time to micro-manage. Instead, shift into neutral, focus on the key components of your team’s culture and support your team.

Now is a fantastic opportunity to step back from reactive work and start thinking about establishing a system of values or core principles that you plan to improve over the next year. Some ideas include:

  • Encouraging teamwork by creating opportunities for colleagues to build rapport with each other and tackle new ideas as a group.
  • Reducing silos by sharing information freely and building opportunities for cross-functional teams to thrive.
  • Practicing systems thinking through viewing individuals as part of a greater whole.
  • Embracing failure by experimenting, learning, and iterating on new ideas.

Creating Healthy Processes

The word process can quickly bring to mind boring work or TPS reports. But for me, process is something that creates a framework within which people can plan, execute, and reliably deliver work. Processes remove the thinking of repetitive tasks and set up the ability to eventually automate that very work.

Now that you’re working remotely, it’s time to start making your routine, environment, and tools work for you.

Caring For Yourself And Others

I was having a rough go until I started walking my dog 3 times a day. And not just quickly around the block. I mean full on walks around the neighborhood. If you can’t leave your home because of your region, sitting outside on your balcony, or even standing in the sun by your window will do wonders for lifting your spirits. Being in the sun helped my attitude and gave me a place to think. Be sure to check in with yourself every day and practice self-care. Here are a few DevOps-y ideas for you and others.

Taking Breaks

The pomodoro technique is a way of working in chunks where you work for 25 minutes and then take a break for 5 minutes. Repeat this process throughout the day. And schedule a longer lunch break for cooking and eating.

Exercising

I know most of us have been locked out of our usual gyms. But exercise doesn’t have to be an Arnold Schwarzenegger-inspired activity. Take a walk. Do 10 pushups. Climb your stairs 5 times. Even cleaning — who knew there would be so many dishes?! — is a way to use your body and keep your mind healthy.

Tidy when you can. I’m not a particularly organized person, so I’ve always disliked the “messy desk, messy mind” trope. But I can say that having a designated place to work that’s semi-clean allows me to walk away from work at the end of the day and re-engage with my family.

Checking In

A colleague and I have a deal to check in with each other daily. It’s a small reminder that I’m not alone, people care about me, and I’m connected to the folks I love. If one of us needs to vent or chat, we make time for each other. I remind him that I value him as a person and as a professional. And he gives me pep talks when I’m pulling my hair out at work and watching Frozen II with my daughter for the 154th time.

Relying On The Cloud

Depending on your organization, working remotely can mean losing access to certain machines and data. This becomes problematic quickly when we’re all staying home. Fortunately, cloud computing and storage are relatively easy solutions that allow remote workers to access and manage data via their internet connection and a security login.

Collaborating

Whether you’re committing code or working on a strategy document, public clouds like Azure allow teams to track changes and better manage shared work. For managers and PMs, previous drafts of documents can be stored and accessed easily via SharePoint, Teams, or Office 365. For engineers, teams can create Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) systems via cloud services that merge and test committed code.

Secure Access

Cloud storage is typically more secure than data stored on self-hosted systems. Centralized identity and security services create tight controls than typically seen on traditional IT systems. Securing your data in the cloud also makes it easier to track potential vulnerabilities, attacks, and breaches.

Freedom

I now take calls and work from my hammock. That’s right, when I’m stressed and need some fresh air, I walk across my yard, lay in my hammock, and do what I need to do. And guess what? Almost everything I can do from my laptop, I can do from my cell phone. The same security, access, and capabilities, just on a smaller screen.

How are you applying DevOps to your (newly) remote teams? Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @AzureDevOps and share your team’s story with our community using the hashtag #DevOpsWFH.

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