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This Is Water

Mark Mzyk January 27, 2019

Picture of rain on a window
Photo by Anant Jain

You likely recognize the title of this post. It is the name given to David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech that he gave to Kenyon College in 2005. You might have been exposed to Wallace’s words from this nine minute video that excerpts the speech. Even if you’ve seen this, you should listen to the full, twenty three minute long speech.
 
It’ll help you remember This Is Water. This Is The Default.
 
I find myself listening to this speech about once a year. It’s not purposeful on my part. I have the full speech bookmarked in a long YouTube playlist and as I scroll through to find the video I happen to want to watch in that moment, I scroll past This Is Water. Every so often I stop and watch.
 
If you’ve only ever seen the nine minute video, it combines the two most famous parts of the speech: the story of a fish remarking on this is water to two other fish, and the story of going to a grocery store with all the irritations that brings. Except of course, the tedium of going to the grocery store is the point. It’s in this tedium that we get to make a choice. We can see ourselves as the center of the universe and look at others with disdain. Or we can see that we are one of many and that everyone has a story. We don’t know their story. We don’t know their pain and struggle. We don’t know the ways they are like us. We have a choice where we can think of this, be mindful of this, and see beyond ourselves.
 
The speech is a reminder to make sure we see the choice in front of us everyday. That we see this choice and consciously take it to see the world in a different way. A compassionate and empathetic way. In doing this, we break the default and lead a better and fuller life.
 
This is why I end up watching this speech about once a year. Because it’s easy to forget this is water, this is the default. My default is being pulled into social media, into the news, into the thoughts of others. I need this reminder to pull back, refocus, and remind myself this is my water.
 
It’s especially chilling to listen to this speech now, as in it David Foster Wallace makes note of those who commit suicide. He would commit suicide himself three years after giving this speech. I can’t know what drove him to this, but what I do know is that the choice he talks about us having is a hard one to make day in and day out. Perhaps he came to a point where he just couldn’t make it any more.
 
What I can do is continually remind myself that this is water and I have still have this choice, even with how hard it is. I won’t make the choice to break from the default every day, but I’ll strive to make it more days than not. And I can also remind you, so you can make your choice.
 
I invite you to listen to this speech. Listen to it again if you’ve already heard it before.


DevOps is an Answer to Changing Times

Mark Mzyk August 11, 2014

 You get rid of the artificial barriers, and in operations you get rid of the stove-piped fiefdoms of the storage guys and network guys and the database guys and sysadmins. So you have to kind of mash this stuff back together again to make it efficient, and that’s to make the speed of delivery efficient. They got siloed for optimizing for cost rather than for speed. So this is kind of a cost-versus-speed thing. And the pendulum is swinging back away from cost to speed. Because the cost of infrastructure is so low that now the time it takes to develop something is the biggest problem, so you’ve got to speed things up. So that is causing people to think about things in different ways, and different products are appearing, and the scale that people are dealing with things, and the “software eating the world” kind of ideas where every company now has to be a software company.

— Adrian Cockcroft, in an interview with The New Stack

Optimizing for speed vs. cost, a perfect distillation of DevOps. As hardware has become cheaper, building org structure around it no longer makes sense. The optimizations should no longer be around hardware, but around people.

Organizing people by expertise was the right idea when hardware was expensive. Conditions change, so it’s time for a new way of organizing, which focuses on new costs and new efficiencies. It’s a parallel situation to waterfall vs agile development. Waterfall isn’t wrong. It made great sense when computers were expensive and difficult to procure. Once computers became ubiquitous and cheap waterfall no longer made sense. Agile development was an answer to a changing landscape. So too DevOps is an answer to a changing landscape.

Don’t tell someone who isn’t convinced that they are wrong for not choosing DevOps. Instead show them how things have changed and why the proper response is a new method of organizing and working.


Why Hiring a DevOps Engineer is Okay

Mark Mzyk July 6, 2013

DevOps engineer is shorthand. It signals that a company is looking for an engineer who understands DevOps practices, such as continuous delivery and configuration management. It says that the company is looking for someone who has knowledge about development and operations. The company is looking for someone who can bring the two sides together. It’s a convenient way of saying all of this in two words.

It’s no different than when companies look for a full stack engineer. We ridicule the notion because we know the stack is so large that no one can know it all, but we’re missing the point. Companies aren’t looking for someone who knows every detail of the stack. They are signaling that they are looking for a generalist. Someone who understands how all the pieces of the stack fit together and has the knowledge to know when they should ask a specialist. A full stack engineer doesn’t know the full stack, but they know enough to recognize potential problems across boundaries and to seek help if needed.

Is every company that is seeking a DevOps or full stack engineer using these words in this way? No. Some companies probably really do believe that all they need to do is hire a DevOps engineer and then the magic of DevOps will descend upon them. It’s your responsibility as a job applicant to screen those companies out. DevOps Engineer is a convenient shorthand that is here to stay. It would be nice if companies said what they meant and didn’t use shorthand, but that’s an even harder change than spreading DevOps.