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Sometimes You Just Need a Pencil and Paper

Oct 11, 2017 8:00:00 AM By Derek Weeks


I once heard a time management instructor maintain that most time management systems fail because you are trying to force a type A system onto a type B person. Sure, sophisticated, color-coded, multi-tool systems work great for some people, but others do best with a piece of paper and a pencil.

The same holds true for software development. Boyd Hemphill, the CTO at Victory CTO, addressed this at the 2016 All Day DevOps Conference in his talk, What’s Old is New: Because Paper and Pencil are Still Viable Technologies.” Boyd walked through examples from his professional career when the latest and greatest tools and processes were not the best solution.

Boyd started with Feedmagnet, a social media aggregator. Back in 2011, they had one MySQL database for all of their clients. Imagine the load on that database when one customer had lots of chatter on Twitter or Facebook. It meant one customer success caused many customer failures. So, they need to create something that was “anti-fragile.” They signed a large customer for SXSW and decide to clone what worked. It worked, so they started cloning the system for each customer rather than put everyone into the same bucket.


At the W2O Group they were building custom WordPress microsites. It was 2014. Boyd explained how they we were always late and it was always way too expensive because their system was far too complex. This meant customer changes were too expensive and took too long - all business problems. This is something DevOps recognizes - that, first and foremost, it is a business problem.

For the W2O Group customers, single tenant was a given. So, they standardized development environments, enabling Continuous Delivery from day one. They used Vagrant and Chef to standardize WordPress environments in production so developers could switch between projects in 5 minutes rather than 8 hours, which is what it used to take them. Devs requested changes via Chef code and pull requests. Because this is a pattern they are familiar with, it made it easier on them and adoption less painless. Furthermore, having standard development and production environments coupled with a standard way of working fostered effective communications between dev and ops - you know, the whole goal of DevOps. Business engagement skyrocketed and they went from losing customers to being given repeat work.  The recovered 8 hours per week in lost work time translated to $1.8M for a $60M business, and they recognized that customers cannot host sites themselves, so they charged a premium for hosting sites, generating $1.2M in new revenue.


His main takeaway is, “DevOps - the new often makes the old more possible.” When you are serving businesses and not consumers, consider single tenancy, relational databases, and technology you can hire easily.

Boyd’s full talk, including two other examples, is available for free here. If you missed any of the other 30-minute long presentations from All Day DevOps, they are easy to find and available free-of-charge here.  Finally, be sure to register you and the rest of your team for the 2017 All Day DevOps conference here.  This year’s event will offer 96 practitioner-led sessions (no vendor pitches allowed).  It’s all free, online on October 24th.