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DevOps is In The Details, Says Microsoft's Brown

How can developers gain the trust of the operations side? As Microsoft's Donovan Brown explains in a Visual Studio Live! keynote, automation is key in gaining that trust, and then gave a live demo building a DevOps pipeline within an Azure environment to prove his point.

DevOps is a phrase you've heard a lot lately. But what is it and how do you work it into your development cycle and process? Donovan Brown clearly has some ideas of how you should do this. Brown is the senior devops program manager for the Visual Studio Team Services team. Brown delivered a lively keynote presentation, entitled "Zero to DevOps with VSTS," on Wednesday at Visual Studio Live! at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, WA. During his keynote, Brown embraced the true meaning of DevOps, and looked beyond the definition to the importance of embracing DevOps to delivering consistent value.

Brown left an interesting item in his bio. He was once ranked 11th in the world in air hockey. By his own admission, he left that in there to demonstrate his competitive nature. "I can turn anything into a competition--anything. I am hyper competitive," he said. "I install our competitors' products. I want to crush all of them."

Having DevOps in his job title comes with a lot of responsibility, said Brown. "They actually asked me to define it for myself [during the interview]." Instead of rehashing what he had already heard, he gave it lengthy consideration and developed his own thoughtful definition.

"What is DevOps? Well, I've been writing software for a long time, so let me reflect on own career," he said. Brown asked the audience if anyone had ever been on project that went over budget. Had anyone been on a project that went over deadline? And had anyone been on a project that didn't do what it needed to once it was out? Most of the audience easily agreed.

"We had to fix how we created software," said Brown. "And we had to do it in a way that allowed us to produce value. We were working on short sprints. Here I am with these features dying on the vine, so I had to get trust between [the developers and operations people]." Automation is essential to building software, automating the repetitive tasks to ensure they're completed properly and in a timely fashion. "It's not just automation, but an extremely important part is automation. And we have tools that are going to do that for us."

Brown then proffered his full vision and description of DevOps, "DevOps is a union of people, process and products to deliver continuous value to our customers." He went through that entire statement focusing on each word to demonstrate the meticulously chosen words to describe nature of DevOps.

Testing and measurement are also critical to successful DevOps. "To deliver value, I have to measure what I've just delivered," he said. "I have to monitor the app as it is used by users. I have to determine if that new button is working. Are people clicking it or not? And that new feature--are people finding it or not?"

Change management is another challenge. He mentioned Amazon and Uber as examples of companies that changed the way things were done. They came on from behind, and as they were passing other companies struggling to catch, they were already moving too fast to be caught. Stating the importance of the DevOps mentality and impact on development practices, Brown said, "Adopt it or lose to the company that does."

And he advised that other companies will indeed be moving to a DevOps mindset, so it's better not to wait. "So, why do it? The competition is doing it. You need to increase velocity and quality at the same time. You need to deliver faster, more frequently and deliver higher quality code."

Brown reiterated how critical automation is when it comes to actually implementing DevOps into the process, Brown said. "Never send a person to do a machine's job. They don't get tired. They don't get bored. They just do what they're told over and over again."

While automation has greatly increased speed and accuracy, it does not negate the need for testing, said Brown. "Testing is still important for developers so we're not rushing crap. Instead we're rushing value to customers," he says. "We enable that through Visual Studio Team Services with automated unit testing. We can run any web or testing framework you want."

He then moved into a couple of demos using automated routines. "This is the most risky demo I have ever done," he said. "I start from blank desktop. I'm going to prove I don't have rabbit in the hat. During this demo, I'm going to build entire DevOps pipeline within Azure." He finished off by stating how quickly he could have accomplished all that if he didn't have to talk his way through the process.

The next Visual Studio Live! event is in Anaheim, CA in September 26-29. Check here for more information.

About the Author

Lafe Low has been a technology editor and writer for more than 25 years. Most recently, he was the editor in chief of TechNet magazine. He has also held various editorial positions with Redmond magazine, CIO magazine and InfoWorld. He also launched his own magazine entitled Explore New England, and has published four editions of his guidebook The Best in Tent Camping: New England.

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