What #WoW has taught me about building a better #devops team in an enterprise

One does not need to look any further than World of Warcraft (WoW) to appreciate the beautifully enacted artistry that is teamwork. And it is exactly what an enterprise I.T. needs. Picture a cross functional and multidisciplinary team of rockstars working towards the same goal. This blog is about drawing a comparison between staffing up a devops team for product development in the same manner as running a team through an instance in WoW, dispelling any F.U.D. along the way, and getting that epic win for the enterprise.

Why gamers, why WoW?

Suffice to say as a developer, one spends countless hours in front of the PC. It is fair to say that some of us would at times play games together, or WoW to be exact. As Jane McGonigal @ TED 2010 spelled it out for us, that gamers are people whom has picked up the skill of solving extremely difficult problems in an collaborative and multidisciplinary setting. They are self motivated and extremely committed. The rationale can be mapped to the addictive feeling of an epic win. Achieving the insurmountable or being constantly on verge of an epic win is something quite familiar in the context of software development. I would argue that a typical software craftsman share a number of qualities with a successful WoW player:

  • continuous learning
  • application and adaptation of the knowledge they have gained throughout the years
  • mastery of the tools they use
  • deep understanding of the ecosystem they are working with
  • pride in their work and being extremely mindful towards quality

Why software craftsman matters? Because quite frankly, most business are going to be software houses. Digitisation is about doing things right by I.T. and your nerds are now your core business.

Gamers always believe that an epic win is possible, and that it’s always worth trying, and trying now. Gamers don’t sit around. Gamers are virtuosos at weaving a tight social fabric.
Jane McGonigal, Feb 2010 @ TED

Epic wins

The trick here is to make our daily work meaningful and as important as any other world saving quests. Provided time is not spent in meetings or corporate risk management theatre, I would argue most of what we do conjures up the same feeling of achievement. For example:

  • finding that extremely annoying bug and fixing it
  • putting together a super slick build automation pipeline
  • creating that killer UI, designing that awesome architecture then building it
  • ChatOps
  • deploying something automagically 20 to 50 times a day, and etc

These activities are all mini epic wins for me personally. We are your hipster superheroes after all.

This is a load of piss take. How about PCI-DSS, SOX, ITIL or COBIT?

If you are distracted by PCI-DSS, SOX and the like, start writing some code and run a few instances in WoW. Experience the magic first hand. And don’t forget to read this and this during your down time. Get over the smoke screens and get back on track with the epic wins.

“And this argument – that collaboration between silos, or even cross-functional teams, is forbidden by regulation or “best practice” – is an example of what we in the consulting industry call a bullshit smokescreen.”
Jez Humble, 19 October 2012

OK I’m onboard! Let’s go!

Assuming you are being innovative and building things from scratch, typically in WoW you need 1x tank, 1x healer, 3x DPS (Damage per second). Translating to software terms, you will need 1x tech lead, 3x fullstack devs, and 1x sysadmin. A 5-persons multidisciplinary team goes a long way. Let me break this down.

Tank/Tech lead: In WoW terms, your role is to take all direct damage for the team and be the leader of the pact. You draw and keep the attention of the epic boss to youself. You shield the team from a complete wipe. In software terms, you are a SCRUM master or the spiritual tech leader of the team. You take the unnecessary meetings and shield the team away from distractions. You might code a little or contribute to testing and test automation, or you might be a UX specialist. One of your main task is to free up time and space to enable your rockstar coders to code; aka DPS down that epic boss.

DPS/Rockstar coders: In WoW terms, you deal damage, hard and fast and consistently over a period of time. You are much more squishier than the tanks and you should not pull aggro to yourselves and burden the healer. In software terms, you are the rockstar coder with minimal meetings booked in your calendar. You churn out code, good quality code of course. Any rubbish spaghetti code is considered “drawing aggro” and will probably piss off your resident healer and tank. I would naturally recommend fullstack developers for all 3 roles with specific focus/spec on API/backend, frontend/UI, and automation.

Healer/Sysadmin: In WoW terms, you heal the team members, but mostly the tank. You do little damage yourself but are fully capable of keeping the entire team alive throughout the instance. In software terms, you are the sysadmin. You deal with the technical debt directly produced by the team members. You try to ship their work even at times knowing that they are produced way passed their Ballmer’s peak. You try to tune and configure the software to keep it alive. You care about performance and high availability. A healer is arguably the most critical role in the team. You must be more devops than the rest of the devops boys and girls, if you get my drift.

But an enterprise is more like a 40-men Onyxia raid back in vanilla days?!

This is absolutely true. Depending on the goal at hand, coming up with a functional governance model to work with 40 rockstars will be difficult. At a much larger scale, it is more about culture than anything else in my opinion. Your guild and guild master will be important, as their insight and coordination plays a critical role in the success. However, the fundamentals are the same. You still need small agile individual tribes or teams to perform certain tasks.

In summary: teamwork

It is fairly obvious to see that you absolutely require a diverse and cross functional team. No single role alone can build a winning product, or get that epic win, even for Linus Torvald.

“I can’t do UI to save my life. I mean if I was stranded on an island and the only way to get off that island was to make a pretty UI, I’d die there.”
Linux Torvald, 13 April 2016 @ TED

At the end of the day, working together is the essence of devops. In the meantime, I had a great time writing this post 😀 Big it up to the Avengers, our residence craftsman guild.

❤ Cap-A


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