Technological Revolutions and Cultural Revolutions: OSCON 2014


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Open source, DevOps, cloud computing, and the internet of things don't just require new technology, they require new thinking about how society and business is to be organized. It's critical, therefore, to infuse the work that developers do with human values, and to build a world that we are proud of.

Published in: Technology, Software
  • Great sharing. Thanks.
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  • Really liked it. A lot of points that needed saying and haven't been said. Services delivered to the poor is classic.
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  • Tim O'Reilly does it again: (quoting Ezra Klein) 'The terrible quality of services the government routinely delivers to the poor'. The author speaks of a cultural revolution allowing for the organization necessary to effectively use the new technologies. In recognizing these contradictions, the slides are a sight for sore eyes compared to the usual 'awesome' euphoric misrepresentations we are used to seeing in tech talks. What we now know, however, is that this actually requires a socialist revolution, to remove the medieval limitations that the current social relations impose on growing productive forces.
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Technological Revolutions and Cultural Revolutions: OSCON 2014

  1. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly Technological Revolutions and Cultural Revolutions Tim O’Reilly OSCON July 23, 2014 Wednesday, July 23, 14
  2. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly “We know about all these new technologies. What we don’t know is how to organize ourselves to use them effectively.” - An IT executive at Fidelity, during Q&A after a talk I gave there in 2008 Wednesday, July 23, 14
  3. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly Open Source “In ‘The Mythical Man-Month’, Fred Brooks observed that programmer time is not fungible; adding developers to a late software project makes it later. He argued that the complexity and communication costs of a project rise with the square of the number of developers, while work done only rises linearly. This claim has since become known as‘Brooks's Law' and is widely regarded as a truism. But if Brooks's Law were the whole picture, Linux would be impossible. Gerald Weinberg's classic ‘The Psychology Of Computer Programming’ supplied what, in hindsight, we can see as a vital correction to Brooks. ...Weinberg observed that in shops where developers are not territorial about their code, and encourage other people to look for bugs and potential improvements in it, improvement happens dramatically faster than elsewhere.” Eric Raymond, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” Wednesday, July 23, 14 There is no question that tools - especially version control systems and the wide area communication and coordination capabilities of the internet - were key to the open source revolution. But it was also a profound cultural revolution: a statement about how the world ought to be different. And people - especially in the corporate world - struggled with those cultural differences. What? Show my code to the world. A lot of the resistance was as much about embarrassment and trust and not knowing how to collaborate, rather than economics.
  4. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly Wednesday, July 23, 14 That was a hard cultural change, but now, with everyone from Microsoft
  5. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly Wednesday, July 23, 14 to the White House sharing their code on Github, I think you can say that the cultural change is well underway. Open source was also rooted in a culture of generosity and reciprocity. I remember asking Larry Wall why he gave away patch, and RN, and Perl, and he said “I had gotten so much from others that it seemed only fair to give back.” Now that we are all blinded by the lights of Silicon Valley, it’s easy to think that tech is all about making it big. But it’s really still about giving something back in thanks for all we’ve received.
  6. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly Wednesday, July 23, 14 When I was asked that question at Fidelity, I also thought about the transformation of Amazon from an online bookstore into a platform.
  7. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly How Amazon Became a Platform “[Jeff’s] Big Mandate went something along these lines: 1) All teams will henceforth expose their data and functionality through service interfaces. 2) Teams must communicate with each other through these interfaces. 3) There will be no other form of interprocess communication allowed: no direct linking, no direct reads of another team’s data store, no shared-memory model, no back-doors whatsoever. The only communication allowed is via service interface calls over the network. 4) It doesn’t matter what technology they use. HTTP, Corba, Pubsub, custom protocols — doesn’t matter. Bezos doesn’t care. 5) All service interfaces, without exception, must be designed from the ground up to be externalizable. That is to say, the team must plan and design to be able to expose the interface to developers in the outside world. No exceptions. 6) Anyone who doesn’t do this will be fired.” Steve Yegge, in memo-about-google-platform/ Wednesday, July 23, 14 How this happened was described by former Amazon engineer Steve Yegge in a leaked memo he wrote at Google, about how to become a platform. Steve focused more on the technology side of this, but there was also a business organization side, as Amazon was organized into small “two pizza teams” that reflected the Service Oriented Architecture of the platform in the service-oriented structure of the company.
  8. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly DevOps “…it’s not about making developers and sysadmins report to the same VP. It’s not about automating all your configuration procedures. It’s not about tipping up a Jenkins server, or running your applications in the cloud, or releasing your code on Github. It’s not even about letting your developers deploy their code to a PaaS. The true essence of DevOps is empathy.” Jeff Sussna, “Empathy: The Essence of DevOps” Wednesday, July 23, 14 But there’s an even more important point to be made about what has now come to be called DevOps - the native cultural and business practices of the cloud era. As Jeff Sussna wrote in a recent post....
  9. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly Emergent Enterprise “Promise theory doesn’t naively assume that all promises will be kept. Humans break their promises all the time; machines (which can also be agents in a network of promises) just break. But with promise theory, agents are aware of the commitments they’re making, and their promises are more likely to reflect what they’re capable of performing. ... ... we know the estimates were made with accurate information by the agent responsible, not by external wishful thinkers without a clue. And a well-formed network of promises includes contingencies and backups. What happens if Actor A doesn’t deliver on promise X? It may be counterintuitive, but a web of promises exposes its weak links much more readily than a top-down chain of command. Networks of promises provide services that are more robust and reliable than command and control management pushed down from above.” Wednesday, July 23, 14 Mark Burgess has another take on it, which he calls Promise Theory.
  10. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly Rescuing A team of engineers. They came in and worked tech wizardry, right? Maybe some of that, but a lot of the work was debugging the communications failures that led the contractors to build software components that didn’t work together. Wednesday, July 23, 14
  11. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly 18 hour days 100 days straight Standup meetings focused on why people weren’t able to keep the promises they’d made to each other Mikey Dickerson Google Site Reliability Engineer Wednesday, July 23, 14
  12. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly Of course, what he found out was that was designed and delivered by a system that doesn’t allow developers to make promises to each other, or to operations engineers, or to end users. Instead, all of the promises are from policy makers and politicians to other policy makers and politicians, and are handed down from on-high through hard-coded specifications and waterfall project management methodologies. What the rescue team brought was a cultural revolution Wednesday, July 23, 14
  13. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly Wednesday, July 23, 14 If you want to understand more about that cultural revolution, this book is a great read - a novelized version of how DevOps was brought to a failed IT project in a big manufacturing company. It mirrors the rescue very closely.
  14. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly “…one privilege the insured and well-off have is to excuse the terrible quality of services the government routinely delivers to the poor. Too often, the press ignores — or simply never knows —  the pain and trouble of interfacing with government bureaucracies that the poor struggle with daily. That can allow the problems in those bureaucracies to fester.” — Ezra Klein Wednesday, July 23, 14 But I want to take this story a bit further. One of the most important pieces about the rescue was written by Washington Post columnist (now founder) Ezra Klein. He wrote about how was not an exception, but the rule, when it came to government services.
  15. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly Wednesday, July 23, 14 And in that context, let’s talk a bit about food stamps, or as they’ve been renamed, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Recently, I heard an eye opening segment on the radio show Marketplace. Do you know that a huge proportion of food stamp dollars are spent at stores like Walmart between midnight and 1 am on the one night that people’s SNAP cards are electronically refilled? Who goes food shopping at midnight? People who haven’t eaten for a few days, that’s who. So it really matters when you show up at the front of the line, and suddenly your SNAP card doesn’t work because of some bureaucratic SNAFU!
  16. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly Wednesday, July 23, 14 Some of the Code for America Fellows went to work on this problem last year, in partnership with the Human Services Agency in San Francisco.
  17. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly “User needs. An empathetic service would ground itself in the concrete needs of concrete people. It’s not about innovation, big data, government-as-a-platform, transparency, crowd-funding, open data, or civic tech. It’s about people. Learning to prioritize people and their needs will be a long slog. It’s the kind of change that happens slowly, one person at a time. But we should start.” Wednesday, July 23, 14 Jake Solomon, one of the Fellows, wrote an amazing piece about his experience, entitled People, Not Data. In it, he describes the problem: people were falling out of the SNAP program because they didn’t comply with bureaucratic letters that they didn’t understand. No one can understand them. But nobody who was implementing the program had ever themselves tried to comply with the rules and to respond to the instructions, until the Code for America fellows they did that. They replaced these obscure letters with text messages that effectively said, “There’s a problem with your benefits. Call the office!” As Jake said, “User needs...” There’s a lot of talk in Silicon Valley about measuring and paying attention to users. We talk about Lean Startup and “Growth Hacking.” But there’s a big difference to paying attention to user behavior so you can exploit it - say to drive ad clicks on in-app purchases - and to paying attention to it so you can make a real difference in the lives of real people.
  18. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly GDS Wednesday, July 23, 14 That’s why one of the bibles of user centered design, in my opinion, should be the UK government Digital Service’s Design Principles. It’s about technology, yes, but far more importantly, it’s about putting technology to work for humans, not the other way around. This is a huge cultural change for government, and that’s one reason it’s so interesting and challenging a set of problems to work on.
  19. #oscon @oscon @timoreilly Cultural Change Required! Wednesday, July 23, 14 Cultural change is also required by many of the big disruptive startups and technologies we’re hearing about today. The cultural changes that started with open source and the internet are far from over. There’s a lot more work to be done. But it’s important to get beyond the Silicon Valley cult of disruption and to think about what we’re building towards.
  20. “Uber is a $3.5 billion lesson in building for how the world *should* work instead of optimizing for how the world *does* work” - Aaron Levie of Wednesday, July 23, 14 There was a great tweet by founder Aaron Levie talking about Uber... Aaron was talking about how we can use technology to rethink the way a service like taxis ought to work for users. But there’s also a huge moral dimension to this statement - or there should be! In the end, building towards the world we want - and making it a better one than the one we started with - is the only job worth doing. I’m reminded of a Jack Handy Deep Thought I saw once. It said something like this: “If aliens came down and said ‘Show us your civilization’, we’d say, “Come back in 20 years. This isn’t really our civilization. It’s just something we’re playing around with right now.’” It’s about time we built a civilization we’d be proud to show. Developers today play a huge role in building our civilization. Let’s take that responsibility seriously!