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Innovator's Journey

Arjan Eriks

Customer Operations Manager at Schuberg Philis

   

 

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" It is not about proving things, it is about evolving things and moving forward, and adopting standards and change that you need in the future instead of proving that you do things right in the present day or in the past."

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People Mentioned: John Allspaw, Kris Buytaert, John Willis, Mark Burgess, Gene Kim

Companies Mentioned: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Schuberg Philis, Yahoo, Etsy, Chef

Arjan Eriks: An Innovators Journey

Arjan Eriks started his career building automated systems for KLM, before moving on to data communications between airplanes and ground systems. After his stint at KLM, he moved on to Schuberg Philis where he continues to build large enterprise systems for energy companies, trading environments and power plants.

In today's journey, we'll talk with Arjan about his thoughts on building large, automated systems, his perceptions on organizational transformation and his desire to focus his clients on the future of business operations.

 


 

Mark Miller: As a child, were you interested in technology?

Arjan Eriks: When I was a kid here I played sports a lot, and I was of the curious type. I broke my leg three times, I broke my nose, and that is because I was always pushing the limits. I jumped off a roof, fell off my bike. The technology part came later but mainly I was always interested in what's behind what I see.

I didn't believe the stories, I had to encounter them myself. If I had chemistry at school, I did the tests at home. I bought a little chemistry kit and I tried every test that we had to do in school, only ten times bigger than it at home so ...

Mark Miller: Did you ever blow anything up?

Arjan Eriks: I managed to get all the frogs out of the neighborhood for ten years in a row. That was not a wise thing to do, but I learned.

Mark Miller: What was your introduction to technology then? How did you get interested in that?

Arjan Eriks: When I was in college and high school later, I just wanted to get my degree as soon as possible. I was the mobile learning type. I was always executing and trying things. When I was done with school, I got asked by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines for a project in official automation removal device. I think it was 1992 and they had a big major problem that no one wanted to use the new system.

That's when I got involved and I found out it was not a technology problem but it was a communication problem. People did not know what to expect, and the system that was built was not according to specification. All the issues were still there. That's when I got involved in a bit of the technology side of things.

Before that, I had my first computer at home: an 8086 from my dad. The commodore 64, hacking a little bit in basic. I was interested in computers already a long time, but it really took off when I finished high school or finished college.

Mark Miller: What year was that?

Arjan Eriks: That was '92, '93.

Mark Miller: The DevOps movement itself didn't start until ten years later.

Arjan Eriks: For us, as a company it started even later than that. Some of the items in DevOps are so generic and so obvious that of course they are in DevOps but they are of all times.

Mark Miller: I'm hearing that quite a bit. People were already doing small pieces of it but no one had a name for it yet.

Arjan Eriks: Correct. That's exactly what we saw.

Mark Miller: From the time that you graduated up until the big meeting in Ghent when things got started with DevOps, what were you doing for those ten years?

Arjan Eriks: In the beginning it was office automation at KLM for three years. Then I moved into data communications between airplanes and ground systems for all sorts of base processes, from flight safety to commercial on board airplanes. I did that for two years, then there was a big project coming up called Operation Control Center. That was the entire flight operations part needed new IT systems. I was managing part of the project there.

Later on, I got the responsibility for the KLM's a better environment. Everything from flight operations but also the commercial side of things with the ticket sales. After that I moved to my current company, Schuberg Philis. That was 2005.

At Schuberg Philis, I've done a dozen of things from creating an IT environment for energy, trading environments, power plants, steering, big banks. Add to that, e-commerce environments and lately implementing our own cloud environment and our moving of the whole that is of course the container that farm is coming. In enterprise environments and maybe even now for reactive programming and server-less computing.

Mark Miller: You started working with them in 2005. DevOps started to become visible in like 2007. Do you remember the first time you heard about DevOps?

Arjan Eriks: I remember it very well. Our company was doing very, very well commercially in 2007/2008. Maybe you recognize it, but we sat together with a group of people here in the evening, drinking a glass of beer. We said, "But this is not right," and all the signs were very positive. Commercially positive. Everybody was happy, we were growing hand over fist. Still, something was wrong.

We started looking around us, especially in Schuberg Philis but also at Yahoo and Etsy. We read a lot about WebOps, not DevOps but WebOps. We read a lot about NoOps and Black Ops. What we saw there is there are mechanisms going on about automation, about agility, that we think we can also apply at enterprise workloads.

When we read a little bit more and we attended some conferences, we saw the whole movement was taking off. That moment in time, we decided to invite John Allspaw and Kris Buytaert to our office for an evening event together with our customers. That was really the momentum internally that we said, well from that moment on we called it DevOps. We started participating a lot in the DevOps community but also in implementing DevOp concepts within our customer teams.

Mark Miller: It sounds as if you were part of the original group with Kris and Patrick, that whole group that got the thing started.

Arjan Eriks: No. That's too much credit. I think we were one or two years later than them. When we heard Kris talk at our office, we stayed in contact and we said, "Well hey, this DevopsDays thing…" that was the first one was being held then in Belgium.

We wanted to do it in Amsterdam as well. We started a local DevOps Amsterdam Team. This year in June we will organize the fourth event, the fourth year. In 2011 we went to Rome for the DevOps Days. We met a lot of people there. John Willis, Mark Burgess was there, who we knew already because we are a long time CFEngine user, or we were back then. We moved to Chef nowadays.

Then it felt that pieces of the puzzle came together. That's the moment we said, "Well now we have to put more emphasis on it, and really start making this a pillar of our organizations," but we were not the first ones.

Mark Miller: You’ve been at this for ten years. What's your motivation now? What keeps you moving within the DevOps community?

Arjan Eriks: Mainly two things. One is, the movement itself is changing and we want to keep up with latest standards in technology, but also working together, and also meeting new people in the community.

The other one is what we see quite a lot is that the enterprise is lagging behind. A lot of enterprises are trying DevOps. They have proved concepts on implementing tools in DevOps or working differently in the agile manner. But you see that after the first success, they have difficulty keeping up with the pace. What we learned here is that the group of people who is very enthusiastic about DevOps enterprise, is not very enthusiastic about training their entire organization in it.

Those enterprises are our customers. We have to invent methods on helping our customers adopt the concepts, keep up with the pace, and show what the benefits are.

Mark Miller: One of the dilemmas for people that are first hearing about DevOps is how do they get their enterprise started? Have you developed a framework to help enterprises get started with DevOps?

Arjan Eriks: Framework is a big word. What we do with this is almost always the same with our customers. One is they have a business idea and they cannot implement it because the organization is not cooperating. They blame the silos or the people. They talk to the customers. It is not that: it is that they are poorly organized. Then they have the angle of organization, and we can say if you make multi-disciplinary teams, put them together, give them freedom, give them responsibility, let them make mistakes.

Don't be their manager but be their coach. Then you will see in six month’s time what is happening. That's one.

The other one is that a lot of organizations have difficulty with outsource tooling. They're not allowed to use it. They have different responsibilities and accountability within the organization. People cannot automate across departments, they're just not allowed: I'm allowed to install machines, and you are allowed to install the backup, and you are allowed to install the application.

No one is responsible for all that. You automatically go back to the organizational thing again. This time the angle was the tooling itself, and the other one is that here in Europe organizations are very much Prince2 or ITIL focused. A lot of people who were waterfall organizations have made art of the processes, but they've overdone it. They need to step back, and rethink what end results should be of the process, instead of the process itself.

Those three angles are what we take as a starting point, but the approach is always the same because you need to apply all three of them instead of focusing on one.

Mark Miller: It's fascinating to me that everyone that I talk to comes back to the same point. That most of the problems we're dealing with in DevOps are communication or organizational problems.

Arjan Eriks: That's correct. I talked to one customer and he said, "Yeah I really like this agile DevOps approach, I'm going to put strong management on top of it. A very fearful management." We said, "Well, no. You don't have to do that. You have give a lot of guidance to the people and the team, but don't give them a strong manager. That's the opposite."

People hear the best words, they think they understand it, and they still do the wrong thing.

Mark Miller: As you're looking at it from that perspective. What skills should the next generation of DevOps practitioners be developing? What skills do they need to make this work at the enterprise level?

Arjan Eriks: Depends a little bit on what angle you look. If I look at it from my perspective as a Schuberg Philis employee, where we implement technology for our customers, where we are an enabler for them and an enabler of change, I see that I need people that can leverage very fast in their minds and different abstract levels.

To think deep down on the system level but also on the business process level. Shifting gears between those levels is very important and it means that you should have the overview as a person, but also be able to adopt the technology underneath it very quickly. I don't look for people with certain skills, I look for people that can acquire skills very fast. That's from my perspective.

If I look at it from my customer's perspective, it is people that are there to make bold statements about changing their organizations. Get rid of the structure, do things without permission. That requires people with self-esteem, with knowledge about IT, that can learn from the past but they are not blinded by all the good and the bad past has given them. Customers should have more communicative, very strong people, but also entrepreneurs in that sense.

Mark Miller: I think that most of the mass media focuses on the technology that DevOps is driving, continuous integration, continuous delivery. Where it seems to me your main focus is on change management and operation management.

Arjan Eriks: That's correct. If you, for instance, look at it from a compliance angle. I have an auditor visiting me every six months with his check boxes and he says, "You do this right or you do this wrong." If I implement tooling and I show him that I have everything under control from a security perspective or whatever, and I give him all the check boxes, then my discussion in not about giving him proof about I can continuously show that I have my system under control.

My discussion with him is: what is control? How do I know that I'm measuring the right things? Where is the real moving? Are you implementing security measures to overcome security issues or are you implementing a system that is self-healing for security issues?

Then you get in a totally different perspective with this auditor or with your customer about the focus that you have for your IT systems. It is not about proving things, it is about evolving things and moving forward, and adopting standards and change that you need in the future instead of proving that you do things right in the present day or in the past.

Mark Miller: One of the things you just brought up is another hole in the perception of DevOps. Just by using the word DevOps you're thinking developer and operations. There's a whole new movement now lead by Shannon Lietz that says security should be part of this whole thing. It sounds like you agree with that too.

Arjan Eriks: We have in our office a security officer and he is part of the DevOps movement already a long time ago. I think did a talk on the 'S' in DevOps stands for Security. DevOps is not about developers and operations. It is everything needed in the change to automate your current business process or a future business process.

If you look at it from that perspective, then it's just everything you need from the marketing guy in the front to the sysadmin men in the back, and everything in between. We have a liberal approach here. Let's put it like that.

Mark Miller: As you think back about your achievements so far, what are you most proud of that you've achieved?

Arjan Eriks: The most proud of is that we are able to talk with our customers about a future, and not about the past. We don't talk about incidents and issues that went wrong yesterday, and how to fix them and make it better in the future. We mainly talk about where is your business going, and how we can enable you as a customer moving forward.

That is a position where you get a lot of freedom as an IT company to not talk about start-up systems or cloud systems, but what do you really want to achieve at your business and how fast for you. The way that we do is its cost effective and also the quality of levels that you desire.

I think we achieve that with quite a few of our customers. Mainly in the banking roles I think we are a game changer. We are also now trying to do that in the government space, and we hope to have some success there. I think a lot of money is being wasted in government projects. We sometimes put it boldly that every project we can offer for half the price with more success.

If you look at those projects it must be true. There's so much waste in between. If you look at it from a retail customers, where of course traditionally everything is lean and mean from a business perspective, there's not a lot of money. You have to be creative. You have to be fast. You have to automate everything, and there you see that the concept is really working.

Where I am most proud of is that we thought of change in 2008, and that we implemented it and it is really working. That's what I'm most proud of.

Mark Miller: When you look back on your career and you think about what you would like your legacy to be, what would you like your legacy to be with the DevOps community?

Arjan Eriks: What I really hope for is that we are not the lone wolf as a company but the industry standard is that IT will change the world. Of course it is already happening because IT is changing the world, but it is often seen as an immature line of business.

If I look at my competitors inside and outside the Netherlands, I see some very good examples of people that really grasp it. But I also see a mediocre company, making a lot of money, selling slide-ware. I hope that the legacy will be that is gone in, I don't know, ten years or fifteen years from now.

You see now the community is broadening, which is a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is that more people are used to it. They understand the mechanisms, they understand the concepts. The bad thing is that companies take advantage of it with the DevOps certification, the DevOps crossover team, the DevOps training, seminars and events being organized with tickets for lot of money. I think that's a shame but it's also the downside of success, so I hope they can keep up with reinventing ourselves, having enough new and fresh content to keep everybody alive.

The bad thing would be that this is hype that will slow down, and there's something new will come up. Although if that's the case, that's the case. I would rather that something new that is successful then a very large DevOps movement that is only there for commercial reasons.

Mark Miller: What do you think about Gene Kim bringing the DevOps Enterprise Summit over to London this year? AppSec is in Rome that week too.

Arjan Eriks: I think it's a good thing. For us, it will be the second time that we have talked at DevOps Enterprise. The first time one and a half year ago in San Francisco and now the bad thing is that the London event is scheduled exactly at the same time, we have our event in Amsterdam. That will be bad for Gene because probably nobody will attend it again because everybody will be in Amsterdam.

No, that’s a joke. I think it's a good thing because for the small companies adopting agile methods, being lean, automate everything, from a small company, it is easier then from a large company perspective. If you look at DevOps enterprise and that's what Gene is doing, he is moving the discussion for internal companies not from the execution departments but into the board room.

I think that is very, very important because if you are not there, and we’ve seen it with outsourcing as well, if you are not there you are not always taken as a serious alternative.

With the DevOps movement being a bottom up approach, taking this next step I think is the missing link. It's very good that he is in London, and I hope a lot of companies will visit London for the event.

 

    
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