“I think people using Agile methodologies are the innovators, those are the early adopters. Those are the people who see the need for what DevOps brings and what Agile brings.”
Tina Donbeck’s journey to DevOps began in a unique way, not through technology but through a degree in psychology. Her perception of DevOps is through the lens of change management. Her focus is not on the technical as much as cultural change and the customer perspective. In this Innovator’s Journey profile, Tina talks about her transition from psychology to DevOps, roadblocks to DevOps adoption and the influences shaping her work.
Mark Miller: When you think back about how you got started in technology, were you interested in technology as a child?
Tina Donbeck: Not directly, no. I was an Atari kid, and grew up on Atari and Nintendo. When the Commodore 64 came out when I was going into the second grade, I was one of those early adopters. I've always been an early adopter of trinkets and toys and such, so that's always interested me.
I fell into technology. I have a degree in Organizational Development-type Psychology, so I fell into the IT world probably about 18 years ago after I got out of the Marine Corps. I worked for a contracting company in Washington, D. C., supporting the Secretary of the Navy. The role I played there was doing workforce development for the IT workforce, so I got to use a little bit of my psychology background, but I got to delve a little bit into the IT arena from a people perspective. I really found it interesting and that's where I've stayed since.
Mark Miller: One of the things you mentioned as far as what you were doing with the Navy support, it almost sounds like change management when you talk about it that way. Is that right?
Tina Donbeck: Yes, there is an element of change management. Essentially, we were looking at the skills and the competencies required to sufficiently support the Navy War Fighter, so both on the Government Fed side, as well as sailors. What type of skillsets did they require to essentially move their IT workforce in the right direction to support the War Fighter, which obviously, the War Fighter in the last 20 years has evolved almost specifically to technology.
We've got drones flying around. It's just more we've evolved to, so this was some 18 years ago. We're probably on the cutting edge of it, but it was identifying what skills were needed to move them in the right direction.
Mark Miller: Where did you go to college?
Tina Donbeck: I finished my undergraduate while I was active duty in the Marine Corps, so I completed college in a little unknown university, called Park University. I did it through a satellite campus while I was active duty. Then my Master's Degree is from the George Washington University, here in Washington, D. C.
Mark Miller: When you were at school, were there any computer courses, or was it before that was all happening?
Tina Donbeck: Right on the cusp of it. During my undergraduate years I took a few courses online. Certainly the technology was there. I'm not a dinosaur completely. There were intro to computers and there were some intro to programming-type classes in undergraduate, but again, my Degree was in Psychology, so I wasn't necessarily taking the programming-type classes.
Mark Miller: As you look back, do you remember the first time that you heard about DevOps?
Tina Donbeck: I do. It's been fairly recent, within the last three to four years. In my current position, I work for the Federal Government. You wouldn't think of the Federal Government as typically being on the cutting edge when it comes to adopting technology or philosophies, but I think in the last ten years or so, there have been some federal agencies that really have been on the cusp of doing things very innovatively. Agile has become very pervasive within the government. DevOps is kind of a buzzword that's come out, like I said, within the last four to five years. Even more so right now, it's kind of caught on.
My CIO had thrown the buzzword out there. There were a few of us, we kind of call ourselves the DevOps Grassroots Folks, the kind of the early adopters, people who kind of get excited about new ideas and everything. A group of us globbed onto it and we kind of ran with it. I won't say we had a whole lot of direction at where we were taking it, but it's been an interesting journey as to how it's evolved over the last couple of years.
We've seen some really cool things, at least from a cultural perspective in adopting it, as well as from a process perspective. We've really seen some maturity in our development and release efforts.
Mark Miller: What kind of roadblocks are you reaching when you're trying to move forward, political issues as far as people not understanding this new type of development. Are you hitting any roadblocks?
Tina Donbeck: Most certainly. To me, DevOps is almost purely cultural anyways. It's a huge change. You talked about change management earlier. It is a change management effort. You're getting your development and your operations people to want to work in coordination with one another. We talk that all the time.
Even before the word DevOps came around, we always talked about collaboration in the workplace. DevOps kind of moves it even a little bit closer to a reality, right? It's kind of more in your face. We want developers to be testers, to be able to test their own stuff before it actually gets thrown over to QA.
We want them to catch their own mistakes before someone else catches their mistakes kind of thing. In operations, working in such synchronization with development, we’ve run into huge cultural barriers. My exposure mostly has been to the Federal Government. I'm sure it's the same in the private sector, but there's silos that grow up, and that becomes the persona and the culture is grown up around that. Trying to break through some of those silos and those barriers that have existed for years and years is difficult.
Mark Miller: Are the people that on your team understanding and using Agile more likely to be doing DevOps?
Tina Donbeck: They are, but then you're probably going to get into a philosophical discussion on whether you can do true Agile in the Federal Government.
Agile in the Federal Government is extremely difficult just because of the way we're measured and the way we have to budget. Everything is accounted for. We're not a profit-driven organization. It stifles a little bit of the purest, with regards to Agile. For an example, we have to give start dates and end dates of a proposed project for a fiscal year, so we can get budget allocation towards it.
Just in the essence of doing that, that's not Agile because you're already determining a proposed start and end date. Agile is supposed to be more fluid than that.
To get back to your original question, do I feel the people who have adopted Agile are more likely to adopt DevOps? Most certainly, because I think those people, those are the innovators, those are the early adopters. Those are the people who see the need for what DevOps brings and what Agile brings, and they might not be able to do Agile or even DevOps in the 100% purest form, but they adopt the best attributes from that, and try to implement it the best they can.
Mark Miller: One of the people a lot of us look towards is Deming as far as who started the movement towards DevOps. Who would have been your major influences?
Tina Donbeck: I would say the Phoenix Project. We actually brought Gene Kim in and had him in a small group, kind of talk about the Phoenix Project, and talk about his experiences with DevOps. Obviously, he's a evangelist for DevOps, so he was wonderful. Reading his stuff and listening to him talk, I find him very motivating.
You mentioned Deming. That’s a big name, but for me, a lot of it's been my peers. My peers have gotten excited about it and we've learned from one another about what works and doesn't work.
We have a lot of outreach to folks at Puppet Labs. Nathen Harvey. Listening to him talk gets you excited around DevOps. I don't necessarily think that it has to be a big name, or I can point a big name that's totally done it for me. It's been a combination of reading the books and working with my folks side by side, trying to figure out, "What is this?" "How are we going to use this to our advantage?" That's where I've learned the most.
Mark Miller: I hear that so much, that a lot of what is happening movement wise is peer groups. As you go, "Hey look. This is cool. Look what I just did."
Tina Donbeck: Yeah.
Mark Miller: Then everybody gathers around and says, "Yeah, that's awesome."
Tina Donbeck: Yeah.
Mark Miller: One of the exciting things for me is we're finally starting to see security come into the fold. Have you noticed that, too, the automation of security is part of the DevOps cycle?
Tina Donbeck: I have, yes. That's weird, because security is always the most important thing, but it always seems like the last thing to get thrown in there.
Mark Miller: It's like Cinderella. It's the red-headed stepchild.
Tina Donbeck: Yeah, nobody wants to hear it, but everybody needs it.
Mark Miller: When you look back on your career so far, what are you most proud of?
Tina Donbeck: Oh, boy. Hanging in there.
I always say, I have a very charmed career, because I kind of fell into government contracting by happenstance. Coming out of the Marine Corps, I actually interviewed with a woman whose husband was a retired Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps. He gave this young girl an opportunity that has opened up so many doors for me. This wasn't the path that I necessarily chose that I was going to be on, but I'm really grateful for the ride so far.
Looking back, I would say I'm amazed things fell into place the way that they did, even when I didn't think they made sense. I got a new role or a new position, they always turned out where I needed to be. That's been pretty cool.
Mark Miller: It seems in the position you are, you've actually gone through the glass ceiling, because there's so few women, when you think about it, at the level you are in this field.
Tina Donbeck: To a certain extent, yes. Especially in the Federal Government, there's few and far between women CIOs. That's one of my goals. That's something I aspire to. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen, because I've gotten to do some really cool things, but certainly there's not as many women in those types of positions.
I feel that is warranted. I've come across some really brilliant women that have crossed my path. Equally, I've learned some from some really brilliant men, as well, who are doing things really, really well. Oddly, sometimes you learn most from those that are doing things really poorly. I've had those experiences, as well.
Mark Miller: When you look back a year from now, what do you hope to have accomplished within the next year?
Tina Donbeck: Interestingly enough, I've taken on a new role within my agency where I work now. I've moved away from the CIO shop, moving over to the customer side of IT.
My hope in the next year is to be able to help from the customer perspective, drive the importance of DevOps, drive the importance of that type of collaboration, because they're kind of floundering right now, and they have been for a few years.
They feel like they haven't been delivered what they've asked for out of the IT shop, so it's my hopes that a year from now I'm able to say I am part of a team that's helped move them forward further than they've ever been.