I’m a Texan living in Amsterdam, so when I come back to the States (Dallas and Austin this time), I noticed things about American that I never did:
Originally in my newsletter.
I’ve started writing this bit two times (see the community one and the one on ICs vs. managers for what happened instead).
If Twitter fails - or I stop using it - I’m looking forward to recalibrating my sense of urgency.
One thought going around is that no one would want to rebuild Twitter (I hear it most in the Ben Thompson Podcast Universe). I haven’t verified the business-side, but that seems true from the business angle: Twitter isn’t, like, that great of a business and has failed to figure it out like the Facebook Conglomerate.
Then there’s all the negative things too. Here, Twitter is like guns: too easy to use for bad outcomes.
After using Twitter for so many years, my sense of urgency is too short. I think in quick cycles and don’t have that “slow work” or “slow living” approach to most things.
I notice this with my kid’s education the most. School for kids is a long, long game. They have to learn to “do” school, which can take years and isn’t really taught in school. You know: keep track of assignments, due dates, make sure you understand what you need to do for each assignment (e.g., a five paragraph essay format; showing your work in math; adding those extra layers of work that show you’ve understood the higher-level ideas and synthesized them into some output), etc. These are all things office workers do without thinking, but kids don’t even know they exist - they’re unknown unknowns.
When my kids don’t learn these things the first time I explain it to them, or the 20th time, or the 30th time where I’ve tried to orchestrate some tricky way of teaching them, I get frustrated. But my timescale is just an hour, a week at most. It should really be, like, five years…ten years.
The same goes for that publishing vs. managing bit also here.
Another example is the rise of platform engineering and how quickly it’s gone through the full thought-leader cycle.
Backstage has been out for awhile, but it wasn’t until about February of this year (when Gartner wrote a paper on internal developer portals), and then this summer with all the devrel/PR-campaigns that Humanitec has done, culminating in BackstageCon that platform engineering came to the top of the heap.
About three weeks ago, there were the usual series of marketing-opportunistic articles saying “DevOps is Dead!” You can tell when this crest happens when there’s 1+n articles on The New Stack stating it as such - or if both The New Stack and InfoQ publish the same article, just written differently.
The response to the dead-thing was swift, and actually pretty good. It was like, “hey man, don’t harsh our vibe and all the work people have put into this thing for the past ten plus years. Be kind!”
This was a very fast loop!
I don’t remember how long that loop took with SRE, but I think it was longer and more…thoughtful?
But, the urgency model we use now made us all think too quickly about platform engineering and try to create a whole new category. Indeed, my theory is that, really, platform engineering is purely about internal developer portal and the tools team (the “DX team” if you like) - basically, the SDLC tool suite developers use. With a name like “platform engineering,” thought, it’s easy to also pull in the runtime environment - the IaaS and PaaS layer. (And, boy, kubernetes is really looking for it’s PaaS layer - so that world will grab onto any thing that floats by.)
But, this conflation of the two probably isn’t accurate or helpful. And I’ve done it myself!
With the Twitter-speed urgency though, you have to process and come up with takes quickly like this. You can’t sort of just let it play out and see what happens.
Anyhow: it’d be great to have less urgency. The thing with Twitter-speed urgency is that, really, it doesn’t matter. I mean, you could summarize the last two weeks of Twitter like this:
The long awaited PE buyout closed and was followed quickly by layoffs and uncertainty. For example, after laying off half of the staff, some had to be hired back. The new management team was unusually brash and rude, damaging the brand reputation of Twitter. Some big-name advertisers who were already unsure about the value of putting ads in Twitter began to worry about the association with Twitter, paused spend, and went into a wait and see posture. The new team followed the philosophy of “move fast and break things” when exploring new features, but because their theories were wrong, eventually slowed down to take a more considered approach. Meanwhile, the service stayed up, defying expectations. Clearly, the new management team has a lot to learn and even more interest to pay. More than likely, this was all a bad idea.
Following the minutia is fun, but I have to say, there’s not enough of it to make it rewarding. There’s only about one interesting thing every two days - so I’ve realized, there’s no payoff to checking all the time.
…the point being: my urgency calibration is all screwed up from Twitter-brain. And, you know, it’d be great to slide back to blog-brain urgency, at the very least.
This urgency is more about the expectations I set on myself rather than my craving for “news.” One day, I hope to be satisfied with one, solid piece of work published weekly rather than worrying about doing a quick-trickle of a bunch of small things.
Some commentary on a recent survey commissioned from my work, VMware.
Unsurprisingly, open source is used by almost everyone. When it comes to what I care about software development, open source is indispensable. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a developer who only uses closed source software, if not whole systems like kubernetes or Cloud Foundry for running their applications. It’d almost be impossible.
And, indeed, in our State of the Software Supply Chain survey this year, 2022, 90% of respondents said they were using open source in production.
Still, I wonder what those other 10% are doing!
Do they write all their own software? They’re not running Linux in production I guess, either.
What’s holding those 10% back?
There’s so much they’re missing out on. For all this praise about open source for me, what are the benefits of using open source?
80% of people said reduced costs. Now, a lot of people will tell you that open source isn’t free. What they mean is that the cost of labor to use and maintaining it (upgrading and security patching) in staff time and pay…but clearly people are benefiting from open source overall being cheap. And, of course, many companies pay for commercial support and closed source tools for the open source stuff they use.
Cost was also the number one benefit in our 2021 survey.
The other benefits were flexibility, support from a large community, and developer productivity.
All of these are the promises of open source and what we’ve come to expect over the decades. Indeed, if you look the reasons people chose open source and then the benefits they got, those expectations pretty much line up. For example, 50% of people said they expected developer productivity as a benefit, and 52% got that benefit.
Let’s look at the concerns people have.
Security is what we should really dig into since it’s such a big concern. Now, I don’t think the concerns about security mean that open source is NOT secure. I don’t really think that’s the case at all. I think open source tends to be as secure as any other type of software, closed or run in the public cloud. What’s important is that you have the right process, packaging, and management in place. Again, this is important for anytime of software. Open source software is as secure, or, if you like, as insecure as closed source software. Make sure to get the right tools in place.
I want to add my own criteria for using open source that you should consider: make sure there’s a thriving, well supported community that you can depend on for the long-term. There’s two reasons for this: you want to make sure you’ll get community-based support when you’re learning how to use the OSS and troubleshoot it. Also, you want to make sure over the years that new, innovative features are added.
A thriving community will address these criteria.
What you want to do is make sure that community and the vendors and cloud services you work with prioritize getting updates and patches out for their open source packages and services. And this is about more than “security”: it’s just upgrading to new versions of the projects you use to get new features and performance improvements.
You want to have the processes and tools in place to deploy those updates as soon as possible, ideally without taking down production and stopping the business from running.
The container-based applications that run in kubernetes and Cloud Foundry - both open source! - provide excellent ways to do this nowadays. For example, the US bank Wells Fargo runs many applications in containers and because of how open source is packaged and managed in their platform, they’re able to deploy updates multiple times a week without disrupting their applications and, thus, business. I’ve seen this across banks, government agency, retailers: you name it.
So what you see in our second survey, here, is that with the right tools and process in place, and managing how your open source is packaged, you can get tremendous benefits from cost savings to developer productivity. The added bonus is that these same controls for open source can be applied to your own code and software. Securing open source is important, but the more important problem to solve is securing your own software. That comes down to the same thing: tools, process, and package management.
Once you have those controls in place, you can get that innovation engine going.
Here’s what I’ve learned in doing 30 (maybe more like 40?) executive events in person and online over the past four or so years. Over my career, I’ve done these on and off, but it’s become a core part of my job since moving to EMEA to support Pivotal and now VMware Tanzu with executives.
At these events, I learn a lot about “digital transformation,” you know, how people at large organizations are changing how they build software. But, below are some notes on what I’ve learned about doing the events themselves.
These usually get together a of 8 to 12 people who’re up “upper management” and involved in changing organization structure, practices, and “culture” to get their groups better at software. They’re usually very large companies: banks/insurance, manufacture/pharma, government, etc.
We used to host dinners, in person to meet these people and tell them about Pivotal, now VMware Tanzu. These dinners were eight to about twelve people. You have pre-dinner drinks and hanging out, sit at a table and eat a meal (fish, meat, or chicken - usually very good from a luxury hotel kitchen), discuss “digital transformation” during dinner, and then have drinks on the bar with about four or five of the attendees who stay.
This doesn’t work when you’re in lock-down for two years now. So, we shifted to doing these events online. I’ve been the primary anchor - the entertainment, as it were - for something most of these in Europe that are in English.
When we started, we didn’t know if they were going to work or how and had to figure it out along the way. Now, we’ve got a good formula and here are some things that work:
I don’t do much or the behind the scenes work for these, and it’s a lot of work. I’ve been very fortunate to have the support, belief, and, really, my ongoing nurturing/training from my co-workers who actually run all of this. My friend Hinada Neiron has done a lot of that work and she’s done a great job putting up with me and making sure I don’t slack.
Here’s the behind the scenes stuff that happens:
Overall, these events are great. As you can probably tell by some of my comments above, it’s not natural for me to talk with groups of strangers, or even individuals. I go out of my way to avoid it on my life - I love self-checkout!
So, I was very worried about that at first, but with encouragement, just doing it over and over, and also experimenting with what works and doesn’t work, I’ve gotten over it.
Most of all, I’ve made sure I enjoy these events by talking about things I’m interested in and asking people whatever questions I’m curious about. You could call this “listening,” which I suppose it is. Several years ago when I was talking about this nervousness with my wife, she reminded me that I love talking about tech stuff, and learning about it…and that’s exactly what we talk about at these events! Once I realized that these were the kinds of conversations I wished I could have all the time and people I wanted to meet, it was easier to transform myself a little bit.
Anyhow, they’re good events, and I enjoy them. Hopefully I’ll see you at one of them!
Allow me to indulge in some trans-Atlantic compare/contrast’ing. I was back in Texas and Chicago for a few weeks recently, so of course noticed some difference between Europe and America. It’s the tiny differences that stack up. Talking about them can be an annoying tic of expat people. But, whatever. It’s been over two years since I’ve been back, and here’s things that stand out:
All the small talk - now that I understand most of the talking I overhear (unlike in the Netherlands), I’m hearing all the small talk people have. “How’s the weather?” “ooohhh, yeah? you’re from the UP too!”, rolling over their 401(k) to an IRA, and that kind of thing. That said, even though I barely know it, hearing Spanish is so nice. It used to surround me, growing up, and it’s so rare to hear it in Europe. (I mean, except in one of the countries, obviously).
Free napkins - I joke a lot about how spare Europe is when it comes to food. No free drink refills, no free ketchup or mayo, no free anything. But in the States, all those small things are free (or refillable). Napkins are the most notable. When you order food in Europe, they assume (or act like) all you’ll need is what Americans would call a cocktail napkin, or even the equivalent of two sheets of toilet paper. Those thin, toilet paper like napkins are often paired very poorly: with those cones of fries topped with a cup full of mayonnaise. In the states, you get more napkins than you can deal with: thick, large, almost sensuous napkins. Having lived with napkin poverty for four years now, like my depression era grandparents, I hoard these extra napkins in my bag.
The border - going through passport control in the States is a shocking experience. The agents there are very official, brusk, and, well, not very nice and welcoming. “What are you bringing back?” they stonely ask me when I say I’m coming from Amsterdam. My answer is always the same: “uh…stroopwafels…?” which is always true. That straight-faced gruffness is sort of, unfortunately, the culture of government officials with guns in the States, and it’s really not something you realize until you experience similar people abroad. When you enter the Netherlands (and the UK), for example, the people look the same, sometimes even more militaristic, but they’re so much more friendly. The passport control people in Schiphol wear big bullet proof vests, uniforms, and have guns. The men often have military haircuts and often steel arms (based on the commentary I read - rather have read to me by my wife - in Facebook expat groups, they could make very profitable cheesecake calendars)… but they’re so friendly. They’ll joke with me about not knowing enough Dutch, and even say “welcome home!”
Bikes - well, I mean, there’s no bike lanes out here in the suburbs, obviously. In Chicago, there were bike riders, but they mix with the cars. When I make a right turn in the rental car, I find myself dramatically looking for a bike coming up on my right, an instinct you built up in the Netherlands. I laugh a little bit each time because, you know, there’s no bike lane, no bikes to look for there. Crosswalks are similar: in the US, crosswalks without a stop-light are mostly meaningless. In Europe, if someone is standing/waiting at a crosswalk, traffic stops: they’re actual things there. Austin has some pretty beefy bike lanes on some streets - I’m curious to see how much they’re used. Seems cool.
Trucks - I one of the highest status levels with Avis, so our rental got upgraded from a mini-van to a full on Chevy Suburban. This is a huge - MASSIVE - “car.” Up here in DFW, it doesn’t stand out too much though. The Suburban would be impossible to use in the Netherlands - it just wouldn’t fit in the cities, you wouldn’t be able to park it anywhere. To be fair, I wouldn’t have been able to park it in the garage in Chicago either. I had a Ford Explorer there and driving around in the parking garage was a little scary not he tight turns. In contrast, the most numerous cars in Europe are what we used to call “hatch-backs” and station wagons.
Ice - we have endless ice in America. Europe likes to put one or two cubes of ice in your drink (that you get no refills on), but ice in the US is everywhere. We bought a bag of ice at Sonic twice, maybe we’ll do it again. I’m reminded of long passages in early Hunter Thompson where he lays out his method for rum drinking: fill a tall glass with ice and pour rum over it. I mean, simple recipe, but when you’re used to little to no ice, it seems like a treat. (I won’t be drinking a tall glass of rum, don’t worry.)
Empty Space - especially when it comes to Texas, there’s so much empty space. This could be huge yards and parking lots, parks, or just land left alone. I don’t know if this is true, but around Europe I often thing “well, this place has been full of people for thousands of years, so they’ve sort of taken over everything.” Which is to say “nature” in Europe is mostly man-made and engineering. Most all of the trees in the Netherlands line up perfectly and are the same height. This is especially true in regions of Europe that were leveled in the second war. The States has so much empty space that it has “true” nature.
Friendliness - it’s a myth that Europeans are not friendly, especially when it comes to Germans. People in Europe, day-to-day, are totally normal and friendly. What I mean by this is, like, if you’re in a big city and people are on the go, they might be stone-faced, but this is the case anywhere. You find bored teens checking you out at the grocery store, have light conversation with people walking the dog, and so on. I can see that, especially in Amsterdam, the locals can be mildly intolerant of tourists. Perhaps this accounts for some attitudes Americans have about Euro friendliness. This notion of European briskness and friendliness is a turn it on its head issue: Americans are comically overly friendly. We have a much different baseline for everyday interactions. One of my favorite jokes, which I read first in The Culture Map is this: in Russia, there is a saying “when you see someone walking down the street who’s smiling, they’re either one of two things: an insane person…or an American.” Now, Europeans might be - OK, are - more forward in telling you their opinions or calling out putting lipstick on a pig. This might be another source of the American perception that Europeans are less friendly comes with: they speak their mind and call you out more frequently. I don’t know - and once you understand that it’s just, like, conversation, it’s kind of nice.
Tap to pay - while there’s a more tap-to-pay terminals in the US then when we lived here, there’s not that many compared to Europe. You can tap-to-pay everywhere, even at the hot dog stand in Europe. If you had Apple Pay setup on your phone (or whatever), you wouldn’t really need your wallet at all. I’ve had to swipe and insert my credit card many times. I forgot you sometimes have to put in your zip code at the gas pump. Weird! That said, I don’t think I’ve had to sign anything yet.
Pay-at-the-pump - one of the more bizarre things in Europe is that you have to go into the store to pay for gas. There’s really no pay at the pump. You could go into conspiracy theories about this: people buy more if you force them to go in, it employees more people. I don’t know - I think it might just be a culture thing. Pay at the pump is great, it’s awesome - it’s the only way to live!
Toilets - one of the most baffling, frustrating things about Europe is the lack of public, as us Americans would say, “bathrooms.” About the only place you can pee in public is at a restaurant, or Ikea. Stores don’t have toilets, even the biggest grocery stores. And if there is a toilet, you usually have to pay 50 cents or a euro for it. This might be fine except that Europe is increasingly a cashless city, so who carries coins? (Shopping carts aren other problem here - apparently there’s a huge shopping cart burglary problem in Europe because they chain them together and require a 50 cent deposit to get one.) Peeing in Europe is a problem. I mean, do they expect people to just pee in the bushes? And what about those people who are not equipped with the necessity equipment for easily peeing in the bushes? In the States, most any public establishment has free to use toilets - sorry, bathrooms. And people don’t care if you use them! Sure, in downtown areas there might be signs about “for customers only” and occasionally keypad locks on the bathroom doors but…those are weird exceptions and mostly ignored. I don’t know, man: Europe, figure your shit out so we can…shit.
It’s hot - Chicago, of course, is not hot. But, yes, even this time of year, Texas is warm. In Austin, of course, it’s also muggy, the air is thick. I’m interested in seeing how my 8 year daughter responds to this - I think she was young enough when we left that she won’t be used to the heat.
Dress - in Austin, people dress very, er, casual. I too am just wearing an old t-shirt and shorts. It’s hard to compare to Europe because the weather is (see above) different. When it’s cooler, you can dress in pants and a jacket, which sort of makes you look more dressed up without even trying than a that t-shirt and shorts. There’s an old clothing store ad in Austin that went something like “Austin, where women dress to go out and men dress like they’re mowing the lawn.” So far, it looks like that maxim has crossed gender lines now. I make no judgement here. Wear what you dig.
Beef - listen, beef is Europe is not good. Here, you can buy a cheap, regular cut of meat and it’s always great. I think in Europe, the beef is healthier, the cuts are different…and it ends up being more like turkey than beef.
From the report “Top Strategic Technology Trends for 2023: Platform Engineering,” Paul Delory and Oleksandr Matvitskyy, Gartner, Oct 2022.
This report is free to download, my work licensed it. If you’re reading this, you’ll find it useful, so you should go read it!
Securing Your Environment with Tools Before Rules
My colleague Bryan Ross talk about security in the whole cloud native world. There’s plenty go shift left, and something called “shield right.” Also, he concisely explains the value of having a container-native build service (here, the Tanzu Build Service) and how you can get developers securing their code (better) from the start with Accelerators (templates), and buildpacks.
I think buildpacks are one of the more impressive, under appreciated things from the Cloud Foundry community. The idea of, well, preventing developers from building their own containers is huge if you want control over security, governance, and even basic things like instrumentation and other production management concerns.
You may recall this Bryan from this excellent talk he gave about his experience running a platforms in large organizations. If you’re in this whole cloud thing, you should really watch it if you haven’t.