Chapter Ten: In Which Sarah Resigns from Animapanions and Heads Off to Start Up a Competitor
Helen Beal | August 16, 2021

This is the tenth chapter in The Observability Odyssey, a book exploring the role that intelligent observability plays in the day-to-day life of smart teams. In this chapter, our DevOps Engineer, Sarah, throws in the towel at C&Js and moves on to build her own business.

This is the tenth chapter in The Observability Odyssey, a book exploring the role that intelligent observability plays in the day-to-day life of smart teams. In this chapter, our DevOps Engineer, Sarah, throws in the towel at C&Js and moves on to build her own business.

I had my lawyer check over my employment contract first, and thankfully it was missing a non-compete clause. It’s not like I was super unhappy at C&Js but I just work better in smaller companies. I’ve always worked in start-up environments and I love the scrappiness of just getting stuff done. C&Js had made the right noises about not wanting to crush our entrepreneurial spirit at Animapanions and using their scale to unleash levels of creativity, but I think it’s impossible not to get sucked into the Borg.

I saw it starting when they rolled our warehousing and delivery services over to the central C&Js systems. Yes, that gave us a fast track to international deliveries, but it also created a dependency and a handoff that has created more problems than it solved in terms of delays in the flow of our value stream and unplanned work (i.e. incidents).

Then there’s this sense that I’m spending more time educating the rest of the business now than investing in Animapanions. I’m flattered, don’t get me wrong, that I’m seen as some kind of guiding light to the new ways of working. But I’m also frustrated, because I know I could be doing more if I had more time to invest in it.

So, once more in my career, I wrote that bland resignation email and pressed send. As expected, I was called in for an exit interview with HR. “Sarah, we are really sad to see you go. As you know, one of our key performance indicators is staff retention. We’d  love to learn how to avoid letting talent like you slip out the door in the future.”

It costs a lot to attract, train and retain staff. The price of replacing me is at least double my annual salary. I know this, and there is a sense of letting my colleagues down, but sometimes, we have to put ourselves first in life. I know this is the right decision for me - emotionally, far more than financially.

“Would you be willing to share why you are leaving your current position?” Tag asked.

“Of course!” I said. “It’s just I’ve been offered something I can’t refuse. It’s a great opportunity to be involved at the start of something new.”

I didn’t say it was better paid as it wasn’t. But it did come with share options which are pretty light on the ground at C&Js, it being such a large organization. Tag was nodding.

“Do you think you were fully equipped to do your job well?” He followed up with. I was happy he’d moved on from the last question.

“Sure,” I said. He frowned at me. I thought I’d throw him and all the people I was leaving behind a bone. “Eventually, I mean. It could be painful to access the technology we wanted to experiment with to improve our product. Much more so than before the acquisition. I understand there needs to be governance and policies to protect us, the business, our customers, but in a high-velocity environment, often we need to just try a piece of software now. Not wait weeks for approvals from procurement or security or whoever.”

He made sure to write all of that down. “How was your relationship with your manager?” he asked. This was an easy one.

“Perfect,” I said. Tracy and I went way back. I didn’t even think of her as a boss. We’d known each other a long time before C&Js came into our lives and I was certain we’d know each other a long time after too. In fact, we’d already had chats about her following me to the start-up. She had her own frustrations, mainly around the layers and layers of hierarchy she now had to navigate.

“What is it that’s so great about working with Tracy?” Tag asked. I knew that Tracy hadn’t been through most of the management training C&Js expected from their leaders. She hadn’t been prioritized as she was too low down in the pecking order. Also, she didn’t have a lot of time for their approaches. She didn’t consider them aligned with our new ways of working values.

“Tracy is a transformational leader,” I replied. “She’s much less a manager and much more a coach and mentor. She helps us discover ways in which to make improvements and gets things out of the way. I don’t think we’d have managed to get Moogsoft in or architect and build the DevOps toolchain without having her fighting our corner.” I didn’t let on that she had actually found ways of doing things under the radar, cutting governance corners just to let us get on.

“What was the biggest factor that led you to accept this new job?” Tag went on.

“Sometimes it’s just time for a change,” I said. “You know, I’ve only been at C&Js for about a year and a half, but I was at Animapanions from nearly the start. That’s nearly six years.”

I didn’t add that I wanted new skills, that I’d learned so much over those years and so much had changed in the technology landscape and I wanted the chance to take what I’d learned about observability and DevOps toolchain architectures and build something from scratch with no barriers, no restrictions, no bureaucracy getting in the way.

“What did you like most and least about your job?” he asked. I wanted to answer, “the people and the people”, but I didn’t. The people I didn’t get on with so well weren’t necessarily bad people. They were just conditioned to certain ways of working, found change frightening, and were trying to work within the rules they’d been given. They were doing their best.

Instead, I said: “The opportunity to learn how large organizations operate, and the opportunity to learn how large organizations operate.”

Tag smiled and asked me to elaborate.

“Well,” I said, thinking, annoyed my flippancy had led me down this path. “It’s really amazing to see so many humans working together, systems that have been built at such scale. How over hundreds of years we’ve reached a point where all these products can be manufactured all over the world and reach the kitchens and bathrooms of all these people anywhere.”

He looked at me, pressing me to continue.

“But the flip side of this is sometimes it feels like the system we’ve built is kind of toxic. I mean, not on the scale of The Big Short or Spotlight or Making a Murderer, but we know we aren’t doing everything right and it’s such a huge effort to make change happen - at the C&Js level I mean.” I think I may have lost him there and he moves on to his next and final question. I breathe a sigh of relief. Freedom is just around the corner.

“What skills and qualifications do you think we need to look for in your replacement?”

“It’s more about attitude and character,” I suggested. “If someone’s open to learning, they can be taught anything. They can teach themselves. They’ll need some basic understanding of how to code, but you don’t necessarily need an expert programmer. They don’t need data science skills as we have Moogsoft. It would be useful if they’d used a DevOps toolchain before, but the team has the blueprints and is using it all day every day and rolling it out to the rest of the organization.”

 

 

I am happy I am leaving them the blueprints, but even happier I’m taking them out the door with me too. Not literally of course, but figuratively. They’re in my head. I’d architected, built, and used them of course. They are part of my DNA now. I’d learned from the mistakes I’d made, fixed broken pieces, built essential integrations, tested and tested them under the weight of daily business. We are getting a head start, thanks to this experience and the skills and knowledge I’d gained at Animapanions. Our vision of a luxury feline lifestyle brand, Catucci, is poised for launch and we have everything we need to scale it from the get-go and just focus on those features that will delight the ever-growing customer audience of humans devoted to their cats.

We’ve already got our cloud instances ready and I’ve already set up the end-to-end DevOps toolchain using the latest and greatest tools, with an API first approach so we are maximizing the opportunity for traceability and optimizing cycle time. Moogsoft will be able to gather data from planning and backlog, all the way through CICD, through the service desk, and into production, so we can fix an incident not only fast but also hopefully see anything unusual coming and keep technical debt out of our way. I’ve never been so excited about starting a new role.

Moogsoft is the AI-driven observability leader that provides intelligent monitoring solutions for smart DevOps. Moogsoft delivers the most advanced cloud-native, self-service platform for software engineers, developers and operators to instantly see everything, know what’s wrong and fix things faster.

About the author

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Helen Beal

Helen Beal is a DevOps and Ways of Working coach, Chief Ambassador at DevOps Institute and an Ambassador for the Continuous Delivery Foundation. She provides strategic advisory services to DevOps industry leaders and is an analyst at Accelerated Strategies Group. She hosts the Day-to-Day DevOps webinar series for BrightTalk, speaks regularly on DevOps topics, is a DevOps editor for InfoQ and also writes for a number of other online platforms. Outside of DevOps she is an ecologist and novelist.

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