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While fixing DevOps issues, Shippable fixes itself first

Everyone knows a broken DevOps team. Shippable CEO Avi Cavale thinks he can help, but he had to tackle his inefficient customer service operation first. Here's how he did it.

Avi Cavale doesn't pull any punches. The CEO and co-founder of Shippable -- and before that, Microsoft -- is the first to say he thinks DevOps is a mess.

"I was an Ops person at Microsoft, and I hated developers," he said. "There's a fundamental reason why developers and operations people don't like each other. And right now there's a lot of DevOps 'kumbayah' going on. ... It doesn't solve the problems."

Cavale isn't alone in thinking that. A survey conducted earlier this year by Freeform Dynamics showed just 20% of companies are making a DevOps team work, largely due to the cultural issues he spoke about.

It's that willingness to face up to the negatives that has made Cavale a change agent, both in the DevOps community and inside Shippable itself.

Avi Cavale, CEO and co-founder of ShippableAvi Cavale

Dealing with DevOps issues

Shippable was founded with the idea of making DevOps simple to execute. Customers can skip building the DevOps infrastructure, Cavale explained, and just focus on code delivery because Shippable works seamlessly with all parts of the development process, including Docker.

But before the company could work on "being the change" for a DevOps team, it had to make some fundamental changes of its own when it came to customer service. About two and a half years ago, Cavale realized that workflow tickets were being missed, leading to miscommunications with customers and frustration on both sides. His solution was a bold one: He created a public space on both GitHub and Bitbucket for tickets so that anyone -- including potential customers and competitors -- could see what was going on at Shippable at any time.

"This was a big risk," he admitted. "It was kind of like airing your dirty laundry to the world. But it changed the culture of the company completely. It became our biggest mission in life, looking at that list, keeping it clean."

And the decision also meant that everyone in the company was suddenly paying attention to customer service in a way that they weren't before. "We'd get all sorts of questions during a sales call from business development and marketing making sure the list was clean. By making it more transparent, we saw a very focused effort on that side to keep the list clean," Cavale said.

It worked well enough that Cavale was free to focus on his real mission: fixing DevOps issues. "I love the vision of DevOps, I love the utopia, but I detest the way it's being implemented," he said flatly. The reason there are any DevOps issues is that it has developers, who should be working on code, working on infrastructure, "which is not their native skill set," and has everyone else doing technology at the lowest common denominator

Right now there's a lot of DevOps 'kumbayah' going on. It doesn't solve the problems.
Avi Cavale co-founder Shippable

He described two types of customers -- those which can be "agile" about making changes, but have an overall poor workflow and others that use Chef or Puppet and are struggling to put all the pieces together.

Cavale's goal for Shippable was to eliminate the inherent friction that exists between developers and operations on a DevOps team. As Cavale explained it, Ops believes nothing should change or break, while from the Dev side if nothing changes or breaks you're not doing a good job. "Everyone is very myopic," he said. "You have to understand those conflicts exist and that there are actually systems that reduce the consequences of the conflict as opposed to avoiding the conflict itself."

Even though Cavale began on the Ops side, he also was a developer. "I can see both sides of the story, and both of these sides exist to help the business," he said. "We just need to innovate the process."

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