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DevOps / Tech Culture

An Unconventional Path from Liberal Arts to Shaping DevOps

Jan 24th, 2019 3:00pm by
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An Unconventional Path From Liberal Arts To Shaping DevOps

Priyanka Sharma, director of alliances for GitLab and a member of the governing board of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), is certainly an example of someone who hails from what she says was a “very unconventional entry into technology.” The end result today is that she is helping to shape the outcome of how organizations better take advantage of DevOps, especially when working on Kubernetes and microservices.

Alex Williams, founder and editor-in-chief of The New Stack, spoke with Sharma during a podcast at  KubeCon + CloudNativeCon 2018 in Shanghai about her life work and what changes need to take place in DevOps today.

It was not that long ago when Sharma hardly had access to a PC, or much opportunity to learn programming or other computer skills while growing up in a small town in India. “It wasn’t like computers were a part of my life — that was not the case,” Sharma said. “I ended up applying to colleges in the US, and I remember as I was applying I was using a computer for the first time — I didn’t even know how to use Microsoft Word.”

But even while studying at Stanford University, Silicon Valley firms and technology were not yet an integral part of her coursework. As a political science and government major, Sharma said she was busy “fighting for student rights and this thing and that thing — and it was really good fun.” She expected to enter a job in finance, consulting or in a similar sector, but the best job offer from a company that agreed to sponsor a visa for her was from Google. “So, I ended up in tech by accident really,” Sharma said. “I had no expectations of getting into Google, just as I had no expectations of getting into Stanford.”

Her experience at Google was “all very positively serendipitous,” Sharma said. After working as an account manager as part of the AdSense team, Sharma eventually landed a production manager position for a data tool. Sharma later joined Outright where she learned she enjoyed community education.

When Sharma joined LightStep, she became acquainted with distributed systems and the challenges they can pose and had a front-row seat into observability and cutting-edge ways to solve problems, before joining GitLab. Sharma says she owes much of her skill development in tech to the mindset her liberal arts background fostered. Her coursework in philosophy, for example, “has been very helpful in how I think about the world,” Sharma said. “When I look at patterns,  what is going to come in the future, I think my brain works very differently from the folks I’m around,” Sharma said. “And that’s an asset.”

Her involvement in student government was “about advocacy, the search for truth, a better existence and working with people to achieve that,” Sharma said. “And honestly, that’s what I do today — it’s pretty great,” Sharma said.

Now, after Kubernetes has begun to be accepted as a viable and powerful platform in computing, many DevOps are experiencing growing pains and challenges. “We’re at a point where there are many independent teams in organizations that have the ability to run their own services,” Sharma said. “And suddenly, we’re in a tooling crisis of sorts… so you have 50 teams running their stuff that’s great for that team in that silo. But when you, as a VP of engineering, look at this, you see it might be a mess… because there is no cohesion.”

In the case of different teams shipping and operating their own microservices, there is a lack of standards across the organization, Sharma said. For context switching, for example, “one programmer going from one dashboard to another takes a few seconds, while from the enterprise perspective for a 6,000 DevOps workforce, that is a three-hour loss with just one context switch,” Sharma said.

The solution is to “really start thinking about what you have really promised to your end-user,” Sharma said. “You really need to figure out what data do you need to deliver that experience, who needs to collaborate, who needs to see what’s happening, and based on that, to pick a tool where you have some flexibility,” Sharma said.

Adoption of a service mesh or the solution GitLab offers DevOps “should be what is visible for everyone across teams,” Sharma said. In that way, “you can jump in and collaborate as needed without waiting for an artificial hand-off, while governance needs to be [integrated into the organization] instead of ad-hoc,” Sharma said. Once in place, “then you can really feel comfortable,” Sharma said.

In this Edition:

1:55: How did you get your start in tech?
7:10: The liberal arts influence, how does it affect you today in your work?
10:27: How do people get into the weeds in cloud native?
15:07: Exploring the “boring solution” that works for the long term.
17:24: What are the patterns you’re starting to see emerge with teams in the workflows they’re establishing with security practices?
20:55: What are some of the patterns that are influencing GitLab’s deployments?

Raygun sponsored this podcast/post, which was produced independently by The New Stack. The Cloud Native Computing Foundation and Kubecon + CloudNativeCon are sponsors of The New Stack.

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