Women in DevOps: Tanu McCabe

Written by: Diana Hwang
9 min read
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Tanu McCabe’s expertise as a solutions architecture director at Capital One has enabled her to lend invaluable insights about her exciting adventure within the company’s digital journey. Since 2015, Capital One, one of the country's largest banks, has championed a large-scale tech transformation. McCabe’s job as a solution architect allows her to provide leadership and guidance that leverages the latest technological developments. As part of her job, Tanu positions the company on the best solution designs, projects, and company-wide initiatives.

During an interview, Tanu reflected on her decision to join Capital One, her hopes for the future direction of the company, and how burnout brought her to a dream job in DevOps.

How did you decide to come to Capital One?
The top three things that drew me here was the technology, the people and the culture. Capital One is all-in on the cloud, and their scale makes for very interesting problems.

There are two things I really appreciate about our culture. One is that our leadership is not afraid to make decisions, which is huge. That comes from the agile philosophy. It's huge to have leadership able to make decisions that move us forward. We're not 100 percent right all the time, but they're willing to understand that and still move forward. I think that's cool. The second thing is the ability to take an idea and make an impact. When you have a good idea, it's not just an idea on paper that's forgotten about. It can become reality and really make an impact.

I had an idea three years ago to use an open source tool to automate cloud infrastructure using infrastructure as code principles. I did a bit of prototyping and showed it to other people and they liked it and made it better. They evolved it. Now we’re using it widely across our organization. That started off as a little program on my computer. We have thousands of people who also run with their ideas. I think that's really cool.

Capital One has nurtured my talent. The exposure to cutting-edge technology allows us to use the latest and greatest innovations to help us innovate for our customers. It’s nice to always be at the forefront of new technology and be a pioneer in its usage.

_Capital One has nurtured my talent. The exposure to cutting-edge technology allows us to use the latest and greatest innovations to help us innovate for our customers. It’s nice to always be at the forefront of new technology and be a pioneer in its usage._

Our culture helps us move forward as a team so that’s nurtured me as a person. I've been able to learn from my colleagues on different ways of thinking. How I attack a problem today is different from how I would've done it a year ago because I've learned in that year other people's perspectives and the considerations they make when they're tackling a problem. Now I can say I'm a better architect today than I was a year ago.

Our management and mentorship is great, too. That's not something I was privy to earlier – I never really had a formal mentor before and I have one now. That’s been useful for me to understand more abstract things like how to be more effective. My mentor's been able to give me thoughts from their experience that I've acted upon.

What project are you working on now at Capital One?
I'm working on the team that provides the “plumbing” if you will – the architecture for cloud, infrastructure, monitoring. My initial role also included architecture for DevOps. I now weave DevOps into all the other areas that I support. We want to become as automated and self-service as possible, which is a DevOps principle. We also want our users – in this case, the development teams – to deploy their apps in the cloud without any issues.

As a solution architect, what tools or practices have you found to be useful to balance everyone’s needs and provide technical leadership relevant to your work environment?
I believe in being methodical with analysis. I ask, “what’s the problem statement?” I then try and understand the motivation of various stakeholders. That gives me more perspective on the best fit solution. To get to a solution, often I need to research alternatives and how things work, while understanding our compliance policies. In addition, I often work with various leaders across development teams to get a better understanding of how they run applications so that I can ensure that the guidance I provide is feasible.

Jenkins, an open source automation server, is a critical piece of [continuous integration/continuous delivery] CI/CD architecture that I use . At the end of the day, Capital One developers expect the service to be available. If my service is available, I expect providers to implement in a way that’s available through continuous monitoring. We went deep in how we would monitor, and tested for weaknesses in Jenkins. Our delivery team developed customized alerts and actions to respond with. That means if a condition was coming that a system would fail, the team would respond before the failure happens and affects our users.

How did you know you wanted to change your job?
It was not a straight journey for me to arrive here. I started out as a traveling consultant so that I could work from anywhere, and learned a great deal from that experience. I then worked as a federal contractor, helping the government through infrastructure modernization efforts. At one point in my career, I experienced burnout. There’s a good book about DevOps. It talked about a character that ends up being a bottleneck in all processes. The character’s intent is good, but he’s the only one who knows everything. I was that person at a previous role and it was not sustainable. When I burned out, I reevaluated my life’s choices. There were things I needed to do better. One was to delegate. Another was to take a hard look at my day job. I knew I liked the technology aspect of my job and that I wanted to solve problems at scale. That was a big moment when I made the decision to make the lateral move back to tech. I wanted to keep the technical lead hat and decided I liked the technical side more than management side of things. I like that Capital One encourages career progression on both sides but let’s me choose which path makes the most sense for me.

When I burned out, I had a choice: I could've just stagnated there and given up and said this entire career is wrong for me. But what I would say is, first, don't get to the burnout point . That's no fun. Second of all, recognize that nothing is going to be perfect. There will be good times and there will be bad times. But if you're in the bad times, don't dismiss the entire technology field. Maybe dismiss the particular circumstances of the situation that are making it bad. Maybe it's time to change the job, change the role, or change the place. Technology itself is super broad and there's a lot of ways to work within the field so it's all about determining what's the right fit. So it's okay to take a couple of turns to find that right fit.

Since it wasn't a straight journey for you to come into the DevOps career path, were there any challenges or people to prevent you from coming into this career path?
My challenges were more self-inflicted than anything else. There's no challenge on actually starting to work in DevOps. There's certainly challenges in implementing it, I would say there’s a toolset in DevOps but then there's also the culture side of DevOps . How do you get people to embrace change which is more of a human problem than anything else.

A lot of architecting is about influencing people. And it's not enough to say this is the right solution, you have to be able to work with people to get to the right solution.

A lot of architecting is about influencing people. And it's not enough to say this is the right solution, you have to be able to work with people to get to the right solution.

What are your thoughts on companies that embrace DevOps?
DevOps is like a movement. DevOps can be very beneficial because I see it as a catalyst for change. What I mean by that is some people say DevOps is the automation that enables agile, which I suppose is a fair statement, but I think it could be a lot more than that. It's not just automation. It's a catalyst for change and I think that's important.

One motto of DevOps is “don't get complacent.” I take those words to heart. Companies that have embraced DevOps have been given an advantage to innovate, because they're in this mindset of continuous improvement. DevOps is all about improving our process continuously, improving our practices, improving our automation so we can do better things. Coming from the infrastructure side of the world, my goal is to make the infrastructure side work as well it can so that the applications developers can focus on what they do best which is the actual application, which is serving our customers. They shouldn't have to worry about infrastructure at all. So I think DevOps is just a great catalyst for change and being able to drive continuous improvement.

What's the single best motivation to make you wake up and come to work each day?
I've been really happy with my role. It's interesting work and great people to work with. We are breaking new ground. To me, that's very exciting to solve problems that may not have been solved yet because of the nature or the scale of the problem. That’s unique to Capital One.


These opinions are those of the author. Unless noted otherwise in this post, Capital One is not affiliated with, nor is it endorsed by, any of the companies mentioned. All trademarks and other intellectual property used or displayed are the ownership of their respective owners. For more Capital One tech news, visit https://medium.com/@CapitalOneTech. This article is © 2018 Capital One.

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