Ronda Kiser Oakes - Hitting a Homerun with DevOps

On this episode of DevOps Radio, we'll hear from Ronda Kiser-Oakes, director of Perficient's North American DevOps practice. She'll tell us about how companies get their start in DevOps, the different journeys a company can take through DevOps, and bringing dev, security, QA and Ops together.

Andre Pino: Welcome to today’s episode. Joining us today is Ronda Kiser-Oakes, the director of Perficient's North American DevOps practice. Ronda, welcome.

Ronda Kiser-Oakes: Hi, Andre. Thank you.

Andre: So, Ronda, why don’t you tell us a bit about Perficient’s business and then your role at Perficient.

Ronda: Perficient is the leading information technology and management consulting firm throughout North America. We also cover Canada. We have been in business since the late ‘90s and we are a public company. We support a lot of technologies and business partners such as CloudBees, obviously, IBM, Sonatype and some additional open source partners.

Andre: Great, and Ronda, how did you get into this business? How did it all start for you?

Ronda: For me, it started in the ‘90s. I've been in IT for over 20 years, leading transformations for big companies such as Whirlpool, Harley Davidson, Anthem. And so technology has been my passion for many years, as you can see. And, in terms of DevOps, it seemed like a really innovative space to embark on, career-wise. So, about five years ago, I started looking hard at the business of IT and how DevOps can shape the way companies can deliver and innovate capabilities for their business faster.

Andre: Great. And so, with respect to DevOps, I guess with the likes of some of the companies that you've worked with at Perficient, you've seen a lot of different starting points from a lot of different companies—is that correct?

Ronda: Yes, that’s absolutely correct.

Andre: Is there any common thing amongst all those companies that you see when they approach Perficient about helping them with their DevOps transformation?

Ronda: Oh, there absolutely is. So a lot of times what we see are companies that are interested in DevOps and they don’t know where to start, and then we see companies that have started their DevOps journey and they just don’t know what path to take. So I always liken this to like a MapQuest—you know, you wanna get from A to B. There’s potentially different routes to get there. And so a lot of times the companies that come to us that have started DevOps pretty much ask us, you know, “This is what we're thinking, this is what we've done. Can you help us get to the next milestone in our journey?” So, for us, you know, we see everything from where do we start, to how do we get to the next point to, you know, can you come in and help us with your thought leadership to help us with a total transformation strategy?

Andre: And so, does the endpoint vary based on the nature of the company or the vertical industry? How do you set up what that next point is?

Ronda: So, we have an approach where we assess the situation. I mean, it’s really a common sense approach where, you know, if we figure out what they wanna do and where they wanna go, vision to tactical strategy, we can pretty much determine which endpoint they wanna get to first. And so, as you know, there are many different ways to get into the DevOps space, and so a common endpoint for us are things like continuous integration, continuous deployment, you know, shift left, Agile. And so a lot of times we see these companies that want to get to the end point or end state of these particular initiatives. And so, for us, we just try to figure out, you know, where do they wanna start, and we help them along the way. If they don’t know where they wanna start, we provide key entry points and help them begin their journey.

Andre: And so how much of that change that they need to go through is process versus organizational versus technology?

Ronda: So, you know, for our customers, we see all of the above. As you know, DevOps is mostly a culture shift. It’s a paradigm shift to do things differently, but again, you know, we see companies that have all of these things, it just depends on how mature they are. So, from a culture perspective, you know, we liken it to more of a transformational initiative, but for companies that have already selected their technologies, they're probably already working on continuous improvement, process-wise. So, for us—I mean, we see all of it. We see everything in terms of people, process and technology, but I think the way Perficient approaches this and the way, you know, I run our practice here, we keep all of those three things in mind as we help our customers either embark on this journey or continue with their current path.

Andre: Sure. And so, one thing I'm curious about is, when you are engaged by a particular organization, you know, at what level is that engagement? Is it at the CIO level, the CTO level, the VP level? What level is it usually taking place at?

Ronda: You know, that’s a good question. And so, we run into all walks of life. We certainly see executives coming to us—CTO, CIO, enterprise principal architects, folks like that. They definitely seek us out for our thought leadership, but you know, it’s not uncommon for some of the engineering folks to come to some of our sellers that might be in the account and say, “Hey, you know, I'm thinking about doing these things. I'm a build engineer, a build meister.” So, he or she might come to one of our sellers and say, “Can you help me out?” So it’s not uncommon to see different walks of life come to us or different roles in the organization come to us, but of course, the decision makers are the ones that can engage Perficient, myself, my team. But for us, there’s a lot of—in this space in particular, it seems like there’s a lot of interest and there’s a lot of thinking around DevOps. It’s definitely growing, and so we see a lot of different actors in the organization wanting to know more about it.

Andre: So one question I have is, are these companies, have they been doing in-house software development, or have they traditionally outsourced that, but now it’s becoming more critical to their business and they're moving it in-house?

Ronda: So again—all of the above, you know? It’s — it’s all of the above. We definitely see in-house. I mean, we—Perficient also has business units within our company that does nothing but software development, so we see that, but all of the above in terms of what we're seeing in the DevOps space. And so, really, it’s about modernizing the way software is developed, stored, built, deployed. And so, for us, it could come in from any of those angles.

Andre: Right. Do you see, in the requests that you get, is it completely horizontal in terms of vertical industry, or do you see certain verticals taking the lead?

Ronda: Nope, so I feel like I'm saying all of the above to a lot of your questions, but we see different verticals. I mean, for us, the most—the key ones that we work with predominantly are gonna be health care and financial. It’s not just DevOps to Perficient, it’s DevSecOps, so the security aspect is certainly key, and then we're seeing a lot of the QA in here, too, so DevQAOps. So those four things—Dev, Security, QA or testing, and Operations—are gonna come into play. And so the industries that we worked with a lot more in the last two to three years are gonna be the health care and the financial, but you know, it’s not uncommon for us to see retail, education, even utility and energy coming to us for help. Because, you know, for us, we're a DevOps company. You know, we wanna be like the Steve Jobs icon to Apple for DevOps, and our brand image to be able to deliver, no matter what company or what industry you're working with or for. So we're here to help with any of the above. Because ultimately, the platform options that we provide can, you know, are process aligned, governance aligned in terms of the people and the organization and the culture, but the technologies can be plug and play no matter what industry they're coming to us from.

Andre: Right, and so when you talk about it, one thing that I thought of as you're talking about Dev, Sec, QA, and Ops, a couple things came to mind. First of all, that’s a very large cross section of the IT organization. So, is DevOps or DevSecQAOps helping to bring all those teams together? And the second part of my question is, take a company that’s in the early part of that journey—how do you get them started on that journey that spans so many portions of their organization?

Ronda: Sure. So again, I've been doing transformational work for over 20 years, and obviously, you can’t boil the ocean. And so what we try to do is find ways to bridge the chasm on the people aspect of DevOps. And so we don’t necessarily do all four at the same time. What we typically see are Dev and Ops, and we like to bring the Security folks in. You know, they don’t like to be ignored. Obviously, there are some security governance and policy items tasks that we need to take in mind. If it’s a test-driven initiative with continuous integration, for example, then we obviously bring the developers, the QA team, and the Ops team. So, for us, we're just looking for different organizational angles that we can bring these teams together, even if just privy to the conversation as we're having them between Dev and Ops, so that they can see that, for us, we're providing them a business platform, the business of IT, if you will, or the ERP of IT if you wanna look at it that way so that they can see, as we provide the solutions for DevOps, we're not leaving any stone unturned. We're considering the people aspect from every angle. Because, I mean, as you know, from an IT perspective, all of these things are gonna be impacted eventually, anyway.

Andre: Right. So when you think about how wide DevOps is from an application development lifecycle perspective, one of the goals is to automate as much of that process as possible. How do you help organizations define what that process is that needs to be automated?

Ronda: So again, you know, as we're talking to a lot of these companies, we see a very common thread, which is continuous integration. That seems to be a key entry point for a lot of these companies, so standard build platform and all—you know, the processes that are entailed to that thinking. So, when we think about how we're gonna help and we just pick a domino, if you will—I always call it the domino effect. You know, you gotta stack the dominoes so that you can knock ‘em over. But, from a process perspective, if we're gonna go into a continuous integration strategy with the company and they specifically want to improve the way they build artifacts to position those for deploy—and hopefully I'm not getting too technical, here. We pretty much have templates that we've tweaked based on our field expertise and some of the best practices that we've implemented so that, from a strategy, continuous integration process, build, getting their build process aligned, and then delivery, we pretty much know who those actors are. So there you have your strategy, your people, your process, and your technology starting to align. Did I answer your question? Does that help?

Andre: Yes. And so one of the things I'm really curious about is how you actually make that happen in an organization. Do you get all those actors in a room together and draw it up? How does it actually come together?

Ronda: Sometimes, so we have five ways to deliver services. We have our strategic advisory where we work with maybe just the architecture team, so the CTO organization. In some cases, we have what we call our assessment workshop. And so, in this entry point, we have not only the architecture teams, but the different teams involved, so we do some value stream mapping, process analysis, things like that. We look at DevOps from Agile, Lean, SDLC or even ITIL frameworks. Our third one is our delivery of foundation, so in these cases, maybe they already know what they wanna do and, you know, will come in and start a pilot or a proof of concept or a proof of technology around key technologies such as CloudBees or open source Jenkins. Another, our fourth one, is execution. So in this case, basically, the company has started doing something around a specific technology, and so, for us, we just come in and provide some staff augmentation with a little bit more experience in a specific technology, and then finally, we have this concept of client partnership. And this is where we provide either day to day support or architecture support or just executive relationship to ensure that the people are continuing the journey based on the level of maturity.

Andre: And so, as you go through some of those engagements, are you—you're working with the folks that are responsible for those different areas of activity, whether it be developers or QA folks or operations folks. But, at the executive level, are you reporting back to the executive level progress that’s being made, or is it those folks who are actually, that you're working with, providing that reporting back to the executives?

Ronda: You know, good question. So, you know, I've learned throughout my career that visibility and communication are key aspects to success, and also identifying and resolving issues or misunderstandings along the way. And so what we do is, we have a means to do a daily scrum, so we follow daily scrum or every other day scrum depending on the appetite of the customer to talk to us every day or every other day for status updates. And we actually use specific technologies to provide this visibility, whether it’s JIRA or a pivotal tracker, or maybe even just, you know, a PowerPoint score card to provide that communication and that visibility in terms of what are the deliverables that we're helping you achieve to what’s our success rate every couple weeks—so we do two week sprints—and to resolving any kind of conflicts or misunderstandings along the way. And what we find is, is that if we follow this model pretty routinely with our customers, they can see that we truly are helping them with their DevOps journey, and it’s like anything, right? Good outcome provides loyalty and success for everybody as we walk through this journey together as a partnership.

Andre: That’s great. So how often does politics get in the way?

Ronda: I think you asked that question just to make me giggle. I mean, there’s always politics, right? So any time you're changing the world, especially in IT, there’s gonna be politics. And so I think, for us, you know, we just have to understand that there’s a culture for every company that we work with or in, and certainly, from a people side of things, you know, everybody has different personalities, just like technologies have different capabilities, but maybe provide the same outcome. And so, you know what? We just adjust to that and we understand that, and we do our best to stay neutral in those situations. As we need to, you know what I mean?

Andre: Would you like to share any good stories? Keep the names out of it.

Ronda: You know, it’s like anything, right? I mean, DevOps is like sports. There’s a competitive edge to it, so I'm gonna stay a little bit neutral in my response, but I coach sports, so I'm gonna look at this from a sports aspect. You know, we all wanna get to the Super Bowl or the World Series. And so, we recently did an article on the Cubs and tied it to DevOps. And so, from a politics perspective, certainly we run into competitiveness or naysayers, and so in these situations, we stay the course. We play the game to the best of our ability. We stick with our positions, we work as a team, and we negotiate how we can do better as a partnership and as a team, leaving our badges at the door. And so, that’s gonna be my response to the political question, but you know, it’s like anything, everybody’s different, and so we just have to navigate that.

Andre: Well, it sounds like you've got some great experience at shepherding folks along the way. Ronda, is there anything that I didn't ask you today that you’d like to talk about?

Ronda: You know, I think this was good. I think, for Perficient, for me, ultimately, our goal is to help our clients be successful. And so I think, as we take that approach as a company and we work with our strategic partners in the field, as long as we keep the customer at the forefront of our initiative or endeavor, then I think everybody wins. You know, because this is really about helping others be successful. It’s about servant leadership, and it’s about helping whoever comes to Perficient achieve their goals. Because really, it’s all about them, not about us. If they're happy, everybody wins.

Andre: Excellent. Well, I see that you're a big Cubs fan, so congratulations on winning the World Series last year, and so I can understand why you wrote that article.

Ronda: Yeah. I've been waiting 108 years.

Andre: There you go. Ronda, thanks so much for speaking with us today. I really enjoyed the conversation. Thank you.

Ronda: Thank you. I appreciate your time.

Andre Pino

Your host: Andre Pino, CloudBees (also sometimes seen incognito, as everyone’s favorite butler at Jenkins World!). André brings more than 20 years of experience in high technology marketing and communications to his role as vice president of marketing. He has experience in several enterprise software markets including application development tools, middleware, manufacturing and supply chain, enterprise search and software quality and testing tools.