Mandi Walls: Welcome to Page it to the Limit, a podcast where we explore what it takes to run software in production successfully. We cover leading practices used in the software industry to improve a system reliability and the lives of the people supporting those systems. I’m your host, Mandi Walls. Find me @lnxchk on Twitter. Hi, folks. Welcome back to Page it to the Limit. This week, I have with me some folks from the ops.io community, and I’m going to have them introduce themselves, tell us a bit about what you do, who you are, all that great stuff. Brad, why don’t we start with you?
Brad Johnson: Hey, Mandi. So yeah, I’m Brad Johnson. I’m broadly a member of the DevOps and cloud community as a director of product marketing over at Blink Ops, but for The Ops Community, I’m a moderator of The Ops Community. And so I’m really excited to talk to you all about community we’ve been building for about a year that I hope is relevant to everyone who listens to Page it to the Limit.
Mandi Walls: Awesome. And Ella?
Ella Ang de Jonge: I am also a moderator over at The Ops Community. Unlike Brad, I don’t generally work in the tech space as a employee of tech companies. I work as a freelance community manager in developer communities. So coming from a slightly different perspective, but in terms of The Ops Community, it’s just one of many tech spaces that I exist in as a community person. And as Brad said, we’re trying to build a really exciting and welcoming space.
Mandi Walls: That’s awesome. We’ve had a couple other shows in the past couple of years about different kinds of communities. We talked to a friend of mine who runs an open source community. We talked to some other folks who run communities for commercial software companies. Ops.io is something a little bit different. Why don’t you give us the story there? How do you describe The Ops Community, and what do you hope that it will do for folks?
Brad Johnson: Sure. So The Ops Community is a place for cloud engineers, platform engineers, DevOps, SecOps to share career tips and tricks with each other. This is an opportunity for you to share the projects you’re working on, questions you have about the things that you’re taking on at work. What we identified… Actually, I want to give credit really to two folks that I work with over at Blink Ops, Patrick Londa and Zion Zatlavi. When they hired me, they had approached me with this idea and they said, “Hey look, we’re a company that doesn’t have an open source offering, but we want to have a conversation with folks who are working on the same kind of problems that we are having.” And what we identified was there was places like dev.to where there were strong enthusiastic communities, early career developers, but it was really broad as far as the skill sets that they had. It was front-end developers, it was a back-end developers, and there was a cloud conversation happening there, but it wasn’t a big piece of what was going on. And so we wanted to build a similarly vibrant community, but really focused on the cloud space. So looking into different platforms and different ways to build this out, we really liked what dev.to was doing, and so we ended up partnering with Forem, and that’s actually how we got partnered up with Ella in the first place. And so Ella, maybe you want to jump in and share a little bit about when we first approached you?
Ella Ang de Jonge: Yeah. So I think, again, what Brad says is really exciting about The Ops Community is that it really emerges from this kind of confluence of an awareness of what is going on with regards to tech communities in general, and a real kind of sense of awareness of the kind of community space for devs, but also a lot of self-awareness about the kind of place that DevOps occupies within the tech ecosystem. And I think that one of the things that we talked about was how, for example, with dev.to, it tends to be very beginner-friendly. Because it’s very beginner-friendly, it’s weighted heavily towards those technologies that do tend to be more beginner-friendly, so front-end web dev stuff. And the great thing about The Ops Community is that not only is it a destination for people who are in DevOps and who do tend to have a bit more experience and a bit more maturity within the tech space, but also, the voice is really relevant to that audience as well. So the content is accessible, but at the same time, it’s not patronizing. There’s an assumption that when you’re coming there, you know what you’re coming for and nobody needs to explain to you what DevOps is. It’s really exciting to be working with a team who has an idea of who their audience is, who their target community member is, and then being able to build a community that really represents the voices and the interests of those community members.
Brad Johnson: I want to jump in because one of the things that’s I think really unique about DevOps as a community writ large is that it’s largely a brand-driven community because so many of these tools have enterprises behind them backing them. Even if they’ve started as open source projects, they organically end up turning into companies just because DevOps is something that’s so valuable in so many different organizations. So because of that, we’ve identified The Ops Community as a place to really, we can bring in different DevOps brands and where we can bring in the communities that are associated with those platforms. So it’s why The Ops I think fits DevOps better than maybe some other communities do because we’re brand-agnostic and we’re really trying to work with as many different brands as possible. It’s definitely not something as a marketer for Blink Ops. I don’t think of The Ops Community as a Blink Ops effort. This is something that we’re trying to grow for everyone.
Mandi Walls: So talk a bit about what it provides. For folks who aren’t familiar with dev.to or haven’t seen ops.io yet, it’s not Slack, it’s not a question and answer forum. Why don’t walk folks through what the basic premise is that the platform provides?
Ella Ang de Jonge: Yeah. So in my head, in terms of my community person hat, I see the format of Forem, the software that The Ops Community runs on, that dev.to runs on, codenewbie.org’s community also runs on there, I see the format as more like Tumblr, I think, than a lot of other types of kind of community spaces that we may be accustomed to. So there’s kind of this place for long-form content. So you can treat it just like your own blog if you want to with a comment section below a long-form post. But similarly, it does lend itself more than a personal blog does to engaging with each other to cross-referencing each other’s content. It’s a really useful tool for syndicating your content from multiple sources and for redirecting folks. Maybe if you have a team blog already as a brand, so then being able to syndicate that content into the community and have a brand presence in the community without necessarily having a branded community. So being able to rub shoulders with folks who are brand-affiliated, but also folks who are brand neutral and people who are just hacking on some ops hobbies, as well as people who are actually really senior in the field and having these kind of conversations across the board where there’s an openness and there’s a flexibility to the format without it necessarily being structured in a way that you’d expect a forum to be where everything is categorized really rigidly.
Mandi Walls: The community of PagerDuty, the way we got into all of this is we were looking for other places to post our technical content rather than our marketing blog, as the marketing blog is from marketing and the technical stuff we do sometimes doesn’t fit and also sometimes needs a longer format so we can add code and all that kind of stuff. So we had looked at dev.to, and we’ve been posting things there for a little while, but it has a very specific sort of persona that really thrives there, and it wasn’t the best fit for our content. We’re headed for folks who know a little bit more about what their services are doing and how they’re going to do with them in production versus the sort of beginner. So when the ops.io popped up, and I think I saw it mentioned by Rich Burroughs on Twitter or something, we were like, “We need to head there, let’s give this a shot.” And we’ve been posting stuff there for about six months. So it’s been super helpful for us to find a different expansion for our audience, for different folks that are out there, but also have a place where we can post our technical content that isn’t lost in the marketing blog that lives at pagerduty.com. So from that perspective, it’s been really great.
Brad Johnson: And we’ve been really encouraged by the uptake from folks like you at PagerDuty, Mandi, and the New Relic team, Memphis.dev, Argonaut. There are lots of other teams in The Ops Community that have taken to it and started publishing their content. They were really excited about it. I think when Patrick and I were planning initially for The Ops Community, our year-end goals, because community building is hard, Ella knows this better than anybody, our original goals were for 500 members by the end of the year. And what happened was when we first launched The Ops Community, we had actually done a promotion where we were giving away mechanical keyboards to members who published X number of posts within a certain period of time. And due to the enthusiasm for that giveaway, but also just for the idea that there was a community for this type of content, we passed 500 members within that first week. And so we had to completely reevaluate. So today, it’s a growing community of about 1,500 practitioners. Over 2023, I certainly hope to see that grow even more. So welcome everybody. Come sign up at community.ops.io. In general, we are thrilled by how many folks have been coming to the platform, have been publishing really strong content about what matters to them and what they’re building at work. It’s been really exciting for me.
Mandi Walls: Yeah. Have you been surprised by any of the other folks that have joined who’s sort of found you, or any notable members or exceptional posts that have come through so far in the first year of life?
Brad Johnson: Yeah. Ella, you wrote The Ops legends post, so maybe you want to shout some people out.
Ella Ang de Jonge: Yeah. I mean I think that one of the things that I found really great about the cadence that the community’s fallen into recently is just how many teams are posting quite regular technical content. It seems like a lot of folks are trying to get something up every week, and that really forms the bedrock of a community where other people can then come in and they can access a wealth of content, but they can also participate incrementally as it suits them. And I think we really have a lot of different perspectives represented in the community. So as well as your team, Mandi, as Brad said, the teams from New Relic and Argonaut. We also have Sarah Lean, Techielass.
Brad Johnson: Sarah Lean has published some fantastic Microsoft Azure content. Daniel [inaudible 00:10:26] publishes some fantastic content, and we’ve been really excited what he posts. Anna Cosma posts some fantastic content as well. There are some really members of the community who have blown my mind with the quality of material that they’re publishing on the community.
Ella Ang de Jonge: Right. And I think that a big part of that is just having that framework of your team posting regularly and being able to create this kind of fresh content feel that makes it more welcoming for people who maybe can’t post as regularly but still have really great content to share. So when it comes to community, we really need those kind of multiple levels of content creators and contributors. It’s really exciting to see the regular content as well as these one-offs that tend to be deep dives, tutorials, things that maybe take a little bit longer to prepare but also take a bit longer to digest.
Mandi Walls: Yeah, definitely. I think the format’s simple. It definitely feels like a blog post, but at the same time, the barrier to entry there is therefore very low. I don’t have to set up a WordPress and put in these plugins and do all this thing, and we just go to my account, click create posts and magic happens.
Ella Ang de Jonge: And there’s people there to read it already, right? You don’t need to build an audience for your blog because there’s already folks who are waiting for you to publish.
Mandi Walls: Yeah, absolutely. As you look back on the first part of the life cycle here, are there lessons learned or things that you might have done differently that you now see in retrospect might have helped you out?
Brad Johnson: A big lesson learned for me is that we had a big burst of enthusiasm early in our community growing, but community building is really a hand-to-hand sport. And so it’s something where you need to be investing continuously and you need to be building that excitement continuously. And so not only does that mean engaging with the members of your community and publishing your own content and then reading and engaging with their content, but it’s also about nurturing that community and giving it a sense of identity and giving it activities where people can come together and collaborate together and work together and form those relationships organically. And so that’s really, as we turn towards 2023, really the area where we want to be investing more in is creating activities where we can take members of The Ops Community and we can bring them together, we can give them fun activities just so that people can form those organic connections. And so the next time that they publish their blog posts in The Ops Community, those friends that they made in that Ops Community event or on that Ops Community blog post that just had that fun topic, they now have those connections and they can build off and they have that many more friends in The Ops Community,
Ella Ang de Jonge: Literally community, feeling of being part of something else. And yeah, I think that one of the things that we have enjoyed learning over the past year is who our community members are, who were those early adopters, who are the people who came and they just got straight in and started publishing regular content, who are the people who maybe go away for a little bit and then come back and come back with great content. And being able to really identify who these people are helps us to then know where to pitch our efforts with regards to these types of activities that Brad’s talking about. We have some really strong tutorial writers who maybe aren’t around all the time, but when they do come in, they publish a series of really strong tutorials and then they’ll go away and they’ll hack on some stuff for a bit longer and then they’ll come back and share what they’ve learned. So there were multiple cohorts in the community and there are multiple people who need different things. Learning who those folks are and really getting to know the people that we work with, I think, is what will allow us next year to lean into those strengths.
Mandi Walls: I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next and who else comes on board and what are the things I can sit and read when I have some free moments as things come through the feed, which has been really great. So one of the things that we kind of ask folks about on the show occasionally is to debunk some myths. Right? So couple of things here, right? Are there myths or common misconceptions about The Ops Community that you’d like to debunk or just more generally building communities for technical people sort of in general?
Brad Johnson: Totally. So I’ll tackle some first, but I know Ella’s got some myths about community building and I definitely want her to spend some time on those as well. But first of all, a common misconception that a lot of people have about The Ops Community that I just want to clarify for everyone is that while we’re built on the same platform as dev.to, we’re built on Forem, which is a fantastic platform for building a community, and if you’re building a community, I recommend reaching out to them, but we are a brand-agnostic community. We’re supported by companies like Blink Ops. But the ops.io exists as an independent entity to serve The Ops Community. And so it’s something where if you are interested in becoming involved, if you’re interested in becoming an organizer or a moderator in The Ops Community, if this is something where you think this is a great idea and you want to become a part of it, reach out to people like me and Ella because this is absolutely something where you can take a firsthand role in steering where we go into the future. So that’s number one is The Ops Community is independent and it’s a place where you can get involved if you’re interested too. Number two, I mentioned that we’re sponsored by companies like Blink Ops. And then lastly, I mentioned this earlier, but DevOps is weird. This is a relatively new industry within the last 10, 15 years. We are finding our identities, and we are a unique mix of people. We’re highly diverse, we have unique interests, we have lots of different grassroots communities like devopsdays. We have different places where we go read content. We have social media networks that we engage in, whether we’re big into Mastodon now or Twitter or wherever your home is, whether you’re living in Discord channels or Slack channels, or whether you’re really big into Reddit. Everyone lives in different places. And so these hubs that we can find where folks that are working on different projects, working in different places, working at different companies can come together, I get really excited about them and I know Ella does too. And so that’s the big thing for me is this is a place where I’m trying to connect the people that I’ve worked with at past jobs, people that I work with at future jobs. This is why I’m excited about community building as a whole. Ella, would you mind sharing some misconceptions about community building? Because you have a ton of valuable experience that I think a bunch of people who are building communities in their jobs would be interested to hear.
Ella Ang de Jonge: Hell yeah. I mean I actually want to start with the fact that you need to be a community person to build community. I think we all have a capacity for community building and certainly in a community like Ops Community and in any kind of community that you may exist in, building community is as simple as just telling somebody that you’ve read their post. That’s really the beginning steps. And there’s no prerequisite to the kind of information that you need to fill that you have or the types of qualifications that maybe you carry, whether in community or in the technical field that you’re in right now. There’s no bar to entering community and to participating and building it. So I think that that’s one of the big things that I’d love to get across to folks is if you’re in The Ops Community or you’re curious about The Ops Community, you’re welcome in The Ops Community and you’re welcome to contribute and to participate and to engage no matter where you’re coming from. That goes across the board for all communities. Just shame this little plug. I recently worked with Michael from Forem on a course for community professionals who are thinking about moving into DevRel. Our perspective on that is also that you don’t need to be a developer to work in developer communities. Bring empathy, bring curiosity, and bring a willingness to learn and to be out of your depth and you can create community wherever you go. So I think there’s two major things about community that we can debunk right now.
Mandi Walls: Awesome. I love that. Absolutely. And I will say, yeah, one of the things I like about the ops.io community, and Brad kind of mentioned this too, there’s all these communities all over the place and you step into an established community, it can be kind of tough, and everybody already knows everybody and knows what’s going on and there’s a bunch of inside jokes and there’s all this, especially on things like Reddit and some of the Slack channels and things like that. And it can be hard to acclimate yourself to whatever might be the cultural norm for those communities because they’ve been established for so long. Because you’re only interacting them with them over text, you’re missing everything else that comes with sort of interacting with people. And I find some of those can be really kind of harrowing to step into for the first time and you’re like, “Oh I don’t know anyone here and it’s really weird.” Yeah. So the low barrier to entry for things like The Ops Community is so nice to just get in there and get involved with stuff.
Brad Johnson: And if you do get stuck, if you’re not sure what to do, reach out to me and Ella. Tag us. We’re available within The Ops Community and our jobs are to reach out to you and help you out.
Mandi Walls: Awesome. So a couple final questions we’ll wrap up with, some things that we have as recurring questions. Sometimes we skip them, but we’ve got some folks here who have some good insights. So what’s one thing you wish you maybe had known sooner about sort of all of this kind of activity and the things that you’re working on right now?
Brad Johnson: I want to draw back to my experience working on the Netlify team before I joined at Blink Ops. When I was at Netlify, I was a product marketer and I was embedded on a software development team. And so that was really my first experience being a member of a software team in sprints, trying to figure out what was going on and contributing as someone who was essentially writing documentation. Now that documentation was being communicated as marketing material. But what I learned was observability is really important and not only is observability really important, but you have to plan it into your development cycles really, really early or you’re not going to get that analytics on the back-end. And so me as a marketer, when we were developing products on the team, I had to plan from first principles what analytics I wanted to know about as a marketer for the marketing team that I was going to report out on later on. And it forced me to be a better marketer, and it also forced me to work better with developers. I’m sure I made some DevOps and SREs very unhappy earlier in my career when I wasn’t aware of this going on, but it gave me a sensitivity for the roles that DevOps plays in the development process and in obviously that day two operations process or afterwards where your marketing team is saying, “Hey, the product launched. Are their users? What are they doing?” Well, if that marketer wasn’t providing what information they need up front, there may be a fire drill on the back-end instrument that again. And so if you are a non-technical stakeholder in a product development process, be mindful of the fact that there are maintenance folks that have to figure out that analytics and you may be making their job harder by withholding information earlier in the process.
Mandi Walls: Oh my gosh. That’s such a great piece of insight. Observability for marketers, observability for product owners, that’s a whole space that could need some content in there, I think, Brad. That’s kind of amazing.
Brad Johnson: Hit me up, Mandi. I’m available.
Mandi Walls: Fantastic. Ella, anything?
Ella Ang de Jonge: Yeah. I really have nothing to add. I think that the same goes for community as well. This is something that I think we run into time and time again in the community spaces. We typically don’t use software that we’ve been part of the development process for. So we are constantly realizing that things that we need, things that would optimize our community management are not built into the product at all. And that observability just doesn’t exist for community either. So if you wanted to add that to your list, Brad, you could totally combine all causes under one banner.
Mandi Walls: I think we have a whole content plan going on here. I think this is good. This is good stuff. So is there anything that you’re glad we didn’t ask you about or we kind of glanced over?
Brad Johnson: In general, thank you for not covering any technical concepts for me because look, I am new to DevOps and Ops in general. I just joined Blink Ops in late 2021. This is a new field for me. I have experience with front-end developers, I have experience with back-end developers, but y’all have so many acronyms. I am just now wrapping my head around the basics, like IAC and CICD, and now I’m having to tackle deeper cybersecurity stuff. And so now I have to learn about SOAR automation and now I have to learn about EDR, XDR. So there are only so many letters in the alphabet and I thought I had learned how to use them all properly, but now I’m having to learn them in whole new ways. And so thank you for not asking me, Mandi, about any of that.
Mandi Walls: I totally sympathize. I’ve been doing this for a whole lot longer than just a couple years. But yeah, there’s still stuff especially, like you say, in cybersecurity where I have no idea what you’re talking about when you say SOAR, as it S-O-R-E because that’s how it makes everyone feel. So yeah, I don’t know. Ella, anything else to add for folks?
Ella Ang de Jonge: I think the only thing… I don’t have an answer to your question that adds any value besides what Brad said. We would like to add is that everybody’s welcome of The Ops Community. We’d love for folks to join up and reach out to us. You don’t have to join up to be able to engage with the content, read the content, explore the site. So there’s no kind of necessity to sign up right away, if you just want to take a look around and lurk for a bit. We would love for you to get to a point where you’re comfortable with joining us because the one thing that communities like ours really thrive on is questions. So not just content. We love the content, we welcome the content, but if you start asking questions about other people’s content, that’s when you’re going to see the magic happen. So if you have any questions, if anybody has any questions about DevOps, no matter what, we have incredibly helpful and knowledgeable people who are present in that space to help you out at any time.
Mandi Walls: Yeah, awesome.
Brad Johnson: And then for me, I wouldn’t be a marketer if I didn’t leave with calls to action. And so here are my calls to action for everybody, which are if you’re a DevOps or platform engineer, go sign up for The Ops Community at community.ops.io. If you are a brand ambassador or advocate or DevRel or represent a DevOps brand and you are interested in better promoting your content on The Ops Community, reach out to us. Ella and I have tons of ideas and ways that we can help you out in The Ops Community. It doesn’t cost anything. Mandi can verify this. We just want you all to get your content out to the people that want to read it. And so reach out to us and let us know how we can help.
Mandi Walls: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll put all the links in the show notes for folks. You can join up at ops.io. You can follow the Twitter account. It’s LearnAboutOps, and there’s plenty of good content on there and I hope folks who have the time and want to get to join up because I like reading through all this stuff, and the more you give me to read, the more it gives me to think about too.
Brad Johnson: And a big thank you to you, Mandi, for being a member of the community.
Mandi Walls: Yeah, I’m happy to be there. It’s been really good for us. The engagement’s been really nice and yeah, I mean we’re here to help folks use our product better but also learn about what other folks are doing that makes us better at what we do. So it’s all interconnected, and it’s great to have a community platform to do that. Any parting wisdom for folks?
Brad Johnson: I have very little wisdom. I think I’ve spent it all.
Ella Ang de Jonge: It’s still really early for you though, to be fair.
Mandi Walls: It is early in the morning.
Ella Ang de Jonge: I would just say if y’all are looking for a place that’s not Twitter right now, then this is another thing that we can help to solve your problem. You don’t need to get on the fediverse if that’s not your jam. You can just come and join us over here at The Ops Community.
Mandi Walls: Fantastic. I will hope to see lots more folks over there. You can follow our account. We’re PD Community on The Ops Community. That’s our blog account for our team. So we’d love to hear from more folks, and hopefully folks post and we’ll be able to follow you back and build more Ops Community. Well, thank you both for being here. This has been great. We’re having a great experience with your program, so I hope this helps other folks get acclimated and join up so we can have more friends on the way. Thank you so much for being here.
Brad Johnson: Thank you for having us, and thank you for helping get the message out, Mandi.
Mandi Walls: All right, folks, thank you for joining us this week. We will wish you an uneventful day. That does it for another installment of Page it to the Limit. We’d like to thank our sponsor PagerDuty for making this podcast possible. Remember to subscribe to this podcast if you’d like what you’ve heard. You can find our show notes at pageittothelimit.com and you can reach us on Twitter, @pageit2thelimit using the number 2. Thank you so much for joining us, and remember, uneventful days are beautiful days.
Ella joined the Ops Community team after working on dev.to and CodeNewbie. A non-dev who likes to hang out in developer spaces, she’s currently hacking on a machine to turn the fumes of Imposter Syndrome into starlight and crystals.
Brad Johnson is the Director of Product Marketing for no-code/low-code automation startup Blink Ops. Previously, Brad worked at Netlify, which acquired collaboration startup FeaturePeek where he was Head of Marketing. With 10+ years experience at leading GTM efforts, Brad has also worked at an IP law firm, a handful of SaaS startups, and as a middle school substitute teacher.
Mandi Walls is a DevOps Advocate at PagerDuty. For PagerDuty, she helps organizations along their IT Modernization journey. Prior to PagerDuty, she worked at Chef Software and AOL. She is an international speaker on DevOps topics and the author of the whitepaper “Building A DevOps Culture”, published by O’Reilly.