DevOps Industry Awards 2021: Paula Cope

With over 20 years’ experience in the IT industry, Paula is recognized as an Agile evangelist. Driving Software Engineering excellence through progressive practices and techniques to optimize flow change through implementing Software Engineering strategy and culture that places Business Value and Customer Satisfaction at the core of the Software Delivery function.

Paula is now working as part of a core workstream leading DevOps implementation across the Deutsche Bank Regulatory Reporting group as part of their Agile transition adapting business processes, culture, and tools to facilitate the goal of “Idea to Production safely, in a day”.

Paula will be the Chair of the Judging Panel of the DevOps Industry Awards 2021.

 

Can you introduce yourself and your current role?

My name is Paula Cope, I currently work for Deutsche Bank based in Canary Wharf. I have a very varied role working across a number of different teams and areas of the bank.

These roles include the bank-wide transition to DevOps and Agile;  identifying issues across infrastructure and applications which impact Production releases and governance, working and coaching teams to remove these issues and facilitate ownership by the team to ensure continued resolution;  KPI and monitoring statistics and metrics bringing Business and Application teams closure with combined business-driven objectives;  working with Google on the strategic partnership with Deutsche Bank including Cloud Migration.

What inspired you to get involved in the IT industry?

I would almost say that initially, IT found me rather than I sought out an IT role. As a graduate, many years ago, I was employed by an IT company and the rest is history, so to speak.

Particularly back in the early 90s, there was a perception of what a career in IT looked like, you were most likely male with a very scientific or “geeky” persona.  I found this to be entirely incorrect and IT benefits from the varied experiences and backgrounds of employees as much as any other industry.

I would even suggest that what really captured me, was the wealth of opportunities open to anyone working in IT and that if grasped, these ever-changing and growing opportunities provide an exceptionally fulfilling career.

Can you tell me about your journey and how you got where you are now?

My Agile journey started back in the 90s, being part of the first SCRUM team in Oracle. As a pioneering team, there were a vast array of opportunities to learn, and I really enjoyed the self-management and responsibility this team held. It was quickly apparent that our productivity was much improved, the team was happy and passionate about what we were working on.

From a very IT-driven organization, I then worked in retail followed by Financial Services, where I remain to this day, given the very different environment of these companies it has been a mixture of challenge, frustration, and delight to be able to start new transitions. This has opened to me the opportunities where I have most excelled and enjoyed throughout my career. Leading transitions, coaching people to be the best they can be, inviting challenge, transparency, and culture of cohesion and shared responsibility.

I have some amazing experiences coaching teams globally; I have worked with a huge variety of teams and across an ever-growing number of areas and frameworks across the Software Delivery Life Cycle. There is nothing that comes close to when a trainee realizes that there is a better way to do things which means they will no longer be prevented from doing what they are good at due to being continually dragged into reoccurring and repetitive tasks.

I would say I have got where I am now by being crazy enough to buck the trend, to stand up and identify issues with suggestions to resolve, to get my hands dirty, and to take on the challenges deemed impossible to resolve. I push myself and others to be impactful, to really understand and delve into the issues we have; and to utilize the many different sources of data available to us which are so often neglected.

With DevOps, comes the ability to deliver safely to production rapidly. Ensuring this is achievable and that the right MVP is delivered at the right time takes analytical exploration, governance, the ability to gauge risk and predict the impact of any Production change.

This is where DevOps and Agile come together to truly deliver Business value and should not be overlooked. Gone are the mundane manual deployments, large amounts of the manual test, rework, duplication, and code complexity. However, without rigorous standards and monitoring there comes the danger of introducing errors as much as before, just at a different time in the SDLC.

DevOps is not a silver bullet in itself, the ability to inspire teams, encouraging them to continually challenge and benefit through effective retrospective activities guarantees a successfully evolving team with increasing productivity. For these teams to subsequently take ownership and have a desire to consistently achieve transforms the working day into a much more exciting world, which ultimately delivers value to Business clients.

What made you want to become a judge for the DevOps Industry Awards?

I have been incredibly lucky to have been a judge since the inception of the DevOps Awards.  As the longest-serving judge, I have also had the great honor of being the Chair of Judges.

As with all things DevOps it’s the passion that excites me both in the entries submitted for assessment, but also in my fellow judges. DevOps is an endless learning experience, and it would be remiss of me to not acknowledge that every year I learn so much across the industry, both success stories and the hurdles overcome.

As judges, we are blind to the companies behind the entries and the reveal on Awards night is as exciting for us as it is for the rest of the Audience.

What are you looking for in the entries?

Each category has details of what judges are looking for and these are actively identified by judges when it comes to scoring. It is not unusual for us to debate (AKA argue who should be the deserved winner of a particular category in excess of 4 hours!). At times the competition has been so tough that we have had to facilitate a recognition award or runner-up award.

For me, the entrants that most capture my attention are those where there is complete transparency. There is often a misconception by companies that it is too early for them to apply, that they are not far enough through their DevOps journey or there are issues still being addressed.

The reality is that we read with equal anticipation wherever a company is on this journey and does a DevOps journey ever really ends – absolutely not. It is also evidence of what hurdles and mountains have been overcome which makes an entry particularly compelling, for some, it is mountains, for others, it would seem entire mountain ranges.

Anyone involved with DevOps will be well aware of the many barriers whether it be investment by Businesses who need considerable convincing to assign finance to DevOps as opposed to feature work. Development, QA, Infrastructure, or Operations team members who are entirely resistant to change, are fearful of not fitting a new culture, or just simply cannot understand their role in a fast-changing landscape.

There have been so many inventive ways companies have crossed these hurdles. These wins are infinitely compelling for me along with the right level of supporting evidence.

What is something that you value the most in a project/company?

This very much depends on whether it is the company themselves or a vendor company that has led the DevOps Transformation. Where this is the Vendor company, I very much like to see real engagement with the company, perhaps even a joint submittal to see that this was a conjoined exercise that can be maintained and grown going forward.

In both circumstances I would stress it’s teams recognizing they have failed fast, identify issues, resolving these, learning and keep moving forward, that it is truly a team effort, not a solo effort.

A DevOps Journey is never a straightforward one and often the most successful ones have been where lessons and processes are shared openly across different project teams in a company and there is a strong community drive to succeed as a company rather than on a single project.

What are you looking forward to the most in this year’s awards?

What has been incredibly exciting for me throughout my time as a judge, has been seeing the increasing variety of DevOps implementations each year. With Cloud, AI and machine learning very much in the mix the complexity and quality of entrants each year goes from strength to strength.

The 2020 entries were outstanding in their depth of experience, complexity, and successes, the only thing missing was the awards evening due to Covid-19 and I very much look forward to this being reinstated for 2021 with the opportunity of once again meeting and being amongst such a vivacious and enthusiastic audience.

How to keep your team motivated despite challenges and hardship?

Any change in IT has always met with challenges, naysayers, and of course infrastructure, architecture, data, and tooling complications.  However, as the momentum for improvement and building the right solution first time has grown there has been an increasing understanding that it not simply a one-size-fits-all.

As Business has started seeing the true benefits of DevOps implementations and the ability to release high-quality software solutions to customers far quicker and truly meeting the requirements of those customers Development teams have started seeing dedicated funding for solution improvements.

There has been a transition and increased optimization of the type of roles available and clear organizational career roles for progression which have provided clarity that was previously missing. As barriers drop and culture becomes less politicized, more open to growth and quick successes which are fundamentally revealed through Business success, IT organizations have become a truly dynamic place to work.

With increasing diversity, removal of management-heavy directed work targets, teams now work to achievable, realistic goals that cross the entire organization whether technical or Business-driven.

What are your current goals?

I will never stop my ambition to continue learning and to help others to utilize the best solutions and ways of working through effective coaching and facilitation.

With over 25 years of experience working within IT and in particular Agile and DevOps I get as much as a buzz now working across teams and helping them to be the best they can be as when I first started.

Encouraging others to grasp every opportunity by the hand and really pushing at technological advances to achieve business rewards to sustain real measurable success has been and will continue to be my main goal.

What are you the proudest of in your career so far?

It is incredibly hard to pick just one moment from a long career in IT, as already alluded to for me I am proudest where I have made a compelling beneficial impact on a team or company.

I think a good example of this is where I joined a company during their PCDI implementation. At the time they had one production branch, PCDI was crippling feature release to Production, achieving compliance by the deadline was at severe risk.  Just two weeks after joining the company I said, “OK, we need to de-risk Production whilst ensure we make the PCDI deadlines. We need to decouple the release branch”. Met with the, ‘oh that’s not how we do things here, we’ve never done that before’ challenges.

When I went through how it could be achieved, the benefits to the company, and why working this way would also enable us to be more efficient in building the capacity to build small iterative Agile releases, I was able to convince the senior executive board. The outcome was that Production stability was restored to the highest levels, backlogs were sliced and diced, and features were rolled out quickly in a way that had never been seen before and we came in ahead of the PCDI compliance dates and won an industry award for our implementation.

What was great was it captured an understanding in the company that it was possible to adapt and change if the right questions were asked, the right challenges made, and an evolving solution set out.

What has been your greatest challenge?

Again, there are a substantial number I could pick from; MiFID implementation and assurance, the time I flew to New York with a broken coax to run Agile training to the first teams in an organization – I’m a huge advocate for “training from the back of the room” – if you’re not familiar do look it up, but it does mean you’re on your feet all day!

I think, however, and this is something I have seen so many times sadly, it’s where I join a company that is at the beginning of their Agile journey or partway through. They have been given some training which has been run by people who have studied Agile but have no real-life experience. They are then to go and be Agile and have absolutely no idea what that means, where to start, or how they know if they are doing it right.

Coming into work with highly disillusioned teams, who have lost all belief or appetite for change, they feel unsupported, they are swamped by existing work whilst trying to change to a new way of working and they are firefighting as the same Production issues and stabilities are ever-present. Getting these teams on board, getting them to simply listen and agree to try a different way is a massive hurdle in itself, after all, why should they believe I have a better solution.

So, whilst the greatest challenge is also the most rewarding when individuals see for themselves, when culture shifts and blame and scapegoating becomes a thing of the past, I will always relish that moment and it makes the challenges worthwhile.

What is the favorite part of your job?

I think it’s pretty evident by now, it is helping others to transition, to be their best. There has been a long-running joke within companies I have worked with that people I work with will at some point during that journey have, what has affectionately been described as a “Eureka Moment”.

Such is its reputation that at random points team members will now jump up and say “Eureka” much to everyone’s amusement but perhaps also indicative of the change in team culture, the easy nature in which they share, and how they celebrate in each individual success.  Equally, there have been many hilarious failures which again teams have learned to celebrate, laugh at, learn from and ensure they are not repeated.

What have you learned from your experience so far?

Expect the unexpected, don’t pigeonhole people, solutions, or inputs. Ensure you always offer the opportunity for the wider community to be aware of what teams are working on and if it impacts multiple teams always consult them as your customers.

If you always give the same people the same roles, nothing will change. Look for people that are making a difference, that is impactful, and who inspire others. Look for people that are able to consistently deliver the book of work items, are technically very capable, and take the time to explain and help other members of these teams.

These are not always the loudest people but if you overlook the “doers” underachievement and repetitive errors are the only assured outcome.

Do you have a memorable story or an anecdote from your experience you’d like to tell?

I think one of the funniest or maybe more unconventional things I have done is going out to India to work with a vendor company to help them with some cultural challenges and team working.

The key problem being that I had to keep the challenge a secret whilst identifying a facilities person I could work with who could fulfill my somewhat bizarre requests.  Such as, can people get to the roof and work up there, can they throw items off the roof, can you provide items such as straws, balloons, eggs (hard-boiled), plastic bags, string, etc.  A few such items were lost in translation, but it was workable. The looks on their faces, as this was the first face-to-face meeting when I took them up to the roof and explained the task was truly wonderful.

Banning the team leads and managers from being anything other than a team member was actually mesmerizing and I have never seen so much laughter and disbelief. As teams presented their team’s name, their solution and finally flight success of their eggs the stories increasingly boarded on the ridiculous and the level of cheating rose exponentially. Yet today, we still laugh at the photos and stories and there is still an egg, tied to a very poor parachute hanging off a prominent building in Pune.

Finally, do you have any advice for this year’s participants?

Don’t assume that we are looking for perfection or that you must be at the end of your transition.

Be bold, give real examples, challenges, things that have gone well as well as those that haven’t. So how you have learned from this both in the current project but how other projects will and have benefited from this knowledge.

Be passionate, identify the risk appetite of your company as this will impact the steps you take.

Be proud of what you have done, of embracing the opportunities to do things better, or your team members for going on that journey with you and know that every judge will enjoy reading your story, and they, in turn, will learn from it.

 

Participate in the DevOps Industry Awards HERE



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