In the previous post post, I outlined why DevOps is not about efficiency, and how our old ways of looking at “complicated” problems by solving for efficiency first is actually not effective or flexible in our now very complex world. In fact, letting go of our century-long instincts to apply reductionist management theories to create efficient workplaces may lead to building complex systems a little more effectively with room for flexibility and innovation. And at the end of the day innovation powers our companies forward, not efficiently protecting what we already have. To voice an opinion, let me know @christianposta

The motivation, by the way, for writing this post(s) is to connect the dots somehow with what I’ve seen first hand, and participated in at a particularly heralded DevOps Internet Unicorn and what I see at enterprises that I visit to do architectural assessments, distributed-systems implementations, cloud-native applications, microservices, DevOps, etc. … in fact, it’s all highly related… as @littleidea on twitter recently tweeted

my position is CD, microservices and devops are inseparable aspects of the same phenomenon

So what is this “phenomenon”? … let’s try to connect the dots. The TL;DR version is at the end :)

So let’s get back to the story and recap a bit:

Dealing with Complex systems … in the 1960s

I love this story from General Stanley McChrystal’s account of the NASA space program in his book Team of Teams. It’s an illustration of the foundation of DevOps principles and is obviously (as you’ll see shortly) not constrained to a developer or operations world; in fact the principles are rooted in systems-thinking which goes back longer than the now-hyped DevOps movement.

On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave his “We choose to go to the moon” speech in front of 35,000 people at Rice University. He proclaimed that the United States would send humans to land on the moon, and return safely, before anyone else would:

We shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, … made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival…and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.

For the president to say this was simply audacious. The United States at the time was trailing embarrassingly in the race to space and to the moon, and for him to proclaim that “with metal alloys not even invented” that the United States was going to make it to the moon first was almost laughable to some. The Soviet Union had successfully launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, almost four years earlier. They had also put the first animal in space, did the first lunar flyby, the first lunar impact, and would soon after put the first human into orbit – the first man in space.

The United States on the other hand had some significant failures on its record. In November 1960, NASA’s first unmanned test flight, Mercury-Redstone I, rose four inches off the ground then settled back down. Its escape rocket had broken off and fluttered into the air. A few months earlier, something similar happened: a structural incompatibility between the Mercury capsule and an Atlas rocket caused those efforts to fail.

Nevertheless, less than 7 years after Kennedy’s speech, with more than 600 million viewers around the world, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon and proclaimed his now famous saying “one giant leap for mankind” … and did it before anyone else. On the other hand, at the same time, the European Launcher Development Organization had just experienced its fifth consecutive failure to accomplish the exact same thing.