Why are developers and operations people so different? There is a theory in psychology called ‘regulatory focus theory’. This theory states that when a person pursues a goal, they’ll do so in a way that matches their own values and beliefs. When there is a ‘fit’ in the way that someone goes about achieving their goal, they feel good about it. So, if you want to pass an exam and you are diligent by nature, you may diligently prepare and swat up (this was my method). If you go on to get a ‘B’ you might be annoyed you didn’t get an ‘A’ but you’d be pleased you went about your preparations in the right way.
In regulatory focus theory people are divided into prevention focus and promotion focus. A prevention focus person cares about responsibilities, security and safety. They will achieve their goals by playing by the rules and following guidelines – and they’ll feel there is a good ‘fit’ when doing so. I suspect that not only will many operations people fall into the prevention focus category but so too will many people in the finance industry.
Promotion focus is about hopes, accomplishments and aligning tasks to ambitions. A developer who is promotion focused might try to achieve securing a web-application using the latest tools and techniques. This is almost certainly not what a prevention focus ops engineers would do (and for the record, it’s not what I would do, either). My guess is that most developers are promotion focussed.
Regulatory focus theory tells us that regardless of the goal, people prefer to achieve it in their own way. It also tells us that if they can’t do this, they’ll feel lousy. (Common sense also tells us this, of course.) If I am right about my assumption, that most developers are promotion focussed and that ops engineers are prevention focussed, and if it’s true that having to achieve your goals in a style that is not your own makes you feel lousy, then this may be an explanation as to why dev and ops people often resist each other’s ideas.
It’s the developers who say, ‘use Docker’. It’s the same developers who get pissed off when ops engineers say, ‘no’. The former say that latter are stuck in their ways. The latter says the former are reckless.
The way out of this is respect. Respect in this case means letting someone do their job without interfering with them. I also think that the narratives which currently divide us need re-writing so that they can bind us. If the prevention focussed say follow the guidelines, maybe we should write guidelines together.
I also think leadership, which is often a dirty word in technology, is important. A good leader understands the needs and fears of all their people. The leader’s job is then to help create the unifying narrative I just spoke about along with providing the safety and space to air concerns. (Even the most cold-hearted amongst us tend to view others in a different light once we hear their fears.)
Achieving DevOps is not easy and will never be easy. An understanding of regulatory focus theory might be one step that can help us along the way.
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