Beyond the Code 2016 recap

>> Friday, September 30, 2016

I've had the opportunity to attend the Beyond the Code conference for the past two years.  This year, the venue moved to a location in Toronto, the last two events had been held in Ottawa.  The conference is organized by Shopify who again managed to have a really great speaker line up this year on a variety of interesting topics.  It was a two track conference so I'll summarize some of the talks I attended.  

The conference started off with Anna Lambert of Shopify welcoming everyone to the conference.

The first speaker was Atlee Clark, Director of App and Developer relations at Shopify who discussed the wheel of diversity.

The wheel of diversity is a way of mapping the characteristics that you're born with (age, gender, gender expression, race or ethnicity, national origin, mental/physical ability), along with those that you acquire through life (appearance, education, political belief, religion, income, language and communication skills, work experience, family,  organizational role).  When you look at your team, you can map how diverse it is by colour.  (Of course, some of these characteristics are personal and might not be shared with others).  You can see how diverse the team is by mapping different characteristics with different colours.  If you map your team and it's mostly the same colour, then you probably will not bring different perspectives together when you work because you all have similar backgrounds and life experiences.  This is especially important when developing products. 

This wheel also applies to hiring too.  You want to have different perspectives when you're interviewing someone.  Atlee mentioned when she was hiring for a new role, she mapped out the characteristics of the people who would be conducting the hiring interviews and found there was a lot of yellow.

So she switched up the team that would be conducting the interviews to include people with more diverse perspectives.

She finished by stating that this is just a tool, keep it simple, and practice makes it better. 

The next talk was by Erica Joy, who is a build and release engineer at Slack, as well as a diversity advocate.  I have to admit, when I saw she was going to speak at Beyond the Code, I immediately pulled out my credit card and purchased a conference ticket.  She is one of my tech heroes.  Not only did she build the build and release pipeline at Slack from the ground up, she is an amazing writer and advocate for change in the tech industry.   I highly recommend reading everything she has written on Medium, her chapter in Lean Out and all her discussions on twitter.  So fantastic.

Her talk at the conference was "Building a Diverse Corporate Culture: Diversity and Inclusion in Tech".  She talked about how literally thousands of companies say they value inclusion and diversity.  However, few talk about what they are willing to give up to order to achieve it.  Are you willing to give up your window seat with a great view?   Something else so that others can be paid fairly?  She mentioned that change is never free.  People need both mentorship and sponsorship in in order to progress in their career.

I really liked her discussion around hiring and referrals.  She stated that when you're hire people you already know you're probably excluding equally or better qualified that you don't know.  By default, women of colour are underpaid.

Pay gap for white woman, African American women and Hispanic women compared to a white man in the United States.

Some companies have referral system to give larger referral bonuses to people who are underrepresented in tech, she gave the example of Intel which has this in place.  This is a way to incentivize your referral system so you don't just hire all your white friends.  

The average white American has 91 white friends and one black friend so it's not very likely that they will refer non-white people. Not sure what the numbers are like in Canada but I'd guess that they are quite similar.
In addition, don't ask people to work for free, to speak at conferences or do diversity and inclusion work.  Her words were "We can't pay rent with exposure".

Spend time talking to diversity and inclusion experts.  There are people that have spent their entire lives conducting research in this area and you can learn from their expertise.  Meritocracy is a myth, we are just lucky to be in the right place in the right time.  She mentioned that her colleague Duretti Hirpa at Slack points out the need for accomplices, not allies. People that will actually speak up for others.  So people feeling pain or facing a difficult work environment don't have to do all the work of fighting for change. 

In most companies, there aren't escalation paths for human issues either.  If a person is making sexist or racist remarks, shouldn't that be a firing offense? 

If people were really working hard on diversity and inclusion, we would see more women and people of colour on boards and in leadership positions.  But we don't.

She closed with a quote from Beyonce:

"If everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow"


The next talk I attended was by Coraline Ada Ehmke, who is an application engineer at Github.  Her talk was about the "Broken Promise of Open Source".  Open source has the core principals of the free exchange of ideas, success through collaboration, shared ownership and meritocracy.

However, meritocracy is a myth.  Currently, only 6% of Github users are women.  The environment can be toxic, which drives a lot of people away.  She mentioned that we don't have numbers for diversity in open source other than women, but Github plans to do a survey soon to try to acquire more data.

Gabriel Fayant from Assembly of Seven Generation's talk was entitled "Walking in Both Worlds, traditional ways of being and the world of technology".  I found this quite interesting, she talked about traditional ceremonies and how they promote the idea of living in the moment, and thus looking at your phone during a drum ceremony isn't living the full experience.  A question from the audience from someone who worked in the engineering faculty at the University of Toronto was how we can work with indigenous communities to share our knowledge of the technology and make youth both producers of tech, not just consumers. 

If everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow.
Read more at:

f everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow.
Read more at:
The next talk was by Sandi Metz, entitled "Madame Santi tells your future".  This was a totally fascinating look at the history of printing text from scrolls all the way to computers.

She gave the same talk at another conference earlier so you watch it here.  It described the progression of printing technology from 7000 years ago until today.  Each new technology disrupted the previous one, and it was difficult for those who worked on the previous technology to make the jump to work on the new one. 

So according to Sandi, what is your future?
  • What you are working on now probably won't be relevant in 10 years
  • You will all die
  • All the people you love will die
  • Your body will start to fail you
  • Life is short
  • Tell people that you love them
  • Guard your health
  • Spend time with your kids
  • Get some exercise (she loves to bike)
  • We are bigger than tech
  • Community and schools need help
  • She gave the example of Habitat for Humanity where she volunteers
  • These organizations also need help to write code, they might not have the knowledge or time to do it right

The last talk I attended was by Sabrina Geremia of Google Canada.  She talked about the factors that encourage a girl to consider computer science (encouragement, career perception, self-perception and academic exposure.)

I found that this talk was interesting but it focused a bit too much on the pipeline argument - that the major problem is that girls are not enrolling in CS courses.  If you look at all the problems with environment, culture, lack of pay equity and opportunities for promotion due to bias, maybe choosing a career where there is more diversity is a better choice.  For instance, law, accounting and medicine have much better numbers for these issues, despite there still being an imbalance.

At the end of the day, there was a panel to discuss diversity issues:

Moderator: Ariti Sharma, Shopify, Panelists: Mohammed Asaduallah, Format, Katie Krepps, Capital One Canada, Lateesha Thomas, Dev Bootcamp, Ramya Raghavan, Google, Kara Melton, TWG, Gladstone Grant, Microsoft Canada
Some of my notes from the panel
  • Be intentional about seeking out talent
  • Fix culture to be more diverse
  • Recruit from bootcamps. Better diversity today.  Don't wait for universities to change the ratios.
  • Environment impacts retention
  • Conduct and engagement survey to see if underrepresented groups feel that their voices are being heard.
  • There is a need for sponsorship, not just mentoring.  Define a role that doesn't exist at the company.  A sponsor can make that role happen by advocating for it at higher levels
  • Mentors do better if matched with demographics.  They will realize the challenges that you will face in the industry better than a white man who has never directly experienced sexism or racism.
  • Sponsors tend to be men due to the demographics of our industry
  • At Microsoft, when you reach a certain level your are expected to mentor an unrepresented person
  • Look at compensation and representation across diverse groups
  • Attrition is normal, it varies by region, especially acute in San Francisco.
  • Women leave companies at 2x the rate of men due to culture
  • You shouldn't stay at a place if you are burnt out, take care of yourself.

Compared to the previous two iterations of this conference, it seemed that this time it focused a lot more on solutions to have more diversity and inclusion in your company. The previous two conferences I attended seemed to focus more on technical talks by diverse speakers.

As a side note, there were a lot of Shopify folks in attendance because they ran the conference.  They sent a bus of people from their head office in Ottawa to attend it.  I was really struck at how diverse some of the teams were.  I met group of women who described themselves as a team of "five badass women developers" 💯 As someone who has been the only woman on her team for most of her career, this was beautiful to see and gave me hope for the future of our industry.   I've visited the Ottawa Shopify office several times (Mr. Releng works there) and I know that the representation of of their office doesn't match the demographics of the Beyond the Code attendees which tended to be more women and people of colour.  But still, it is refreshing to see a company making a real effort to make their culture inclusive.  I've read that it is easier to make your culture inclusive from the start, rather than trying to make difficult culture changes years later when your teams are all homogeneous. So kudos to them for setting an example for other companies.

Thank you Shopify for organizing this conference, I learned a lot and I look forward to the next one!


Ottawa Python Authors Meetup: Artificial Intelligence with Python

>> Friday, July 29, 2016

Last night, I attended my first Ottawa Python Authors Meetup.  It was the first time that I had attended despite wanting to attend for a long time.  (Mr. Releng also works with Python and thus every time there's a meetup, we discuss who gets to go and who gets to stay home and take care of little Releng.  It depends on if the talk to more relevant to our work interests.)

The venue was across the street from Confederation Park aka land of Pokemon.

I really enjoyed it.  The people I chatted with were very friendly and welcoming. Of course, I ran into some people I used to work with, as is with any tech event in Ottawa it seems. Nice to catch up!

The venue had the Canada Council for the Arts as a tenant, thus the quintessentially Canadian art.

The speaker that night was Emily Daniels, developer from Halogen Software who spoke on Artificial Intelligence with Python. (Slides here, github repo here).  She mentioned that she writes Java during the day but works on fun projects in Python at night.  She started the talk by going through some examples of artificial intelligence on the web.  Perhaps the most interesting one I found was a recurrent neural network called Benjamin which generates movie script ideas and was trained on existing sci-fi movies and movie scripts.  Also, a short film called Sunspring was made of one of the generated scripts.  The dialogue is kind of stilted but it is interesting concept.

 After the examples, Emily then moved on to how it all works. 

Deep learning is a type of machine learning that drives meaning out of data using a hierarchy of multiple layers that mimics the neural networks of our brain.

She then spoke about a project she wrote to create generative poetry from a RNN (recurrent neural network).  It was based on a RNN tutorial that she heavily refactored to meet her needs.  She went through the code that she developed to generate artificial prose from the works of H.G. Wells and Jane Austen.  She talked about how she cleaned up the text to remove EOL delimiters, page breaks, chapters numbers and so on. And then it took a week to train it with the data.

She then talked about another example which used data from Jack Kerouac and Virginia Woolf novels, which she posts some of the results to twitter.

She also created a twitter account which posts generated text from her RNN that consumes the content of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. (I should mention at this point that she chose these authors for her projects because copyrights have expired on these works and they are available on the Gutenberg project)

After the talk, she field a number of audience questions which were really insightful. There were discussions on the inherent bias in the data because it was written by humans that are sexist and racist.  She mentioned that she doesn't post the results of the model automatically to twitter because some of them are really inappropriate since these novels since they learned from text that humans wrote who are inherently biased.

One thing I found really interesting is that Emily mentioned that she felt a need to ensure that the algorithms and data continue to exist, and that they were faithfully backed up.  I began to think about all the Amazon instances that Mozilla releng had automatically killed that day as our capacity had peaked and declined.  And of the great joy I feel ripping out code when we deprecate a platform.  I personally feel no emotional attachment to bring down machines or deleting used code.
Perhaps the sense of a need for a caretaker for these recurrent neural networks and the data they create is related to the fact that the algorithms that output text that is a simulacrum for the work of an author that we enjoy reading.  And perhaps that is why we maybe we aren't as attached to a ephemeral pool of build machines as we are are to our phones.  Because the phone provides a sense human of connection to the larger world when we may be sitting alone.

Thank you Emily for the very interesting talk, to the Ottawa Python Authors Group for organizing the meetup, and Shopify for sponsoring the venue.  Looking forward to the next one!

Further reading


Eclipse Committer Emeritus

I received this very kind email in my inbox this morning.

"David Williams has expired your commit rights to the
eclipse.platform.releng project.  The reason for this change is:

We have all known this day would come, but it does not make it any easier.
It has taken me four years to accept that Kim is no longer helping us with
Eclipse. That is how large her impact was, both on myself and Eclipse as a
whole. And that is just the beginning of why I am designating her as
"Committer Emeritus". Without her, I humbly suggest that Eclipse would not
have gone very far. Git shows her active from 2003 to 2012 -- longer than
most! She is (still!) user number one on the build machine. (In Unix terms,
that is UID 500). The original admin, when "Eclipse" was just the Eclipse

She was not only dedicated to her job as a release engineer she was
passionate about doing all she could to make other committer's jobs easier
so they could focus on their code and specialties. She did (and still does)
know that release engineering is a field of its own; a specialized
profession (not something to "tack on" at the end) that just anyone can do)
 and good, committed release engineers are critical to the success of any

For anyone reading this that did not know Kim, it is not too late: you can
follow her blog at

You will see that she is still passionate about release engineering and
influential in her field.

And, besides all that, she was (I assume still is :) a well-rounded, nice
person, that was easy to work with! (Well, except she likes running for
exercise. :)

Thanks, Kim, for all that you gave to Eclipse and my personal thanks for
all that you taught me over the years (and I mean before I even tried to
fill your shoes in the Platform).

We all appreciate your enormous contribution to the success of Eclipse and
happy to see your successes continuing.

To honor your contributions to the project, David Williams has nominated
you for Committer Emeritus status."

Thank you David! I really appreciate your kind words.  I learned so much working with everyone in the Eclipse community.  I had the intention to contribute to Eclipse when I left IBM but really felt that I have given all I had to give.  Few people have the chance to contribute to two fantastic open source communities during their career.  I'm lucky to have that opportunity.

My IBM friends made this neat Eclipse poster when I left.  The Mozilla dino displays my IRC handle.


Submissions for Releng 2016: due by July 1, 2016

>> Friday, June 03, 2016

The CFP for Releng 2016 is open!  The workshop will be held November 18, 2016 in Seattle.  It will be held in conjunction with FSE 2016.  (Foundations of Software Engineering ACM conference)

Picture by howardignatius- Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
If you've done something like
  • Migrated to a new build or continuous integration system
  • Implemented a new release or deployment pipeline
  • Implemented tooling to simplify managing your apps in a mobile store
  • Significantly reduced build time with parallelization or some other interesting optimization!
  • Moved your build and test system to containers
  • Refactored your infrastructure code for a live production environment
  • ... we'd love to see your submission to the workshop

We'd like to encourage people new to speaking to apply, as well as those from underrepresented groups in tech. We'd love to hear from some new voices and new companies ! 

Submissions are due July 1, 2016. If you have questions on of the submission process, topics to submit, or anything else, I'm happy to help!  I'm kmoir and I work at or contact me on twitter. Submit early and often!


DevOpsDays Toronto recap

>> Thursday, June 02, 2016

Last week I attended DevOpsDays Toronto.  It was my first time attending a DevOpsDays event and it was quite interesting.  It was held at CBC's Glenn Gould studios which is a quick walk from the Toronto Island airport where I landed after an hour flight from Ottawa.  This blog post is an overview of some of the talks at the conference.

Glenn Gould Studios, CBC, Toronto.  

Statue of Glenn Gould outside the CBC studios that bear his name.

Day 1

The day started out with an introduction from the organizers and a brief overview of history of DevOps days. They also made a point about reminding everyone that they had agreed to the code of conduct when they bought their ticket. I found this explicit mention of the code of conduct quite refreshing.

The first talk of the day was John Willis,  evangelist at Docker.  He gave an overview of the state of enterprise devops. I found this a fresh perspective because I really don't know what happens in enterprises with respect to DevOps since I have been working in open source communities for so long.  John providing an overview of what DevOps encompasses.

DevOps is a continuous feedback loop.

He talked a lot about how empathy is so important in our jobs.  He mentions that at Netflix has a slide deck that describes company culture.  He doesn't know if this is still the case, but it he had heard that if you hadn't read the company culture deck and show up for an interview at Netflix, you would be automatically disqualified for further interviews.  Etsy and Spotify have similar open documents describing their culture.

Here he discusses the research by Christina Maslach on the six sources of burnout.
Christina Maslach
Christina Maslach

He gave us some reading to do.  I've read the "Release It!" book which is excellent and has some fascinating stories of software failure in it, I've added the other books to my already long reading list.

The rugged manifesto and realizing that the code you write will always be under attack by malicious authors.  ICE stands for Inclusivity, Complexity and Empathy.

He stated that it's a long standing mantra that you can have two of either fast, cheap or good but recent research shows that today we can many changes quickly, and if there is a failure the mean time to recovery is short.

He left us with some more books to read.

The second talk was a really interesting talk by Hany Fahim, CEO of VM Farms.  It was a short mystery novella describing how VM Farms servers suddenly experienced a huge traffic spike when the Brazilian government banned Whatsapp  as a result of a legal order. I love a good war story.

 Hany discussed one day VMfarms suddenly saw a huge increase in traffic. 

This was a really important point.  When your system is failing to scale, it's important to decide if it's a valid increase in traffic or malicious.

Looking on twitter, they found that a court case in Brazil had recently ruled that Whatsup would be blocked for 48 hours.  Users started circumventing this block via VPN.  Looking at their logs, they determined that most of the traffic was resolving to ip addresses from Brazil and  that there was a large connection time during SSL handshakes.

The government of Brazil encouraged the use of open source software versus Windows, and thus the users became more technically literate, and able to circumvent blocks via VPN.

In conclusion, making changes to use multi-core HAProxy fixed a lot of issues. Also, twitter was and continues to be a great source of information on activity that is happening in other countries. Whatsapp was returned to service and then banned a second time, and their servers were able to keep up with the demand.

After lunch, we were back to to more talks.  The organizers came on stage for a while to discuss the afternoon's agenda.  They also remarked that one individual had violated the code of conduct and had been removed from the conference.  So, the conference had a code of conduct and steps were taken if it was violated.

Next up, Bridget Kromhout from Pivotal gave a talk entitled Containers will not Fix your Broken Culture.
I first saw Bridget speak at Beyond the Code in Ottawa in 2014 about scaling the streaming services for Drama Fever on AWS.  At the time, I was moving our mobile test infrastructure to AWS so I was quite enthralled with her talk because 1) it was excellent 2) I had never seen another woman give a talk about scaling services on AWS.  Representation matters.

The summary of the talk last week was that no matter what tools you adopt, you need to communicate with each other about the cultural changes are required to implement new services.  A new microservices architecture is great, but if these teams that are implementing these services are not talking to each other, the implementation will not succeed.

Bridget pointing out that the technology we choose to implement is often about what is fashionable.

Shoutout to Jennifer Davis' and Katherine Daniel's Effective DevOps book. (note -  I've read it on Safari online and it is excellent.  The chapter on hiring is especially good)

Loved this poster about the wall of confusion between development and operations.  

In the afternoon, there were were lightning talks and then open spaces. Open spaces are free flowing discussions where the topic is voted upon ahead of time.  I attended ones on infrastructure automation, CI/CD at scale and my personal favourite, horror stories.  I do love hearing how distributed system can go down and how to recover.  I found that the conversations were useful but it seemed like some of them were dominated by a few voices.  I think it would be better if the person that suggested to topic for the open space also volunteered to moderate the discussion.

Day 2

The second day started out with a fantastic talk by John Arthorne of Shopify speaking on scaling their deployment pipeline.  As a side note, John and I worked together for more than a decade on Eclipse while we both worked at IBM so it was great to catch up with him after the talk. 

He started by giving some key platform characteristics.  Stores on Shopify have flash sales that have traffic spikes so they need to be able to scale for these bursts of traffic. 

From commit to deploy in 10 minutes.  Everyone can deploy. This has two purposes: Make sure the developer stays involved in the deploy process.  If it only takes 10 minutes, they can watch to make sure that their deploy succeeds. If it takes longer, they might move on to another task.  Another advantage of this quick deploy process is that it can delight customers with the speed of deployment.  They also deploy in small batches to ensure that the mean time to recover is small if the change needs to be rolled back.
BuildKite is a third party build and test orchestration service.  They wrote a tool called Scrooge that monitors the number of EC2 nodes based on current demand to reduce their AWS bills.  (Similar to what Mozilla releng does with cloud-tools)

Shopify uses a open source orchestration tool called ShipIt.  I was sitting next to my colleague Armen at the conference and he started chuckling at this point because at Mozilla we also wrote an application called ship-it which release management uses to kick off Firefox releases.   Shopify also has a overall view of the ship it deployment process which allows developers to see the percentages of nodes where their change has been deployed. One of the questions after the talk was why they use AWS for their deployment pipeline when they have use machines in data centres for their actual customers. Answer: They use AWS where resilency is not an issue. 
Building containers is computationally expensive. He noted that a lot of engineering resources went into optimizing the layers in the Docker containers. To isolate changes to the smallest layer.  They build service called Locutus to build the containers on commit, and push to a registry. It employs caching to make the builds smaller. 

One key point that John also mentioned is that they had a team dedicated to optimizing their deployment pipeline.  It is unreasonable to expect that developers working on the core Shopify platform to also optimize the pipeline.

In the afternoon , there were a series of lightning talks. Roderick Randolph from Capital One gave an amazing talk about Supporting Developers through DevOps.

It was an interesting perspective.  I've seen quite a few talks about bringing devops culture and practices to the operations side of the house, but the perspective of teaching developers about it is discussed less often.


He emphasized the need to empower developers to use DevOp practices by giving them tools, and showing them how to use them.  For instance, if they needed to run docker to test something, walk them through it so they will know how to do it next time. 

The final talk I'll mention is by Will Weaver.  He talks about how it is hard to show prospective clients how he had CI and tests experience when that experience is not open to the public.  So he implemented tests and CI for his dotfiles on github. 

He had excellent advice on how to work on projects outside of work to showcase skills for future employers.

Diversity and Inclusion

As an aside, whenever I'm at a conference I note the number of people in the "not a white guy" group. This conference had an all men organizing committee but not all white men.  (I recognize the fact that not all diversity is visible i.e. mental health, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status etc) They was only one woman speaker, but there were a few non-white speakers.  There were very few women attendees. I'm not sure what the process was to reach out to potential speakers other than the CFP. 

 There were slides that showed diverse developers which was refreshing.

Loved Roderick's ops vs dev slide.

I learned a lot at the conference and am thankful for all the time that the speakers took to prepare their talks.  I enjoyed all the conversations I had learning about the challenges people face in the organizations implementing continuous integration and deployment. It also made me appreciate the culture of relentless automation, continuous integration and deployment that we have at Mozilla.

I don't know who said this during the conference but I really liked it

Shipping is the heartbeat of your company

It was interesting to learn how all these people are making their companies heart beat stronger via DevOps practices and tools.


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