Schooling yourself in release engineering

>> Monday, March 31, 2014

Traditionally, there haven't been many courses offered in colleges or universities that cover the fundamentals of release engineering.  This means that students don't get exposed to the potential that a career in release engineering has to offer.  Conversely, it also doesn't provide students who become employed in more traditional developer roles the background regarding the complexity and challenges that arise within the scope of  release engineering.  However, this is beginning to change which is fantastic!  For example:

Release Engineering as a Discipline,  Center of Computer Science, RWTH Aachen University in Aachen Germany

Overview of the Build and Release Process, (updated link) Seneca College, Toronto

Release Engineering -- Applications of Mining Software Repositories, École Polytechnique, Montréal

Software Release Planning, University of Calgary

Seneca College Library Image ©moqub Creative Commons by-nc-sa 2.0

If anyone knows of other courses that are offered, I'd love to hear about them.  Maybe someday I won't have to explain to new people I meet what a release engineer does all day.  Just kidding, this will still happen :-)


Upcoming Release Engineering events

>> Wednesday, March 26, 2014

University of Waterloo engineering students in 1964 Image ©Kitchener Waterloo Record, Creative Commons by-nc-sa 2.0
There are quite a few upcoming events related to release engineering so I thought I'd list them here.

The CFP for LISA is open, submissions due April 14.  Release engineering topics are welcome. LISA is November 9–14, 2014, in Seattle, WA.

There is also a Release engineering workshop as part of Usenix Federated Conferences week, on June 20, 2014, in Philadelphia, PA.  The CFP has closed, but I think you can still register.

The Releng 2014 workshop is April 11, at Google in Mountain View.  We were really overwhelmed by the number of people were interested in registering for this workshop, and the event is now sold out.  A few of the talks will be recorded, so if you couldn't get a ticket, they will be available online after the event. 

Finally, there's the first IEEE Special Issue on Release Engineering.   The deadline for submission of a paper is August 1, 2014.  Not an event, but a great place to get a paper on your area of expertise published.

Any other events I missed?


EclipseCon 2014 trip report

>> Monday, March 24, 2014

I attended EclipseCon for a couple of days last week.  It was great to see friends and colleagues again and learn what they were working on. 

Some highlights for me:

My favourite presentation was by Tamar Cohen who presented on the Verve software that is used to provide 3D visualization of remote environments using NASA robots.  NASA + robots = I could listen all day.  The next day, I had to opportunity to sit at lunch with Tamar.  I mentioned to her that I think she says that she has one of the best jobs in the world, building software for robots some of which will leave our planet, and she agreed :-)  She also made an interesting point from a maintenance perspective, in that most of the software that her team writes for experiments by astronauts is used for the duration of the experiment and then discarded. So there aren't really any long term release engineering requirements for most of their software.

  Tamar Cohen

I really enjoyed the keynote by Catarina Moto on open hardware materials.  Here's a link to many of the videos she used during her talk.  I was especially impressed by the discussion that showed the robotic hand made by open hardware components (more info here).  Such a fine example of how technology can be a force for good in the world.

Catarina Moto talking about open hardware materials

I also really liked Andrew Low's talk on Porting NodeJS to Linux for PPC.  He's a great speaker and  I like porting stories :-)  Nick Stinemates talk on Docker was really interesting for me too, because we are currently investigating using it in some capacity.

On Wednesday, I was happy to present an overview of Mozilla release engineering from both a technical and human perspective.  The slides are here.

The pdf on the EclipseCon website seems to be clearer.  I think slideshare does some compression that causes the images to be a bit fuzzy.

In any case, I received some good feedback on the talk after I spoke, and via twitter and email.  Many people were impressed by both the scale of builds and tests we run, and the tooling we use to manage it.  So big kudos to the Mozilla Releng team and all the others we work with like ATeam and IT that allowed me to have great stories to tell.  There were about 40 people who attended the talk.  As an interesting anecdote, I asked how many people developed in Python in the talk and two hands went up.  As release engineers at Mozilla, we spend most of our days immersed in developing Python code, so this was interesting.  By the number of people in the Java talks at EclipseCon, it is clear that this the Eclipse community continues to be very Java focused.

At the end of my talk, Ian Bull asked an interesting question.  He said something along the lines of "If you had to do it all over again, how would you change things at Eclipse to make it better from a  release engineering standpoint?" (I'm paraphrasing, I'm jetlagged and this was a few days ago).

Ian Bull always asks great questions

I responded that it didn't really matter what I thought, the Eclipse community doesn't make release engineering a priority and allocate resources to it so it wouldn't change, no matter what I thought or did.  Every open source community makes different decisions based on their priorities.  If they want changes, they have to allocate resources, whether they be people, or money or both, to make these priorities happen.  No resources, nothing gets done.  In much the same vein that I'm always surprised that conference organizers reach out to try to get a more diverse speakers along gender/POC/geographic/sexuality etc lines when the CFP is announced, but the rest of the year nobody in the community is championing diversity.  Again, no priorities, no resources, no change.

Thanks to everyone who made EclipseCon happen, it was an interesting conference!


Built to Scale talk at EclipseCon

>> Monday, March 10, 2014

I'm honoured to be giving a talk at EclipseCon next week entitled Built to Scale: The Mozilla Release Engineering Toolbox.  To give you some context, here are some numbers about the scale of build and test jobs we run.

We run about 6000 build jobs and 50,000 test jobs every week day.  Each test job has many actual test suites within it of course.  We have 1800+ devices to build on, plus 3900+ for tests.  Some devices reside in our data centres, some reside in AWS.  When a developer lands (commits) a change, our goal is to have the relevant job start within 15 minutes of being added to the scheduler database.

My talk will discuss we manage this scale of continuous integration in terms of hardware and software.  Also, I'll touch on how we manage this from a human perspective, because that isn't easy either.  I'll also discuss some of the lessons along the way as we have moved many of our infrastructure to AWS.  And I'll also describe how we manage our 1000+ mobile devices that we run tests on as part of our CI farm.

Image ©ardonik, under Creative Commons by-nc-sa 2.0 Release engineering at this scale has lots of pieces to fit together.

In preparing this talk, I have been thinking a lot about the audience.  The audience will be people in the Eclipse community, who don't have a lot of context about how we do things at Mozilla. I recently read the book Resonate by Nancy Duarte which describes how to create great visual presentations and story arcs as a speaker.  One of the ideas in the book is that the most important thing that you can do as a speaker is think about your audience, what they know, and how to engage them. 

I use the Presentation Zen approach when preparing a talk which means that I write out all the topics on index cards, arrange them, rearrange them, and discard non-essential content.  Before touching a computer.  When I was initially preparing the talk, I had an entire index card of Mozilla specific words that I would have to explain.  It was ridiculous.  Nobody would ever remember the context of those terms from one slide to the next. I put that card in the shredder.

Last week, I thought of a new approach to present my talk.  I think it will really work.    I want to make the talk as interesting and relevant to the Eclipse community as it would be as if I gave it to a room full of Mozillians who have more context.

So this is what I know about the audience for my talk
You are Eclipse community members
Like all developers, you have known the pain of slow builds and test results.
You'd like to know how to scale large amounts of hardware and software.
And how things can get better.
So you can work on optimizing your product, and not be frustrated by your build and release process.

If you have specific questions you'd like me to address in the talk, please let me know in the comments or via twitter (@kmoir).  Looking forward to seeing you all at EclipseCon!

1 I also recently read Why Don't Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom which is an excellent book and extremely applicable to people teaching programming languages and other abstract concepts.  One of the topics that stuck with me from reading this book is that our brains need to have a lot of simple concepts memorized to understand more complex concepts. For instance, if you don't have your multiplication tables memorized, simple algebra will be difficult because you will have to stop and think what the value of 3x is when x is 7 instead of just pulling that from memory.  So this is why when people complain that schools teach a lot of memorization and not more abstract thinking, it's not really a valid argument.  You need a lot of concepts memorized before you can do more abstract thinking.  Highly recommended book.

John O'Duinn gave a talk at the Releng 2013 workshop last year and later as a Google Tech Talk that gives a great overview of why release engineering is a high priority at Mozilla.   Well worth watching.


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