Two years all-remote feels different throughout a pandemic and is nowhere near what I had planned. I needed to adjust to the situation and make it a different, challenging, yet exciting adventure. This blog post will focus on remote work, my challenges, growth, mistakes, and success. Let's start ... wait.
Ready? Steady. Go! All-remote at GitLab is of the best things ever happened to me ...
Starting into 2022: Travel, maybe?
Before looking back into 2021, a quick peek ahead after getting my booster vaccination: We are hoping to attend KubeCon EU in Valencia in May. When I got my iPhone 13 Pro in February, I had a déjà-Vu: I planned to travel with the iPhone 11 nearly two years ago.
Shortcut: Best of year 2
I got promoted to Senior Developer Evangelist at GitLab. After rebooting my career when joining GitLab in March 2020, achieving the first career goal so fast after 1.5 years felt truly exceptional. The promotion included examples of how I exhibit GitLab's values and reminded me of many great things I did. My manager John helps me navigate my professional career, and I am truly grateful for his encouragement and mentorship.
The #EveryoneCanContribute cafe with Opstrace inspired the acquisition by GitLab. I was able to help with my Observability expertise and community building and worked cross-team to build an exciting opportunity, also for my thought leadership advances.
New friends from all over the world, inviting me to speak, share my thoughts, and inspire people to follow. My highlight: Nora asked me to share my story with the She'n'IT Nuremberg meetup group advocating for diversity and encouraging women in tech for their success.
GitLab went IPO, and we were invited to share our selfies potentially shown on the Nasdaq tower. My selfie with the diversity Tanuki and LEGO #EveryoneIsAwesome build ... is what I am standing for. Life is colorful, and life is good 🌈
The Developer Evangelism team has been jam-packed in 2021. We were involved in announcement response situations and media escalations throughout the year, providing helpful (technical) answers and helping monitor all channels. The process has been documented in the handbook and inspired a new role for community engagement - with Fatima joining our team in Dec 2021 💜
Meetups, events, and new friends
In March 2021, one of my learning goals involved Terraform after seeing the state backend integration in GitLab. The Nuremberg AWS user group caught my eye with a talk about "Introduction to Infrastructure as Code with Terraform" from Nora Schöner. I loved the explanations and small steps to the first success :)
It turns out the meetup group has many members from the DevOps meetup Nuremberg and also GitLab users. I felt welcome, albeit my AWS knowledge was not very strong. I stayed, and Frank Prechtel invited me to share my talk about "Efficient Sec and Ops Pipelines". I met Kris Howard, who was so kind to share her expertise with Machine Learning at the #EveryoneCanContribute cafe meetup later, sending some Dragee Keksi over as well :)
Pauline Narvas joined Gitpod, moving fast with community building and being technically everywhere. We started with coffee chats and later were on the DevX Cloud Native Day CfP committee.
POP touched base with Falco and then Dennis Appelt in the GitLab Package Hunter live demo in the #EveryoneCanContribute cafe too. We made friends with amazing folks from Polar Signals, Litmus Chaos, Snyk, Civo, k6, Pyrra, Policy reporter for Kyverno, and learned Rust, Kubernetes, cloud-native, and DevOps platforms. There are so many great folks, I cannot wait to meet you in person hopefully soon :-)
Battery refresh and work-life balance
High workload and unplanned rapid actions can be stressful. I sometimes felt tired in the past year and needed to force myself to slow down. My manager John is very kind and thoughtful with feedback and directly points me where it could lead to burnout. It is challenging to do the right thing, choose the task with the most impact, and then log off with the feeling that "work is still waiting for me next week" and "our teams will be able to jump in and help." Example: A Call-for-Papers due date needs to be matched - a to-be-written blog post can be rescheduled.
The Paid Time Off (PTO) Slack bot got plenty of days scheduled with "Refreshing batteries." Forty-three days in full transparency, with longer breaks by the end of the year and 1-2 refreshing the batteries periods. Thankfully GitLab continues with Family and Friends days, reminding me to take a break from work. My timeline still has colored weekends, security incidents, and release on-call are exceptions to my strict no-work-on-weekends policy. I need to get better here, hey future-self reading this blog post 👋
The pandemic in the first half of 2021 was more or less a lockdown in Germany; until May, we could not visit restaurants, for example. I did not know when to get my vaccination and was very depressed seeing people talking about travel and things opening up. Somehow this turned me into working more than anticipated, and with my magnetic powers to collect work items, it was not healthy.
I got my vaccination in July and August 2021, just in time to finally travel to Austria, celebrate my brother's wedding, and help with their move to a newly built house too. A refreshing moment in troubled times. November and December were the hardest, with grandma going to sleep forever. It made me stop, think, and be grateful to take time off when needed the most, to be with my family in Austria.
Getting a booster vaccination date became a marathon with German bureaucracy, and at some point, my energy was just empty. When countries started to limit travel to avoid holiday infections, I just moved to Austria early before Xmas. I worked from my parent's home for a couple of days, then diving into holidays.
I have taken a social media break for 2.5 weeks, finding time to rest in Austria. Later back in Nuremberg with my best friends, we celebrated New Year's Eve at our favorite Italian restaurant. It is a great reminder for Family and Friends first, work second, enjoying life together in every moment.
Everyone Can Contribute cafe 2.0
The weekly #EveryoneCanContribute cafe celebrated one year in May 2021. I appreciate Michael, Niclas, Nico, and Philip becoming friends and making the pandemic more joyful and thoughtful together. It changed the virtual sessions slowly from social chats into well-prepared storylines with workshops to provide the best learning experience. Many YouTube channels focussed on providing excellent learning videos, and it is hard to compete with them (and it never was the idea of the cafe). Finding new topics, inviting guests, and preparing things also led to burnout. I took a vacation break in September 2021, inviting community members to discuss the future in a public epic.
The cafe was also limited to my Zoom account, me organizing the invites, and it was not easy to join. It became a diversity problem and limited the feeling of belonging. Thanks to the thoughtful chats and discussions, we have changed the format to a meetup group, allowing everyone to join and contribute :) The frequency was changed to monthly on the 2nd Tuesday, at 9 am PT, and can be hosted by Developer Evangelists when I am on vacation. 2022 brought a new exciting topic with Web3 and Blockchain by Niclas, and soon, diving into cloud security with Anaïs Urlichs.
Learning new sides of myself
I'm super enthusiastic about projects I love, which kept me motivated throughout the past 13+ years in Open Source. I was on top of everything: engineering. product, social media, and community. It did not scale well and has been one way to move to burnout in 2019, before changing jobs in 2020. It took me some time in 2020 and 2021 to fully realize why I changed jobs, and that I was really burned out by the monitoring topic, looking for new excitement with teaching GitLab CI/CD classes and more.
I'm passionate about GitLab. I do care about GitLab. I love working with diverse teams all over the world. I admire helping and collaborating with the wider community. GitLab is growing fast, and everyone works hard to achieve goals.
GitLab is not "my" project, though. Neither is Prometheus and all the fantastic OSS projects in the cloud-native community. I don't need to be on top of everything. I don't need to be a maintainer to find my spot in the community. Everyone, including myself, can contribute and help. This is a major learning for me, removing a certain pressure, and starting with new creative ideas.
Knowing and keeping these thoughts in mind helps me focus and shut down after work. Since social media is also related to work, I went with blocking usage in the evenings and on the weekend. Not everything needs to be seen or collected for later sharing. This also follows the async workflows - I fully embraced issues, to-dos, and MRs to document and review, and am avoiding sync meetings and emails where I can.
Challenges in 2021
I wrote a blog post to showcase a new project in March 2021. Instead of focussing on facts, I made a comparison to existing deployment tools like Heroku, making them look bad. The blog post was published on the GitLab company blog and landed on Hacker News #1. My team encouraged me not to read all comments, as they could hurt my mental health. At some point, I did because people started to attack Sid and the company for things I am responsible for. Standing up for my faults and reflecting on what we can improve helped me grow a lot in 2021.
In my role as Developer Evangelist, I also read a lot of tweets, articles, news, opinions and listen to talks, podcasts, etc. to stay in the loop. Often, I reshare them on Twitter and LinkedIn and post them in Slack. Basically, they are gone then, and it is very hard to follow as well as identify required actions and follow-ups.
It is key to communicate efficiently and provide as much context as needed in an async all-remote environment. Additionally, the request needs to be clear:
- FYI (for your information, no action required)
- Question (avoid yes/no answers) with follow-up items
- Call-to-action with a suggestion, in a merge request/issue/Google doc
My challenge is to follow this path and reduce the noise to be more impactful:
- Is the news worth sharing at this very moment?
- Do I need to @-mention team members and groups?
- Does the article need a complete summary, which would better suit in a newsletter, or a new issue for async later reading?
Coming from these thoughts, I have started my newsletter opsindev.news to reflect on technology news and new ideas, keeping a summary for everyone. The archive is built using MkDocs in a public GitLab project so that everyone can contribute. To get a cookie banner working on the website, I've also started to sponsor the MkDocs material theme for their excellent work.
Growth and thought leadership
2021 built the foundation for new use cases and talk stories in 2021. Melissa Smolensky encouraged me to speak at DockerCon Live. I was able to tell my story as a developer learning packaging, deployments, cloud-native, IaC, and more.
My most successful talk of 2021 is the workshop-like talk about "Efficient DevSecOps Pipelines in a Cloud-Native World". It started in 2020 with CI monitoring and pipeline efficiency docs and now became a useful resource for everyone to learn. I have expanded it into a full-day workshop for an event and shared it as an accessible free learning resource.
CI/CD also inspired Valentin Despa to collaborate on a new free course, published at Freecodecamp. Fantastic to plant the seeds and see our community grow 🌱
SLOConf started from a Twitter thread tagging many Observability folks, and brought a great collaboration with folks from Nobl9, also starting the OpenSLO specification. I've since then iterated on the story about "Left Shift your SLOs", explaining the road to SLOs, then app instrumentation, quality gates, and more use case examples, later the year at All Day DevOps.
Polywork collections allow organizing my talks for easier access 💜
Back to the roots: Monitoring and Observability
2021 brought me closer to engaging with Prometheus, OpenTelemetry, and thinking of how tools fit into the cloud-native challenges. Like, how do I even start as a developer by adding metrics to my applications? What is Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) and where are Service Level Objectives (SLOs) fitting here? Where does Chaos Engineering fit? Thanks to Melissa Smolensky and our 1:1s, which tremendously helped me find my path to lead thoughts and sometimes crazy ideas in 2021.
Someone recently said that I know many things, and it could need an index to search for observability. Guess what - inspired by Michael Hausenblas creating o11y.news, I went ahead with creating o11y.love as a learning platform. Open source so that everyone can contribute.
My passion for monitoring and observability led us into Opstrace, and welcoming them to GitLab after the acquisition in December 2021.
Working cross-functional on the acquisition with many teams at GitLab is my career highlight. A unique experience to learn and grow.
Iterating on the Pipeline Efficiency talk, I thought of Tracing in CI/CD and went forward with creating an issue, which we briefly talked about in a recorded meeting. Being public and transparent is amazing - because of sharing the video in a Twitter discussion about CI/CD Tracing, I have met with Cyrille le Cleric and Oleg Nenashev to discuss more ideas.
The feature proposal for CI/CD Observability: Tracing with OpenTelemetry is very detailed and long. I plan to look into a proof-of-concept soon, and share our findings in future talks and blog posts.
All my activities in the Observability space led me to create a collection epic, planning the entire year.
I admire the collaboration with product and engineering.
Vision for 2022
A lot of things happened in 2021. And I still feel that I did not fully start yet. That's also what I tell recruiters and friends pinging for new jobs. I'm having the best time in my life, all-remote at GitLab. 🦊
My main themes for 2022 are
- Observability, from the POV of a developer learning to see value in metrics, etc.
- Observability from a POV in Ops, running a DevOps platform, looking for CI/CD Pipeline Efficiency
- Cloud-native day-2-ops: Kubernetes Troubleshooting, Hacking Kubernetes, Quality Gates, Chaos Engineering
New areas to learn and educate
- Blockchain and web3. Niclas has been a great guide and enabler on slowly diving in there myself.
- Find use cases for Rust and new languages, dive into Web Assembly
- Embedded hardware & Raspberry Pi hacking. Maybe ARM architecture.
- Getting better at efficient communication.
- Focus on work-life balance. Family and friends first, work second.
- Start with travel, and keep virtual connections all over the world.
Hopefully, meet my teams at GitLab in person. It has been two years all-remote, waving virtually. And many more of you, friends, old and new. Until then, stay safe and healthy! 🤗