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What is Web Operations?

Theo Schlossnagle wrote a brilliant summary of one of the biggest challenges we discussed at the Velocity Summit in January:

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What is this Velocity Summit thing? It was a bunch of web architects from highly trafficked sites sitting around talkin’ smack. It was operated in Foo style. However, one thing that made me really appreciate this meet-up was the lack of self-importance displayed by attendees. Everyone was just there to talk — not to make people understand how much they knew. We were talking about The O’Reilly Velocity Web Performance and Operations Conference: what it should be and why.

Two things that I walked away with were (1) a realization of the lack of a career path for people who do what we do (no standard titles, no standard roles and responsibilities and certainly a lack of sex appeal) and (2) a clear lack of terminology for the technology requirements that are so common in these environments. Terminology is easy, in my opinion — you just argue until someone wins. Of course, arguing is a hobby of mine, so I have bias. On the other hand, defining a career path that is an industry accepted path is hard.

The term Web Operations was used a lot during this event. While it isn’t awful, I really don’t like this term. The hard part is that the captains, superstars, or heroes in these roles are multidisciplinary experts. They have a deep understanding of networks, routing, switching, firewalls, load-balancing, high availability, disaster recovery, TCP & UDP services, NOC management, hardware specifications, several different flavors of UNIX, several web server technologies, caching technologies, several databases, storage infrastructure, cryptography, algorithms, trending and capacity planning. The issue: how can we expect to find good candidates that have fluency in all of those technologies? In the traditional enterprise, you have architects which are broad and shallow and their team of experts which are focused and deep. However, in the expectation is that your “web operations” engineer be both broad and deep: fix your gigabit switch, optimize your MySQL database and guide the overall architecture design to meet scalability requirements.

I struggle with this. Not everyone can be a superstar. More
importantly, no one can really start as a superstar. If we use an
apprentice model (which is common in industries without institutional
support) we limit the total number of able workers in this field. So,
how do we (re)define the requirements for a junior web operations
person?
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velocity_logo_conf.gifOne of the reasons I’m excited about Velocity is that we’re increasing the pool of great operations people.  We’re getting inquiries from companies interested in sending groups of 30-40 people, and I expect more as we confirm speakers and sessions.  You can secure a spot now and get a $350 early registration discount.

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