Reflections on Upskilling with DevOps Institute Global Ambassador, Sanjeev Sharma

DevOps Institute Ambassadors are volunteers from across the globe that want to help advance the career opportunities in IT and support emerging practices within the DevOps community based on a human-centered SKIL Framework, consisting of Skills, Knowledge, Ideas, and Learning.

These individuals are advocates for the “Humans of DevOps” and are industry pioneers who are passionate about DevOps movement, are recognized DevOps subject matter experts and who voluntarily contribute to the Collective Body of Knowledge (CBok) of DevOps.

This week, we are proud to feature an Ambassador from the United States, Sanjeev Sharma, co-founder and principal analyst at Accelerated Strategies Group.

Below, we asked Sanjeev a few questions about his career and the upskilling initiatives that he sees as most valuable for IT professionals today.

Sanjeev is an internationally known DevOps and Cloud Transformation, and Data Modernization thought leader, technology executive and author.

His industry experience includes tenures as CTO, Technical Executive, and Cloud Architect leader. As an IBM Distinguished Engineer, Sanjeev was recognized at the highest levels of IBM’s core of technical leaders. As Principal Analyst at Accelerated Strategies, Sanjeev provides leadership to drive the adoption of cutting-edge solutions, architectures and strategies for DevOps and Cloud transformations. He also advises the C-level and senior technical executives who are leading these transformations.

Sanjeev published his second bestseller book ‘The DevOps Adoption Playbook’ in 2017. He regularly blogs and podcasts on DevOps, Cloud, and Data Modernization on his popular blog:

(You can connect with Sanjeev directly on Twitter at@sd_architect or via LinkedIn).

How has your field of expertise evolved over the past several years?

To answer this question, I will first have to define the term ‘field of expertise’... Or even define ‘expertise’. All jokes aside, I believe we live in a time of extreme change. The rate of change of technology is only accelerating. So yes, my field has changed a lot over the last few years.

DevOps, Cloud, Containers, Microservices, Serverless etc. these are all concepts that have gone mainstream just recently, and continue to evolve rapidly. What is hot today, may well not be even around two years from now. With that as context, the way I focus on my ‘field of expertise’ is by focussing on first principles. On the core thinking behind the technology or trend in question. Core principles never change. They do get refined, but do not lose their ‘core’.

Let me give you some examples: DevOps is the next area of implementation of ‘Lean.’ That is what Agile was, and that is what DevOps is. Once you get that and understand what the core principles of Lean are, DevOps now appears to be nothing new - just an implementation of the very same lean principles that have been maturing since the days of Dr. Demming and Taiichi Ohno.

Similarly, there is a lot of talk today of ‘Chaos Engineering’ as the new hot trend. To an engineer, there is nothing new here when looked at through the lens of core principles. Chaos Engineering is nothing but the injection of well defined experiments to validate the reliability and resilience of complex systems. Systems that are so complex that their behavior cannot be fully understood without interacting with them. This is (should be) understood by all Engineering students by their Sophomore year.

Everything is new. But nothing is new.

Tell a story about someone who inspired you to become a leader.

My grandfather was an Olympian. He went to the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki as the manager of the Indian Football (soccer for the Americans) team. He was a field hockey player and was on the Indian National team in the 1940s, but missed out his opportunity to play in the Olympics due to the second World War (in which he fought in the Europe Theater for the British).

After retiring from playing hockey he re-invented himself and used the ‘core principles’ of sports and leadership as a football coach and manager. He made it back to the national team, this time with the national football team - all the way to the olympics. By the time he actually retired he had reinvented himself yet again in the sports events space and organized the largest professional football club tournament in India for several years. He taught me that one can reinvent oneself over and over again and excel in several fields over a well lived lifetime.

What are your favorite sources or mediums for learning? i.e. how do you learn best and why?

Anywhere and everywhere. While videos and podcasts are great, my number one source of learning is reading. Reading is much faster than videos/podcasts even if you listen to them at 2x speed, which I do.

Also, my network. I am constantly talking to others in and around my network and learning from what they are doing, what challenges are they facing and overcoming, and how. Also, who they can introduce me to who is an expert in their area.

Is there anything else you want to share about what you’re working on now, or any other advice you want to provide to the community?

I am focused on three areas - DevOps, Cloud and Data. How they interrelate to each other and how the success of any digital transformation requires addressing all three as one interrelated area. Too many organizations - enterprises, government agencies and startups - are struggling because they look at them seperately or they look at them together through a very narrow aperture. This is a path to certain failure, or at least a lot of pain.

Systems today are complex. They are distributed. They are chaotic, with ever changing requirements, business and user needs, and regulatory requirements. We need approaches to enable change and manage the complexity by looking at problems more holistically. A lot of the problem actually lies in organization culture and structures. Bad culture at the enterprise level treats transformations as being a set of isolated problems to solve while missing out on the big picture. Organizational structures result in silos and false ‘fiefdoms’ that prevent large complex business goals from having group ownership. Addressing this is what I am focused on. Stay tuned by blog, as I am writing a lot of blog posts touching these challenges.

If I do come up with a new methodology, a new approach to address this, I believe I should be henceforth called - Sanjeev Sharma, the 2,789,641st of his name (it's a common Indian name...), the ruler of ‘Core Principles’, the caller out of ‘Corporate Culture’ bu*****t, the destroyer of ‘False Fiefdoms’. Till then I am helping companies address these challenges one consulting engagement at a time.

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