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DevOps Institute

[EP28] Applying Agile and DevOps Principles in Virtual Learning Environments

Agile, Humans of DevOps

A very interesting approach from Gautham Pallapa, Global Chief Technology Officer of VMWare, as he explains how to apply Agile and DevOps principles to social experiments in parenting in today’s virtual learning environments.

The lightly edited transcript can be found below.

Intro:

You’re listening to The Humans of DevOps Podcast, a podcast focused on advancing the humans of DevOps through skills, knowledge, ideas, and learning, or the SKIL framework. Here’s your host DevOps Institute CEO, Jayne Groll.

Jayne Groll:

Hey everyone, I’m Jayne Groll, CEO of the DevOps Institute. We’re on video this time for The Humans of DevOps Podcast. And I’m really excited to be joined by my friend. And I know I’m going to pronounce your name incorrectly. Gautham Pallapa? Close? Awesome.

Gautham Pallapa:

Perfect.

Jayne Groll:

Yeah, big thumbs up on that – who was one of DevOps Institute’s ambassador. And I’ll let him explain a little bit more about his background. Welcome, Gautham.

Gautham Pallapa:

Oh, thanks for having me, Jayne. Yeah, always a pleasure to be here.

Jayne Groll:

So tell us a little bit about yourself, your background. And then let’s talk a little bit about why this topic that we’re going to talk about today, which really has to do with new ways of working, I’ll let you introduce the topic, has become a passion area for you.

Gautham Pallapa:

Yeah, yeah, definitely. I’m a global CTO at VMware. I focus on business transformation where I work with customers and help them on their transformation journey. Not only from a cultural and a people perspective, but also from a process and technology aspect. I’ve been in this realm for, oh gosh, I want to say six years now. And I’ve been a late 68 grand black belt and an agilist for a very long time. And am now part of the DevOps Institute and a ambassador as well. And it’s really exciting when you can take all these various methodologies and have the right mindset and implement it in the current pain points of a pandemic that we’re going through right now.

Gautham Pallapa:

That’s a really cool thing. And being stuck at home for over eight months, I have had the pleasure of running multiple social experiments, unfortunate for my kid. But one of the things that, and I’ve written about this in a couple of articles as well, is that people in technology, especially parents, they look towards technology constructs and practices that they do in their day-to-day life and see if it can extend to their personal life.

Gautham Pallapa:

And before the pandemic, it used to happen a little where we used to occasionally dabble into agile methodologies and DevOps approaches like more automation, reducing the pain, reducing the manual toil in things. Like that’s a justification to buy a better coffee maker every time, things like that. Right? But with this pandemic and with everyone co-habiting in the same space, it becomes much more easier and much more interesting from my point of view, where people are running a lot of social experiments and trying to help supplement the development of their children when they’re coping with a remote learning world.

Jayne Groll:

Yeah, that’s really interesting to me, because I think the biggest challenge that parents face generally is helping their children grow, be healthy, be happy to learn. And to be good citizens of society, but also to have that balance between work and social. Right? And then, of course, hopefully having a good psychological balance as well. And this pandemic, I think, has really presented challenges to everyone, whether you have young children or not, in order to be able to maintain a psychological balance, in order to be able to maintain a work balance. There used to be a really distinct separation between your workday and your family life, or your home life, right?

Jayne Groll:

If you went to the office, you left. I’ve worked from home for a long time, sometimes that’s a challenge, but there was a distinctiveness to that. And now you enter children who are having to, or teachers who are trying to figure out how to teach. Parents who are serving as teachers. In my household, my son is 24, so he’s not a young child, but he’s working from home too. So my husband, my son and I all have our little workspaces. And we meet in the break room, otherwise known as the kitchen, that’s changed the dynamic. My dog likes it, but it’s changed the dynamic of the household. So let’s talk a little bit about applying some of the principles that we have been advocating for a long time in terms of work-life, and how does that apply to personal?

Gautham Pallapa:

Yeah. Yeah. I’m glad you brought up the psychological safety and the psychological aspect of things. Because when we look back at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the most fundamental needs are the basic needs, right? Those are the physiological needs of food, water, want, rest, and then safety. Right? Which is the security. And the sense of having that safety around the physical environment that you’re in. That, for the most part, I mean, it was scary in March and April when we were scared about food, water, logistics, and even getting TP, all those various cares. And then it stabilized. And so the basic needs are met now. And what we’re seeing is the psychological needs are still not being met. So the belongingness, the intimate relationships, the friendships, esteem needs, right? So the prestige and a feeling of accomplishment and interacting with people, getting a pat on the back from someone, for example, in the workplace. Those things are not there.

Gautham Pallapa:

You don’t have those hallway conversations or interactions, like you mentioned, in the break room where you talk about things and you can do humble bragging about all the things that you accomplished. Those things are missing, right? And that’s the same thing with children, if you really think about it. What’s happened for them is they lost their sense of identity in going to school. They don’t have that familial place anymore where they knew that they would go to school in the morning, they would have a additional parent figure that they could look up to, and who would cater to their psychological needs. And their love and belonging from someone who’s not a parent, and outside of the home. They suddenly lost that. And while we are still trying to do virtual learning, and the teachers are doing a fantastic job trying to cope and learn and grow along with the kids, it’s hard.

Gautham Pallapa:

They don’t have that physical interaction. So the happy chemicals imbalance is there. And then in addition to that, while virtual schooling is all cool, it’s routine. Right? I mean, it becomes routine. And then routine becomes tedious. And so we need to supplement it with some additional ways to help the child develop and also bring that emotional intelligence and empathy concepts into their learning curriculum. A couple of friends who are agilists and technologists, we all got together, obviously over Zoom. And we were chatting about ways and mulling about this problem and figuring out how we can do it. And so we all decided to run some social experiments, and I’ve written about it in an article that I published recently. Where we looked at agile and DevOps technologies and methodologies and technology constructs. Even up to the point of Kubernetes, because Kubernetes magically is the answer to everything, right?

Gautham Pallapa:

So I wrote at tongue in cheek article about Kubernetes, and I’ll talk a little bit about it. But there are four key agile methodologies, DevOps methodologies that I feel are really essential in order to supplement and help the child develop. And the first one is iteration planning. Believe it or not, school is an iteration, your program increment is different. And so what we found out is that if you set your iteration as one week, of course you’ll have schoolwork and all those various things there. But the child doesn’t really have something to look forward to and get those dopamine hits. Get those accomplishments and serotonin, and the feeling of pride that they accomplished something. They can get a lot of kudos from the teacher, but it’s, again, in a passive way. It’s not direct. And so what we’ve introduced is actually the thing called a star chart.

Gautham Pallapa:

We have a board in our house and we’ve identified, we use three different colors for stars for my son. I have a six year old boy. And so on what we track and measure are the additional behaviors like being good, cleaning up after actions, not throwing a tantrum, not speaking too loudly, all those various things. Things that you want to introduce as habits to the children and help them think about it and be more emotional, having more emotional intelligence. And then divided it into blue stars, which are short-term habits that we want to enforce. And then gold stars, which are longterm. The gold stars are things that give you highest amount of pride, because everyone loves the gold stars. And they’re yellow. And so it’s a matter of pride. And then what we’ve done, and this is by interacting with my son, we negotiated up on the price all for daily reward and weekly reward.

Gautham Pallapa:

So for the blue stars, let’s say if he gets four blue stars in a day, then he gets two episodes on television. And he gets to watch it. So that’s a quick win. Whenever he sees a gold star being placed on the board, he gets that hit of dopamine. It’s that accomplishment. And then he gets excited because now he knows that he is one less star to actually watching TV. And then for the gold stars we’ve done, where if he gets 10 gold stars in a week then… He’s into Beyblade, so we play with the Beys. And so if he gets 10 gold stars, he gets a Beyblade. And if he gets 15 gold stars, he gets two days of Beyblades on the weekend. So those are the weekly things that we have done. But it’s not only the positive portion, we were trying to introduce also a risk or a repercussion kind of a model into it.

Gautham Pallapa:

So if he is not good, so let’s say he did throw a tantrum, which will happen. I mean, he’s six, right? So if he gets to two red stars, he gets a timeout. And in the timeout we ask him to reflect upon why he got the red star. And then we have a discussion after the timeout about what triggered it. Why did he go there? And what happened? So we do some kind of a root cause analysis, which is the other practice that we bring in. It helps them think. And it helps them think about the emotional aspect of things. So this star chart is fun. I mean, he asks me to do the stars as quickly as possible. And so that he can look at it, reflect upon it. And he’s excited about the stars, so that’s a fascinating thing from a six year old that we’ve introduced. It’s iteration planning. And every PI, the program increment is one month. So we change what he earns the blue starts on every month, so that it doesn’t become a routine and it doesn’t become boring. So that was one funny thing.

Jayne Groll:

Yeah. I’m excited. I’m thinking, how can I get a gold star, right? Because you’re right, the inner child in all of us wants that gold star. And there’s probably some application that we could adapt to adults who are also looking for affirmation, but we’re also trying to influence changes in thinking and changes in behavior. And to the retrospective, right? Why did you throw a tantrum? What could we do better the next time? Right? I mean, taking it all the way through, having a retrospective and then doing the little bit of sprint planning along the way makes some sense. Also, it reminds me a little bit of the three ways, right? So when we’re starting to look at, let’s increase flow, shorten feedback, experiment and continue learning, that’s embedded in there as well.

Jayne Groll:

We chuckle a little bit about the stars, but there is an underlying message here. As a parent, trying to avoid children that come away from this with severe anxiety. That come away from this without rules, right? Without rules, or too many rules. Right? I mean, there’s a fine line between, I need a star for very rudimentary things. But also avoiding what we all are at risk of is becoming agoraphobics, right? Where we’re afraid to go out, and finding that balance as well. And I think that, again, being a parent right now, six years is such a wonderful age. Right? But that six year old is going to become a seven year old and an eight year old and a nine year old and a 10 year old and an adult, right? And a teenager and an adult. And I think that’s particularly important.

Jayne Groll:

Let’s talk about the use of automation, because I think there’s an element here for parents, right? Where you want to find the balance between, again, in DevOps we argue that optimizing automation is a fantastic thing, and it is. But there could be automation overload. So as a parent, how do you find that balance where you want to automate basic tasks, but you also don’t want to have overwhelming automation as well?

Gautham Pallapa:

Yeah, yeah. No, that’s a really good point. And that’s actually something that we ran an experiment on. It was on emotional check-ins. We wanted to make sure, I mean, emotional states are really impacted in this pandemic time, right? Everyone is under different levels of stress. And there are so many things that are happening. The familiarity is lost with people. And especially with young children, we want to constantly be aware that they are in the moment and they are mindful about their emotions and their developing. Because now they don’t have a playground situation where they can exchange emotions and they have small cliques where they can feed off of each other’s emotions. So what we introduced was, and a couple of my other friends have also done this, we introduced a mood planner for the kid just to check and make sure that our child is emotionally present and is emotionally healthy during the course of the day.

Gautham Pallapa:

So what we did is we took one of the applications and we downloaded it, put it on his iPad. And we asked him to automatically enter what he felt like at the beginning of school, during the first break, during lunch, and then just after school when he has to do his homework. And our thought process was, if he can continuously keep managing and measuring their emotional status and have them check-in, then it would probably help us have much more visibility. And we can pivot or adjust in that day based upon how their state is. So if they had a really crummy day, then probably instead of giving extra work to do or chores to perform, probably have a happy event, like maybe ice cream or something like that just to elevate and have a happier mood. What we found out is, why we found it extremely exciting that we automated emotional check-ins and we didn’t have to worry about it.

Gautham Pallapa:

It became a challenge for the children. And then all they did is they were hitting random buttons, and it didn’t really help the purpose. So what we did instead was we stopped that and said, automating is cool, but it’s not going to really help us. What we really want to do is focus on helping the child rather than collecting data. So we abandoned that, and in our house we switched to something very simple. At the end of the day, when we are giving that stars, we actually call that a spin down. And that’s the psychological end of the day. It signals that everyone can relax after that and they don’t have to worry about work or school or anything. And we have fun after it. And what we do is after the stars are given, we ask the child how they felt, or how the child felt at the end of the day.

Gautham Pallapa:

And what we’re doing is having the child assess overall how they felt during the day and not obsess over some runaway emotion or some bad moment that occurred for about five to 10 minutes that spoiled the entire day for the child. So an overall consensus or aggregate emotional check-in is what we started doing at the end of the day. And so it was a teachable moment where we talked to our kid and said, listen, you might feel bad for a little bit over certain things, you might throw a tantrum, you might get a timeout. All that is fine.

Gautham Pallapa:

But what’s really important is at the end of the day, if you can say that day was happy, that’s all that matters. That’s all that ultimately matters. So that was a really good teachable moment. And what we learned is too much of data can also be bad. And we as tech parents, and especially being in IT, we want to collect as much data as possible because we think there are patterns and we think we can assess. But sometimes we want to take a step back and go with just simple things. That was a cool learning.

Jayne Groll:

Yeah. I mean, I think you’re right. That particularly in the technology space there’s a point where, what matters most, collecting the data or getting the feedback? And so there’s definitely a different data point there based on what we’re talking about. Hopefully this situation will, as it exists today, will not exist entirely throughout 2021. Although we certainly expect probably first half, at least, will continue this way. But before we started recording you use the word evolutionary, and I agree with you. I think that as horrible as this pandemic has been, it has forced us into a parallel universe, of sorts. Right? It’s forced us into the future. And it doesn’t feel that in some ways we’ll go back. My husband went to an office every day, he got up every morning, got in his car, he drove to the office, came home at a certain time.

Jayne Groll:

We don’t have a lot of expectations that he will return to the office, even once things have settled down. I think the way people interact with each other, and we’re teaching our children that. That we want them to have real relationships, even if those real relationships today can’t be in person, but you also don’t want to groom a series of adults who don’t know how to be face to face, human to human. So how do we extend that? How do we come out of this, however long it takes, and still have healthy adults, healthy children who know how to interact human to human, right? That are not afraid of in-person social situations, and that have those human skills to be able to be successful in work, and of course, in their personal lives. What do we do?

Gautham Pallapa:

Yeah, that’s a really interesting question. And it’s probably going to generate a number of PhDs for people who are going to be studying this for a very long time. I know that for a fact. But I think evolutionary, and I used the word evolutionary because when we started discussing, I was admitting that I have evolved and I have changed. I’ve become a very different person compared to what I was in March. Because what we have done is we have actually increased the level of humanity within the community, if that makes sense. We are thinking as parts of a whole and not individualistically, for the most part. We know that everyone has to pitch in, and we all have to try to slay this invisible foe that we are suffering from.

Gautham Pallapa:

And so we have evolved into a state, I would say, where humanity as a whole is looking at things with a different lens. We are thinking how our actions are going to impact. In the past it used to be climate change and sustainability, all those various things, how it’s going to impact. But now this is much more broader. It’s like, how am I going to impact my community if I don’t take the right amount of secure steps, or safety steps inward? Social distancing, washing my hands properly, all those various things. The belongingness has evolved into different levels now, I feel. It’s not just our family and our inner circle and our friends, but it’s also our county, our people all over, it becomes much more humanistic. I feel that is very exciting, because people now they think about humanity at a broader level and the community at abroad level.

Gautham Pallapa:

And then the prestige increase is now based upon how you are impacting the community and how you’re impacting people. So I think that is also changed. What has also increased is, it has overnight democratized the way we interact with people. I mean, the barrier to entry is so low right now. And I know that it’s not physical interaction, but it’s much more easier to just send an email and have a video conferencing session with someone anywhere in the world really quickly. And that’s opened so many doors of learning, of growth, of interaction, exchange of ideas, sharing each one’s creative activities. It’s a wonderful place.

Gautham Pallapa:

And I think that’s the beauty of the evolution that we’re going through right now. A lot of it is going to stay, but it’ll probably go back to some physical interaction, because as humans we are social creatures, we need to have that physical interaction. But I think, like you mentioned, this was inevitable, we would probably have reached some point of it. Maybe over four or five years, but this has just accelerated what was to become. And I think not overthinking it, going for the ride, and just being safe and figuring out how we can make things better is all we can do at this time.

Jayne Groll:

Yeah. I agree with you. I think, the beginning, individual fear was probably front and center, right? How do I protect me? How do I protect my family? Hopefully empathy, right? Being able to look at the lens, through other people’s lenses. The pandemic affected the whole world. So having somebody in another country that maybe you interact with, or you hear about really struggling either because of the disease or because of economic fallout, or whatever. And, again, going back to being a parent, hopefully those are lessons we teach our children. That we’re not isolated, right? We are part of a global community, and things like this affect everybody. So we have to exhibit empathy to everybody. I hope that maybe this accelerates our human skills. I wish we could talk about this for much longer, but you know we’re going to run out of time.

Jayne Groll:

So that’s exciting. Let’s end on you, this is the end of the year. Right? And so what a year, I mean, just really a year, like no other. And it will go down in history as Lord knows what. But it will definitely go down in history as just uncharted waters for a modern civilization. How do we get through the fact that the year is ending, particularly as parents? And the end of the year signals an ending, but we also know, or at least suspect, that what we’re experiencing now is going to continue into at least part of 2021. We don’t know which part, or how long. How do you navigate that? How do you navigate the fact that New Year’s Eve doesn’t mean that things are over?

Gautham Pallapa:

That’s a hard one, especially with everyone going through pandemic fatigue right now, and being very tired. I mean, it’s eight months, right? And it’s exhausting to constantly be on guard and constantly trying to be safe. And every interaction that you have you worry about repercussions of those activities and those interactions. So it is hard. However, I think, as we have done so many times in the past, being hopeful, being optimistic, realizing that there is a horizon where this thing will end. We will be able to reach there. It’s just a couple of more months. There is hope, winter break is coming. So at least for parents, it’s going to be much more fun and interaction with the children. The holidays will always bring cheer. It’s going to be a little different.

Gautham Pallapa:

It’s going to be weird, especially because of the less number of interactions. But it’s just a couple more months. And I think we should be able to plow our way through and interact, and probably share our ideas, hopes, thoughts, and interactions through various virtual methodologies at this point in time. Try to spread cheer that way. Because as we have proved, I mean, we have evolved to the point where we can actually share oxytocin and dopamine and serotonin virtually now. [crosstalk 00:27:24] Right? You can do virtual high-fives, virtual loves, all those various things. People feel proud even on virtual mechanisms. So we are able to get those psychological needs. I think if we can continue to do that and continue to understand that we can focus on the positive of things and consider it as a blessing that we’re spending more time with our loved ones in close proximity, things that we probably would not. And we’re not sitting in traffic and slowly ticking away. Those [crosstalk 00:27:58] positive things that we can look at and use as fuel to just push through this hump.

Jayne Groll:

Yeah. I agree with you. I think it’s sometimes time to stop and count your blessings.

Gautham Pallapa:

Yep.

Jayne Groll:

As opposed to focusing on the negative. And that’s intentional, right? We have to be intentionally positive, not falsely. But really look around and be grateful for the things that we have. And maybe this year has told us as well. Gautham, thank you. You always have such amazing insight, particularly in the humanness that all of us need to look at from particularly those of us in the tech space. Tech people, the term techie implies that we live and breathe tech all the time, everywhere. And that somewhere along the way we lost our humanity, and that’s not true. And so I always appreciated when you bring the human spirit, particularly in your role as CTO of a very large organization. Just reminding us to be human. And I think that’s really important. So thank you. I hope we get to do this again. That’s awesome.

Gautham Pallapa:

Yeah, thank you for having me.

Jayne Groll:

As always, you have an open invitation. So if you’re listening again, I’m with Gautham Pallapa, CTO of VMware. Talking about applying agility to parenting, but also to being human during very, very uncharted waters. I want to remind you that DevOps Institute is hosting a global skillet festival. So we feel it’s important to celebrate the humans of DevOps. It is the week of December seven, so it’s coming up really soon. Hopefully we’ll get to post this before then. And again, we’re wishing everyone healthy, safe, connected end of 2020 and into 2021. I’m Jayne Groll of DevOps Institute, and you’ve been listening to The Humans of DevOps Podcast. Take care everyone.

Outro:

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