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Rock Shows and DevOps By @Datical | @DevOpsSummit [#DevOps]

The individual musicians all work in their IDEs, also known as living rooms, perfecting their code

Software Deployments, Rock Shows, and DevOps

I’m going to see my favorite band ever tonight.

In honor of this rare delight, I’ve decided to torture you readers by making an analogy between a rock show and a software release…

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A little bit of background – this band was my first concert.  I was 16, and went to the show with the guys I had just started a garage band with.  I had been a band nerd for a long time by that point, and the list of instruments I could play poorly was as long as my forearm.  In this particular band, I played the part of mediocre drummer.

When I found out I was moving to Austin, The Live Music Capital of the World (“Screw you, Nashville!”), I thought, “Wow!  I should start a band, and this time… instead of being a mediocre drummer, I should work really hard to become a mediocre guitar player and singer!”  With stars in my eyes I made the long drive from Washington to Texas.

Let me tell you, it was all worth it.  There is little in this world that compares to the feeling of performing live in a downtown bar in Austin, where the eyes and ears of all 12 people are fixed in rabid appreciation for your mediocrity…

It all begins with development. The individual musicians all work in their IDEs, also known as “living rooms,” perfecting their code.  Each song is like a feature requirement designed to bring joy to your users.  When you get together to rehearse, often a few times a week, it’s an exercise in build and continuous integration, as you work to make sure each code module passes its integration tests and performs well with other code.  It’s never perfect, and you end up making small tweaks to get things just right – “Hey, you need to wait a half-a-beat before coming in so I can finish this phrase,” or, “No, no, it goes two bars in 6/4 time, then it goes back to 4/4 for the chorus.”

You start with a core setlist – the main trunk – which has performed well with users in the past.  New songs are experimented with in branches.  Those that fit with the band and can be learned by the scheduled maintenance window are merged back into the main branch.  Some don’t make it because they turn out to be too difficult, don’t integrate well, or there’s just not enough time to get them perfected before the release.  These latter branches are saved in the backlog for the next release.

Once you get the release, or setlist, perfected in development, it’s time to move the whole show into the test environment.  This happens 1-2 weeks before the show, and involves packaging the release and moving from the lead guitar player’s garage into a practice studio, a completely different environment.    This is where work begins on perfecting the release – you figure out what configuration the band is going to perform in, program breaks into the setlist, and decide which mediocre jokes you want to tell.  The stress starts to build, knowing that the maintenance window is fast approaching.  Copious amounts of cheap beer are imbibed, immediately making everything sound better.  Confidence picks up – “We can do this!”

Before you know it, the maintenance window hits.  You arrive early to the bar, lug in all your gear, and if you’re lucky, you get to spend a little bit of time making adjustments in the production environment – also known as sound check, before going live.  As in development and test, a lot of tweaks are required to get the mix to sound just right on stage.  Amps, effects pedals, and the PA system all require a lot of knob turning, and at least one guitar string broke during the migration.

This is where DevOps comes in.  For bands who can attract more than 12 listeners, sound engineers, lighting technicians, and roadies are hired to work with the band in development and test.  Collaboration happens to ensure they are prepared to support the live performance.  During the maintenance window, they make sure the environment is set up correctly, checking lighting and the house mix during sound check.  Once the show goes live, they monitor the production environment to make sure performance meets expectations, and that the users are receiving the experience you intended.  This is difficult in large venues, and little tricks are used to make sure all the sound is captured.  Mics are placed just so in front of guitar amps.  Sometimes bands put their drummer in a plastic cage so the drum mics won’t pick up extraneous sound and introduce feedback into the mix.  Personally, I’m against caging your drummer.  It’s my belief that drummers should be allowed to roam free, sleeping on couches wherever they can be found.  But I digress…

Now it’s release time – the maintenance window is upon us.  You throw down 5-6 Jager-bombs to settle your nerves and hope really hard that you don’t need a bathroom break during the show.  You always get started at least 15 minutes late – usually because someone already needs a bathroom break.  Not a good omen…  You walk up on stage, grab your instrument for some last minute tuning, and step up to the mic.

Then all hell breaks loose.

Putting on a rock show is like piloting the Millenium Falcon – it’s simultaneously the fastest ship in the galaxy while being a “piece of junk.”  The stage lights are so hot you start to sweat immediately, hoping those Jager-bombs are escaping through your pores and delaying the impending requirement for that bathroom break.  Things are loud and confusing – you can never factor in the ambient noise from the crowd during sound check.  The monitors aren’t as loud as you needed them to be, and you only hope that you’re singing in a recognizable key.  The sound drowns out your drummer, the heartbeat of the band, and you hope that muscle memory has set in so everyone remembers the proper timing.  You realize while singing a verse that you, in fact, don’t remember any of the words to said verse – you invent some nifty humming on the fly.  The bass player imbibed too much, and is swaying wildly next to you – you pray that your guitar necks don’t “cross streams” and bring the show to a grinding halt.  You’re exhausted after only three songs, knowing there’s at least another hour of performance to go.

It’s intense.  It’s scary.  And it’s a complete rush.

More Stories By Rex Morrow

Rex is the Marketing Director at Datical, a venture-backed software company whose solution, Datical DB, manages and simplifies database schema change management in support of high velocity application releases. Prior to Datical, Rex co-founded Texas Venture Labs, a startup accelerator at the University of Texas, and received his MBA from the McCombs School of Business. Before graduate school, Rex served as a Captain in the U.S. Army, and was awarded two bronze stars during combat deployments in Iraq.

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