Overcome the obstacle, or remove it?

Raganwald posted a beautiful essay that separates some concerns and explains some disagreements: how in a biased system, the best action for me is to work within the system, work extra hard and succeed anyway; but the best action for the community is to change the system, work extra hard and be hated but leave an easier path for others who come later.

Working to remove systemic obstruction improves the lot of people for generations to come.

This is also what we’re doing with DevOps, with automation of the path from working code to production software. We’re removing obstacles to our own work. As a developer, I want to ship useful software. Making deployment and tests and monitoring easy reduces obstacles. The work of smoothing this process seems like overhead, but it’s really an accelerator. It changes the system. It helps all future software ship faster and more safely.

In DevOps, the lucky part is, it pays off quickly. We’re not doing this for future generations. We’re doing it for future selves. Next-week-me is going to be glad I took the time to get this script solid, to trigger on commit instead of manually, to set up an alert on disk space and error level. When we automate our own work we’re changing the system we work in. Our team operates in a different environment next week, and we made that environment more productive.

In people-culture this takes longer. And the people we help, we don’t ever hear from most of them. The changes do happen, and it does help. The Supreme Court declared gay marriage legal, and this shifts the default position in arguments about it. Codes of Conduct are becoming common, and now the conferences without them are the exception, and soon the OSS communities without one will be the exception. This is groundwork for communities that reject mean behavior – every discouraging remark is an obstacle to contribution. Personally, I see evidence that I’m helping once in a while: a woman who speaks at our user group and wouldn’t have without my example and encouragement. I believe that every little clue like this represents hundreds which go unseen.

Thank you to the people who are working to change the system, even when it isn’t in their interest. Who skip overcoming the obstacles, and instead dig toward removing them. To people who help the team be more productive even when it reduces their personal list of shipped features. To people who work against systemic bias in our communities. And to Reginald Braithwaite – great essay!