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Heston Blumenthal - an unlikely DevOps engineer

By richard vodden, PA IT transformation expert

I was relaxing in front of the TV over the weekend and noticed that All4 (a channel in the UK) has put up all the old episodes of Heston Blumenthal’s cooking programmes. His name is synonymous with the highest levels of excellence and I was reminded of a conversation with a client about a DevOps transformation. He said:

“I want us to be the best IT shop in the world – well maybe not the best, that might be too far, but certainly one of the most excellent.”

Excellence is something our clients want to achieve and DevOps – the process of automating software delivery and infrastructure changes – is one way we can help them do it. And as I was watching Heston’s programmes, what resonated with me were the parallels between the chef’s methods and the way we approach a DevOps intervention.

Heston’s approach has four broad stages:

  1. What information can he get about this subject?
  2. How can he measure the quality of what he’s achieving?
  3. What might he do to change what he’s doing?
  4. What effect have each of those things had?

In the episode I was watching, Heston was tackling a fine British institution – fish and chips. The first thing he did was attack the history books and speak to a food historian about the heritage of the dish. He then reached out to two or three of the best ‘chippies’ to understand the approach they take.

Having gathered a wide range of information, he returned to his kitchen to tackle a critical part of the dish – the batter. He knew the crispiness of the batter was very important so he invented a machine to measure it. Like many of the best ideas, it’s very simple. A small electromagnet squashes some of the batter and a microphone picks up the sound of the crunch which measures how crispy the batter is.

Heston then looked to vary every element of his batter recipe in some way, eg using different flour, adjusting resting times etc. To test the success of these variations, he measured each of these approaches using his machine and tested them out on the general public. This was all in the effort to make the best fish and chips possible.

And these four stages are similar to what we do as DevOps engineers. When a client comes to us with a problem, we ask ourselves:

  1. What do we know about IT delivery overall? What do we know about your IT delivery? What does excellence look like to you?
  2. How can we measure success? What exactly are we trying to improve? What hard data demonstrates the current state of affairs?
  3. What specific changes can we make that might alter the current position? Which of those do we expect to be the most effective?
  4. What were the outcomes to these changes? What effect did these interventions have?

As anyone who has worked closely with me will attest, I believe measurement is vital to success. And we should mirror Heston’s approach. Not only should we devise new metrics and measure our success against those new metrics, but look at the bigger picture to check we’ve made a positive impact.

Find out more about our work in IT Transformation.

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