Build resilient systems at scale
28–30 October 2015 • Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Seeing the invisible: Discovering operations expertise

John Allspaw (Etsy)
10:30–10:50 Thursday, 29/10/2015
Location: Auditorium
Average rating: ****.
(4.13, 94 ratings)

Having spent a large part of my career leading operations and infrastructure teams, I hadn’t yet found satisfying answers to these questions:

  • What makes them good at this?
  • What is necessary to help them get better?

On the surface, these sound like it could be answered by any book on teams or management found in your local airport bookstore, filled with inspiring yet abstract (read: interesting yet useless) ideas. But they can’t, because the type of research those books rely on (if they do at all) hasn’t been done in our field – at least not yet. It became clear to me that while I’d been fond of comparing software operations to other disciplines, I had no science to back that up.

This is the kind of thinking that lands one in a Master’s degree program in Human Factors and Systems Safety. And it did, for me.
I’d like to talk a little bit about what I’ve found in the last three years, the critical importance of this type of research and our community’s responsibility to ’level-up’ in our understanding of it, and if I have time: lay out some paths that you won’t regret taking that won’t require a master’s degree.

Photo of John Allspaw

John Allspaw


John Allspaw is Etsy’s chief technology officer, leading the Product Engineering, Infrastructure, and Operations teams. Previously, he was the SVP of infrastructure and operations at Etsy. For over 17 years, John has worked in system operations in the biotech, government, and online media industries. John began his career running vehicle crash simulations for the US government. In 1997, he made the leap to the web, building the technical infrastructures at Salon, InfoWorld, Friendster, and Flickr. John is the author of The Art of Capacity Planning and Web Operations: Keeping the Data on Time, both by O’Reilly. He holds a BS from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and an MSC from Lund University.