Build resilient systems at scale
October 12–14, 2015 • New York, NY

Seeing the invisible: Discovering operations expertise

John Allspaw (Adaptive Capacity Labs)
10:05am–10:25am Wednesday, 10/14/2015
Location: Grand Ballroom
Average rating: ****.
(4.20, 35 ratings)
Slides:   1-FILE 

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

Adaptive Capacity Labs

John Allspaw has worked in software systems engineering and operations for twenty years in many different environments: biotech, government, online media, social networking, and e-commerce. He started out tuning parallel clusters running vehicle crash simulations for the U.S. government, and then moved on to the Internet in 1997. He built the backing infrastructure at,, Friendster, and Flickr, and Etsy. He served as SVP of Engineering and then Chief Technology Officer at Etsy, and holds an MSc in Human Factors and Systems Safety from Lund University.

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