Gamedays on the Obama Campaign

Dylan Richard (Modest, Inc - formerly Obama for America)
Velocity Culture, Mission City Ballroom
Average rating: ****.
(4.51, 82 ratings)

Main idea:
We did a series of gamedays on the Obama campaign to prepare for election day.
Doing these exercises allowed us to illuminate critical limitations in our systems in a safe environment with time to fix them, and made election day (which is traditionally crazy) uneventful.

Why we did a gameday
building out infrastructure for 18 months to support 1 (4 day long) day
in the end; all of the tech could fail, but we needed to be sure we could GOTV
What we did
Process changes to better respond to failure
Defining desired failure states
Fast iteration to keep engineering focus
How we did it:
low feature sprints to focus on durability
production-like staging environment – allows freedom to really break everything.
make it about the response, not the specific cases being tested
started according to plan – broke from that plan
DevOps/Management backchannel
there are no safewords (if we’re acting like it’s for play, then it isn’t real).
killing things:
security groups
/etc/hosts overrides
Results of doing the gameday:
Found weak points and fixed them
Teams worked on failure points from both sides of the problem (api and client, db and code, etc.)
Runbooks: actual documentation stating how to react to issues.
Need to reproduce – do more on smaller scale on regular schedule.

Photo of Dylan Richard

Dylan Richard

Modest, Inc - formerly Obama for America

Dylan Richard is the full-bearded technologist who, as Director for Engineering, quietly led the 40 engineers of Obama for America’s Technology team to victory in 2012. Previously, he helmed technical teams as Vice President of Engineering at skinnyCorp (home of and was a Senior Developer at Crate & Barrel. Dylan lives in Chicago, Illinois, with his patient wife, Sarah, two amazing sons, a cat, and a rotating stable of old diesel VWs. His possible favorite claim to fame is having his chest-length beard proclaimed “fierce” by President Barack Obama.


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