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The Interruptive Nature of Operations

Avleen Vig (Etsy), Carolyn Rowland (Independent)
Location: 212 Level: Intermediate
Average rating: ****.
(4.20, 20 ratings)

Operations professions are notoriously interrupt-driven. At each level in your career, you should be able to master your interruptions instead of allowing them to master you. Junior engineers may have a stronger focus on ticket-driven work, while more senior engineers may be responsible for large scale projects involving multiple teams. Both have to manage significant numbers of interruptions on a daily basis. In this course we present the problem and solutions from the perspective of both the engineer and manager. We highlight research in Interruption Science to validate the impact of interruptions on productivity and discuss the lessons learnt from it.

This tutorial is in two parts. In the first 20 minutes we reveal the depth of interruptions faced every day, their causes and impacts. The engineer who cannot successfully mitigate the impact of interruptions risks limiting his or her promotion potential and access to cool projects. A manager is less likely to assign a distracted and unfocused engineer to a critical project. There is also a cost to organizations when managers need to micromanage these workers to maintain productivity. These challenges also make them poor candidates for independent and remote work assignments. Finally we cover the case of remote employees, who are especially vulnerable to the effects of interruptions without strong support from their management, team and families.

In the remainder, we bring together academic research and proven methods to combat distractions. We also cover ways to manage your remote office for maximum productivity such as preventing workday sprawl that eats into your evenings and weekends. Interruption management requires the integration of different tools and methods to be effective, which will be discussed in detail. The final requirement to improving productivity and reducing the impact of interruptions, is to create a positive team culture which understands these costs, and values reducing them. By the end of the tutorial, the attendee will have a good grasp on the options available to them, as well as a ways to make necessary changes to succeed.

We bring a combined 40+ years of experience in the field of Operations Engineering. In that time we have seen many issues facing individuals, teams and managers and have tried numerous methods to integrate professional interruptions and alleviate the impact of personal interruptions in our own environments. This tutorial brings together research in the field, along with our personal experiences working in different Operations environments.

Photo of Avleen Vig

Avleen Vig


Avleen is a Staff Operations Engineer at Etsy, where he spends much of his time growing the infrastructure for selling knitted gloves and cross-stitch periodic tables. Before joining Etsy he worked at several large tech companies, including EarthLink and Google, as well as a number of small successful startups.

Photo of Carolyn Rowland

Carolyn Rowland


Carolyn Rowland began working with UNIX in 1986; her professional career as a UNIX system administrator took off in 1991. Carolyn chaired the USENIX LISA ‘12 conference in San Diego in December 2012. Carolyn’s two industry passions continue to be finding new ways to encourage and educate people to enter the operations professions and helping advance women in tech through strong community and sharing of best practices for dealing with existing gender issues in the computing professions.