What causes DevOps Burnout? (San Francisco special)

In response to my last post, I was sent an Email asking what causes burnout and why people are still passionate about their jobs despite how stressful they are. The following was my Email response:

Every experience is individual and I can only expand on my own, but I will offer what perspective I can. In my environment and among my peers, I have noticed the following:

The Landscape: 

  • People experienced to work in a DevOps environment seem very difficult to find, but that perception is heavily concentrated here in San Francisco. There are people all over the country and world with the talents we compete over hiring in the Bay. 
  • Counterpoint: Given how much "more personal" DevOps organizations are when compared to traditional development workplaces, something might be lost if they are primarily off-site. The same bonds won't form and the very valuable "drop in and learn" time will be unavailable. 
  • New startups are popping up every week and all are trying to fish from the same talent pool. Companies are having difficulty attracting loyalty that goes beyond the biweekly check. 
  • Too many people - especially the younger crowd - want to work at a pre-IPO startup for three years, flip stock, and be rich. They don't mind packing five people into a two-bedroom apartment. They overwork themselves for the short-term success of their product, even recreational use of Ritalin so they can code for sixteen hours at a stretch.
  • One more salient, uniquely "San Francisco" problem is the housing crisis. I feel I am well paid and already moved out of mid-Market after only a single year, but I still think that I could be homeless far too quickly if something happened to my job. There are people around me who know their $6000 monthly take-hope is more than anyone else in their family, but housing still robs them of the ability to survive even two months without a job.

The Hard Job: 

  • From an Operations standpoint, the job is relatively thankless. A wonderful operations engineer is one whose work you never see. The flow from concept to architecture to infrastructure to platform is nearly invisible in a post-datacenter world. When everything is silent, your Operations staff is doing a great job.
  • The product (web app, something-as-a-service, or whatever) gets all the design awards, new features, and revenue streams, but the platform is ALWAYS a cost center. When a startup goes from "do everything we can to make a great product" to "do everything we can to boost the share price," the cost center jobs usually get put under greater scrutiny. 
  • Because innovation moves so fast, we are always expected to be on the cutting edge of automation, integration, continuous delivery, security, and more. It's hard to keep up and not all companies give their staff time to attend group events like DevOps Days.
  • It's actually pretty technically difficult - and continuous experimentation and work is required to keep up.

Why are we so passionate about this? Well I'm interested in your theories and I can tell you why I am so passionate about my role.

  • Because innovation moves so fast. While it is difficult, it is still very exciting to implement a new tool or workflow that shaves hours of work off every week.
  • It's actually pretty technically difficult. While this is also a challenge, it is a very satisfying one to overcome. 
  • This is probably not common, but I particularly enjoy being in the background. I love it when smarter-than-me developers need a specific kind of build and toolchain to be successful - even if my work is never seen by the customer. I have a fondness for a sort of "wind beneath the wings" role. 
  • Spreading the work and ideas around - especially in jobs that promote open-source contribution, is continually rewarding over time. Seeing a trick you hacked together show up months later in someone's presentation is very flattering - especially if credit is given.
  • What is true with code is also true with compassion and philosophy: Having a good idea, sharing it, and collecting good ideas from others makes everyone smarter, better, and nicer.