Why are devops more dev than ops in France? Cultural exception or communication problem?

At the beginning of each devopsdays event I’ve been to, the MC asks the audience to raise hands if they identify themselves as mainly “devs” or mainly “ops” or neither. At previous devopsdays I’ve attended in Europe (Rome, London, Amsterdam…) there has usually been a majority of “primarily ops”, (while not always a huge majority, it was a clear one, say 60-70%).

At the Paris devopsdays last year, it was very different: roughly 70% of attendees identified themselves as “mainly devs”.

This simple statistic made the conference quite different to other devopsdays I have participated in. Mostly because many more of the discussions started from a viewpoint that was more development focused, obviously. Many of the same topics and questions than I’ve discussed before, but looked at the other way round, such as “How do I collaborate with my ops guys to get my code deployed quicker and make them see the value in that?” or “How can I better understand the ops guys and provide deliverables that they are happy to work with?”. This obviously lead to some great open spaces, and I think just phrasing some of these topics “the other way round from usual” made us take a new look on them.

But back to the main subject: why this significant variation in population? One of the key points of devops is metrics and analysing them, so I ended up spending some time thinking about this and brainstorming with other attendees and members of our monthly Paris Devops meetup group. Where, by the way, this trend seems to be confirmed – a majority of “primarily developers”, and less people from operations, although not such a big divide as the 2-day devopsdays conference.

A few ideas that came up, in no particular order, and with no particular analysis of “that sounds legit” or “we may have not been in our right mind when we came up with that one” include:

  • French ops guys didn’t hear about the conference (bad communication? wrong channels?)
  • French ops guys just can’t get the time off work to attend a conference that’s not a purely technical conference
  • French ops guys just can’t get the time off work to attend a conference because ops are not considered important enough to the business to warrant spending time at conferences
  • French ops guys just can’t get the time off work to attend a conference because they were all on call (astreinte) both days
  • The French ops guys heard so many French devs were coming and boycotted the conference because they don’t like to mix 😉
  • French ops use a lot of open source and are regular attendees of the more ops-oriented events (FOSDEM, RMLL/LSM, OWF, Solutions Linux, …) which are all free, and were put off by the fact that the conference was not free (unlike many dev conferences that are not only not free, but actually pretty expensive, such as Devoxx France)
  • There are too many good conferences that interest French ops people and not enough for devs, so the proportions changed based on interest
  • French ops don’t feel concerned by the issues devops addresses
  • French ops are already converted and practice devops and don’t need to attend a conference on the subject
  • French devs are more comfortable speaking English than French ops (the conference was in English, a quite unusual case for a conference in France)
  • The programmed talks attracted more devs than ops
  • In French we call “ops” a rather different name, either “sysadmin” or just “admin” (both derivatives of the official term “administrateur système”). Maybe the ops didn’t understand “devops” was about them too. Should “devops” be translated as “devadmins” or “devsysadmins” or “devsys” in French?

Obviously, it’s hard to draw a conclusion from this single data point, and it’s many possible explanations. However, I’m really interested to know the real reason(s) behind this “cultural exception” (which is maybe to be expected in France – did you know we have a specific term for “l’exception culturelle française ”?).

As an organiser of the devopsdays Paris conference and the Paris Devops meetup group, I want to understand how to adapt these events to cater for whoever comes to them. And if there is a mis-communication problem about what devops is, and who should care in France, I certainly want to work to fix that too! And as a participant in these events, that is “mainly ops”, I’d love to see more of my peers joining in the discussion too.

I sure hope that the next devopsdays in Paris will prove me wrong, and that proportions will be more even. But in the mean time do you have any ideas as to which explanation(s) may have influenced attendance? Or any we missed?

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