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Choose Digital CTO makes case for "NoOps" software delivery approach

Allowing developers to create, test and deploy updates alone lets companies take risks and innovate with greater ease, argues Mario Cruz

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Enterprises stand to lose business to startups by refusing to give their development teams the freedom to create, test and deploy new service offerings as and when they want to, according to one IT professional.

Speaking at the Jenkins User Conference in London on 22 June 2015, Mario Cruz, chief technology officer (CTO) of white-label media provider Choose Digital, said cloud technologies and the emergence of DevOps-style software development techniques are empowering startups to go head-to-head with enterprise firms.

“We’ve seen this change happen in the past couple of years, where a six-man team can take on an enterprise today, if you empower them to do that,” said Cruz.

This, he added, is because combining cloud and DevOps speeds up the time it takes for developers to act on ideas, while the legacy, on-premise investments of enterprises makes this harder for them to do.

“The sooner we can get an idea into production, the sooner we can generate dollars off the back of it and the longer our startup survives,” said Cruz.

“The problem we have today is that technology is so cheap, it allows copycats to appear. It’s not just about being first, but being better and getting consistently better. That’s the reason enterprises are getting left behind – because guys like us can do this,” he added.

Choose Digital specialises in the delivery of white-label e-commerce stores to brands such as Coke, Marriott and United Airways, which can be used by their customers to purchase goods using loyalty rewards as currency.

The company was founded in 2011, with a team consisting of six developers and one salesperson, said Cruz, with the latter group now deploying a minimum of five code changes a day.

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This is made possible by the firm’s “NoOps” approach to pushing out app and software updates that sees developers create, test and deploy alone, without any input from operations.

“Every developer has the power to pick up production and support it on their own, which gives them the responsibility, visibility and power to make any changes they want,” said Cruz.

While he accepts this way of working means developers are solely accountable for any mistakes made, the weight of this responsibility tends to ensure the work they do is of a very high standard.

“With power comes responsibility – at first it’s a nightmare, but when you’re a developer and you’re waking up two or three times a night because of crappy code, things suddenly get better a lot quicker,” he added.

This approach feeds into the “fail fast” mantra many cloud and DevOp-type firms wax lyrical about, whereby these two approaches allow firms to try new things, assess if they work and then alter their approach accordingly.

“Everyone says ‘fail fast’, but it’s not just that. It’s the ability not to fear failure that counts. Let’s try something, and if it breaks with continuous delivery, we’ll change it,” said Cruz. 

This has competitive benefits, added Cruz, as it gives his firm flexibility to try new things at potentially high-risk times that could drive sales. Similarly, they can also be quickly discontinued if the desired effect isn’t achieved.

For example, during high-sale days, such as Christmas Eve or Black Friday, developers traditionally wouldn't dare make any major changes to how websites or apps operate, as retailers were wary of the risk, from a service point of view, to sales. The “fail fast” approach allows the firm to make changes regardless of how busy a website or app could be, said Cruz.

As another example, Cruz cited a recent promotional campaign the company did to drive sales around “classic rock” acts, which occurred around the same time as a release by Taylor Swift.

“We weren’t promoting Taylor Swift, but we started to and found out the people we were targeting might buy Taylor Swift’s music for their daughters. We sold 30% more Taylor Swift albums that day,” he said.

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