Kicking off Disruption With Fingers Crossed

When live demos bomb: Ryan Shriver discusses lessons learned in the trenches.

by Ryan Shriver

Last week was a little nerve racking for me. I’m pretty sure I’m speaking for Dave too. In fact, I know I am. The quote “Stay Positive and keep Fingers Crossed” sums it up.

I had volunteered Dave and myself to present our DevOps DeMystified talk for a customer. They were kicking off a DevOps disruption event for their employees and we were the opening band.

The talk incorporates a live demo that creates our entire infrastructure in the cloud (AWS). On this infrastructure we launch a build server (Jenkins) that builds and deploys the app. We do this all with one command that takes about 13 minutes from start to live app:

Code snippet

Since last year’s Innovate Virginia, Dave and myself have done the talk a few times and the app has always come up in 13-14 minutes. Dave even remarked about how consistent the times were.

And then last Friday live in front of people the app decided not launch. No joy.

At the final run-through we had bombed in front of a roomful of DevOps coaches. Dave was quickly triaging the problem and after a few minutes it launched just fine, but it was far from smooth. I was reminded of the painful lesson in the hazards of live demos in public. Despite having run something 20 or more times without incident it only takes one mishap to shake your nerves.

I knew it couldn’t fail for the big event on Tuesday so on Friday we did post mortem (see below) and then over the weekend we redesigned aspects of the talk so it flowed better. We also added a hot standby just in case. While Dave worked on the engineering items I updated the slides and rehearsed my points.

As I was preparing over the weekend I caught part of an interview with singer Julie Andrews that was timely. During the interview she said, “Amateurs practice 'til they get it right. Professionals practice 'til they can’t get it wrong.” Her quote struck a chord and gave me further motivation to not get it wrong Tuesday. 

I’m happy to report all our work paid off! The app came up on cue and the audience exchanged texts and selfies with the app during the demo. The only hiccup was my Chrome browser had cached the IP addresses from previous tests, but after about 10 seconds Dave fixed it and we were good.

Sigh. Of. Relief.

I slept well Tuesday night. I didn’t have to keep my fingers crossed anymore. 

Post Mortem Notes

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Ryan Shriver
Cloud and DevOps Lead
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