Last week, Chief Customer Officer Chrissy Keeton shared the challenges of change and identifying polarities at SingleStone.
In this week’s Q&A, we’re talking all things DevOps…and all things cloud (quite literally). From NASA and rockets to helping Fortune 100 companies leave their antiquated data centers and move into the cloud, Chris Belyea shares his technical journey and what led him to his current role at SingleStone.
Get to know Chris Belyea, Technical Director of Cloud and DevOps
You’re a technical guy, how did you get started with technology?
My first job ever was working for my neighbor’s business digitizing published papers from scientific conferences. At first, he’d scan them as PDFs and put them on CD-ROMs, but then eventually he put it on the web.
One of the first things I did was try and figure out how I could automate the process because there were so many manual steps to it. It really feels like it’s all come full circle because now that’s in essence what my team and I do today.
So far no one else has been able to literally talk about their very first job. Let’s fast forward, what about your first “office job”?
After graduating I worked for Accenture. I worked on a project helping run a data center for a federal government client.
I worked on the monitoring tools for the data center, which was a really great learning opportunity because I was able to get exposure to all the different areas of running a data center: the computing, networking, storage, operations, security, and so on. Eventually, I started working on systems to automate server provisioning and management. Around that time AWS was starting to take off, and I knew that cloud computing was going to be the next big thing.
What’s it like working at a massive firm like Accenture compared to SingleStone?
After six years at Accenture, I was looking for a smaller and possibly less structured environment. I stumbled upon SingleStone and was immediately intrigued. I saw an opportunity to continue to build upon my skills and work with some super interesting people and was hired as the second engineer in our nascent cloud and DevOps practice. One advantage of being at a smaller company is that it’s easier to be nimble. In a rapidly changing field like cloud and DevOps, it’s essential.
Needless to say, things got off to a very “SingleStone” start. On my first official day with SingleStone, the company was having its December All-Hands Meeting and later that night was the holiday party. I walked in, was immediately handed a mimosa, and saw the CEO of our company, Jimmy Chou, wearing a fuzzy, pink onesie. Apparently, enough people donated to a charity, so he was forced to wear it. I thought for a split second, “should I turn around and leave,” and I’m so glad I didn’t because SingleStone is truly a special place.
What’s a project that challenged you?
I worked on our Team Insights product which was a big undertaking and wildly rewarding to see my efforts in a tangible product. We help clients build solutions to business problems, and that often means partnering with them to build an application, automate their systems, or create a product. Creating a product for SingleStone was fun because we got to create something for ourselves, from scratch, using all of the diverse expertise on our team, from software engineering to DevOps and cloud infrastructure to UX design. Additionally, designing and building a SaaS solution was a new challenge.
From a client perspective, a memorable project was from a couple of years ago. A Fortune 100 company was trying to close down their data centers and move into the cloud. We were helping them accomplish that, working with their commercial bank division on migrating some apps. Doing the actual migrations was fun, we had a really great team, and built a scalable methodology for planning and executing the migrations. Usually when you’re moving some big business system, it’s a standard, well-defined, generic architecture. Every app is different, but they all have similar features and often fit into common pattern. Some of the software they were using was pretty old school and unique, so we had to do a lot of clever things to make it work, but we got it to work nicely.
Where do you see the greatest potential in your expertise?
Cloud and automation is obviously my big thing, those are areas we’re working in every day. It seems like everyone’s striving to move into the cloud and use it effectively, but I think it’s still in its infancy in terms of companies figuring out how to not treat it like another data center and—most importantly—how this and other technology transformations can meaningfully support their businesses.
I think bigger than that though is figuring out how the latest and greatest technology comes across and actually translates into something valuable. You read Hacker News and email newsletters, and there are literally new things daily. The rate of change is exponential. Kubernetes is becoming mainstream and is the cloud-agnostic runtime that many have long hoped for. (Remember OpenStack?) Software-defined networking is a big component of Kubernetes’ rise and appeal. Continuous delivery—once a rarely-achieved ideal state—is now table stakes. Cloud adoption isn’t slowing down. Serverless has moved from its “glueware” niche to being a real option for new applications. And within a few years, there will be a few more paradigm shifts.
I’ve been tinkering with computers since I was four (my first was a TI-99/4a!), and personally, the technological advancements will always captivate me. But what excites me professionally is turning the tools and trends and technobabble into something valuable for those who just want to improve their business.
What is your advice for someone considering your field of work?
There’s no clear way to get into it. In other words, you can go into school and study computer science, which in itself isn’t necessarily a direct path to software engineering, and that’s one path into DevOps. Another path is infrastructure and operations. This may start at a help desk and move all the way up to a data center, but understanding computing and virtualization, storage, and networking are all crucial.
Technology is very much a meritocracy. You can have a PhD in computer science and be phenomenal—or not. You can have no degree and be phenomenal—or not. There aren’t any real hard and fast prerequisites for anyone to get in and get involved. With that said, you have to be curious and always learning. I mean nonstop. If you get tired of either of those things, then you probably have to look for some other career at that point. Stay hands-on and go deep in certain spaces, but also have breadth across quite a few areas to be able to do all the things required of you. There’s no one book or guide you can read to become a certified cloud or DevOps person.
If you could pick any client for SingleStone to work with, who would it be and why?
I’ll give you two answers for different reasons. Selfishly, I think working with NASA or one of the private space enterprises would be really interesting just because they’re working on problems that are very tangible and physical. Everything that we do typically is ethereal, right? It’s all bits and bytes, it might be a website or some other system you can interact with or an app, but it’s all virtual in most ways. The converse of that is building a rocket and blasting it off from earth and sending it somewhere.
The other answer is humanitarian issues like disaster relief or healthcare, that sort of thing. I think it’d be really rewarding. It’s also kind of the flip side of all the virtual things that we do and is a very tangible impact in that case with human beings.
What’s your favorite part of SingleStone?
The flat organization. Coming from a huge multinational firm to a place with one hundred or fewer, it’s definitely a culture shift. And it’s fantastic. There’s some hierarchy, we might have a couple of internal processes here and there. But having a flat organization to where I can go up to Jimmy or Ryan, Chrissy or Tricia, or whomever, and just tell them what’s on my mind, and get their input or feedback…that doesn’t happen with a huge company. That’s not to say that we won’t have to evolve and adapt and change as SingleStone grows, but I think we’re starting from such a good place, and we won’t lose all of that along the way.
What has your experience been working at consulting firms, large or small? How do you translate the shiny, new cloud or DevOps technology into something of business value? Let us know your thoughts. Comment below or send us a message.
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