Infectious Media CTO on how DevOps is affecting ICT teams

people_daniel_de_sybelThe fourth employee of Infectious Media, Dan de Sybel started his career as an Operations Analyst for, where during a six year tenure, he launched the European Technology division, producing bespoke international reporting and workflow platforms, as well as numerous time saving systems and board level business intelligence.

Dan grew the EU Tech team to 12 people before moving agency side, to Media Contacts UK, part of the Havas Media Group. At Havas, Dan was responsible for key technology partnerships and spearheading the agency’s use of the Right Media exchange under its Adnetik trading division.

At Infectious Media, Dan’s Technology division yielded one of the first Big Data analysis systems to reveal and visualise the wealth of information that RTB provides to its clients. From there, the natural next step was to produce the Impression Desk Bidder to be able to action the insights gained from the data in real time and thus close the loop on the programmatic life cycle. Dan’s team continues to enhance its own systems, whilst integrating the technology of other best-in-class suppliers to provide a platform that caters to each and every one of our clients’ needs.

Ahead of his presentation at DevOps World on November 4th in London, Dan shares his insights on how he feels DevOps is affecting ICT teams, the DevOps challenges he is facing as well as what he is doing to overcome it.

What does your role involve and how are you involved with DevOps?

​Infectious Media runs its own real-time bidding software that takes part in hundreds of thousands of online auctions for online advertising space every second. As CTO, it’s my job to ensure we have the right team, processes and practices in place to ensure this high frequency, low latency system remains functional 24×7 and adapts to the ever changing marketplace and standards of the online advertising industry.

DevOps practices naturally evolved at Infectious Media due to our small teams, 1 week sprint cycles and growing complexity of systems. Our heavy use of the cloud meant that we could experiment frequently with different infrastructure setups and adapt code to deliver the best possible value for the investment we were prepared to make. These conditions resulted in far closer working of the developers and the operational engineers and we have not looked back since.

How have you seen DevOps affecting IT teams’ work?

Before adopting the DevOps philosophy, we struggled to bring the real-time bidding​ system to fruition, never sure if problems originated in the code, in the operational configurations of infrastructure, or in the infrastructure itself. Whilst the cloud brought many benefits, never having complete control of the infrastructure stack led to ​many latency and performance issues that could not be easily explained. Furthermore, being unable to accurately simulate a real-world environment for testing without spending hundreds of thousands of pounds meant that we had to work out solutions for de-risking testing new code in live environments. All of these problems became much easier to deal with once we started following DevOps practices and as a result, we have a far happier and more productive technology team.

What is the biggest challenge you are facing with DevOps and how did/are you trying to overcome it?

​The biggest challenge was overcoming initial inertia to switch to a model that was so far unproven and regarded as a bit of a fad. Explaining agile methodologies and the compromises it involves to senior company execs is hard enough, but as soon as you mention multiple daily release cycles necessitating fewer governance processes and testing on live, you are bound to raise more than a few eyebrows.​

​Thankfully, we are a progressive company and the results proved the methodology. Since we adopted DevOps, we’ve had fewer outages, safer, more streamlined deployments and, crucially, more features released in less time

Can you share a book, article, movie that you recently read/watched and inspired you – in regards to technology?

The Phoenix Project. ​Perhaps a bit obvious, but it’s enjoyable reading a novel that covers some of the very real problems IT professionals experience in their day-to-day roles with the very solutions that we were experimenting with at the time.

15880-DevOps-World-LogoWhat are you hoping to achieve by attending the DevOps World?

​Really my goal is to understand and help with some of the problems rolling DevOps practices out across larger companies can yield. In many respects, rolling out DevOps in small startups is somewhat easier as you have far less inertia from tried and trusted practices, comparatively less risk and far fewer people to convince that it’s a good idea. I’ll be interested to hear about other people’s experiences and hopefully be able to share some advice based on our own.