Contribution Stories: Amin Astaneh, using data to make better teams.

Drupal gets better when companies, organizations, and individuals build or fix something they need and then share it with the rest of us. Our community becomes better, stronger, and smarter when others take it upon themselves to make a positive difference contributing their knowledge, time, and energy to Drupal. Acquia is proud to play a part, alongside thousands of others, in some of the stories making tomorrow’s Drupal better than today’s. One of them is Amin Astaneh.

Amin Astaneh is a systems administrator and developer who has been in Cloud- and High-Performance-Computing for more than eight years, responsible for environments ranging from several hundred to many thousands of hosts. As of late 2016, he is using his experience, insight, and especially data to build a world-class Site Reliability Engineering team at Acquia.

I spoke with Amin about the session he gave at DrupalCon Dublin, People Metrics: How to use team data to produce positive change. I got the chance to see the early stages of Amin’s thinking inside Acquia that led to the session he presented at DrupalCon Dublin. I have been impressed by his ability and determination to take the work/life-balance challenges of a job like DevOps, discover roots causes and effects, and apply data to making life better for himself and his colleagues. The better the quality of the work you deliver--because, for instance, you’re rested and focusing on delivering features rather than busywork--the better off everyone around you is, especially your customers.

The value of data-driven change

“A lot of people know about problems at their workplace but don't know how to take a data-driven approach to help influence decision makers to help solve them. This session gives people the tools to change all that.” - Amin Astaneh

jam: What value does using data to change organizations for the better deliver to ...

  • ... developers? Amin: Data gives us greater objective visibility into problems and helps us solve them better. These solutions create positive change and a better work quality of life.
  • ... site owners and businesses? Amin: Data gives us insight into how efficiently teams are delivering value to the customer. This enables you to make strategic decisions to improve the business.
  • ... the Drupal community? Amin: Data lets us see how effective we are as contributors. Are we spending too much time on bug fixes for a given project? Is someone burning out and needs to take a break? Once again, this helps us be smarter solving problems.

Amin Astaneh

jam: Amin, tell us about the background of your session. How did you come to submit it?

Amin: Over the past couple years, I've been on a journey learning about DevOps while trying to improve the quality of life for Operations and other teams at Acquia. That resulted in a lot of reading and experimentation, which included graphing how much time we spent on the '4 types of work' described in the Phoenix Project, as well as team happiness metrics in Ops. I shared my findings with Acquia’s leadership. Fellow members of the Boston DevOps community asked me to prepare a presentation about what I was up to for them. This ended up becoming the basis of the 'People Metrics' presentation I submitted to the DrupalCon Dublin DevOps track.

DrupalCon Dublin Session [video]

See the full DrupalCon session description.

jam: Why is this data important? Who should care?

Amin: It’s often hard for managers to keep their teams happy and productive at the best of times. I have discovered it’s even harder as we chase what “DevOps” means in practice at our company, while supporting our demanding business at the same time. For me, this is a non-emotional, objective (mostly) opportunity to change our culture from within.

Across our industry, data is king, even for previously less-technical disciplines like Marketing. But in our profession, in Ops, we are constantly gathering metrics from our apps and infrastructure. They helps us make decisions about how to change, improve, or contribute to our products and business performance. I just extended my work mentality to us, the people. If we do the same information-gathering in terms of our engineers, measuring their performance, where they spent their time, and their happiness, then we will be better equipped to make smart decisions, backed up by data, too.

A lot of people know about problems at their workplace but don't know how to take a data-driven approach to help influence decision makers to help solve them. This session gives people the tools to change all that.

jam: What can we do with these insights? What changes have they provoked?

Amin: At Acquia, we do quarterly employee-satisfaction metrics across the company now, which have revealed a lot of information on how to improve the business. On a day-to-day basis, we can also see how much unplanned work hits the the Operations team. We’ve been able to find the root causes of a lot of the unplanned work and made decisions on how to address it effectively, depending on its source. The answers in our DevOps group--which must be similar to other places--come down to a mix of automation, process improvements, and/or additional staffing.

We’re taking a big next step at Acquia, too. I’m implementing Site Reliability Engineering at Acquia. One thing we’ve got in place is that Site Reliability Engineers’ operational load (time spent on non-coding tasks) is capped at 50%. This helps us ensure that the services that we build and maintain will continue to be sustainable to operate.

Resources - Amin recommends

  • is useful if you want to launch a Statsd/Graphite/Grafana stack via Docker for experimenting with generating metrics and creating dashboards.
  • The Phoenix Project is a great book that heavily inspired the content.

Bonus video: Amin on Let's Talk DevOps with Dave Fredricks