There are various forms and conflicting attributions of an adage going something like, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” While I don’t know (I wasn’t there) whether to attribute to a statesman, a philosopher, or someone else, I do want to call attention to the last part: being involved to learn.
As I offer my thoughts on SREcon23 Americas, I can wholeheartedly say I was involved, and I learned. The conference was a wonderful combination of attendees, speakers, content, sponsors, and (of course) food.
First, let’s start with the opening and closing plenary talks. Amy Tobey (opening plenary: The Endgame of SRE), Alex Hidalgo (closing plenary: Hell is Other Platforms), and Andrew Clay Shafer (closing plenary: Hell is Other Platforms) were masterful. I felt involved in their talks as they all used wonderful allegories for teaching.
Amy opened by playing a Japanese Role Playing’esque (“JRPG”) game live on stage. I have been a fan of the genre for many years (think FFIII – US), and my initial reaction was, “come on, starting with gameplay!” But after this reaction, Amy went on to talk through the allegory and how it felt to live through incidents by talking to other people and getting bits and pieces along the way. As I said, masterful.
Alex and Andrew closed by teaching us to think for ourselves (among other clever, poignant moments in time) by discussing SRE through Sartre's existentialist 'No Exit'. In fact, they also discussed how “SRE” could be just “making it better.” But I don’t want to ruin the experience, and I highly recommend you watch the sessions when they become available.
Before I continue, I’ll admit I was not able to attend the entirety of the talk tracks because I was also a sponsor (i.e., had to work the showroom). I do plan to watch the other videos when they become available, though.
One of the common themes I heard across the tracks I did attend was regarding people and them asking the correct questions. For example, in Nick T.’s talk around The 1979 NORAD Nuclear Near Miss, Nick discusses what we can learn by interpreting signals. Or, more importantly, Nick discusses the provocation of us needing to ask questions when signals don’t seem correct. The idea of people and questioning was also part of Vanessa Huerta Granda’s and Emily Ruppe’s talk Incident Commanders to Incident Analysts: How We Got Here, where they talk about including the human side of incident analysis. Matt Davis also incorporated a wonderful exercise where people in the audience reacted in real time to each other. During his talk, Human Observability of Incident Response, Matt made us feel involved by making beautiful music by reacting to what other audience members were doing.
In my opinion, it will always ‘come down to the people’. In other words, artificial intelligence won’t be replacing human intelligence anytime soon – which is a good segue into the next section (waits for Skynet to alter this post after it’s published).
Regarding People (Again)
Myself (Leo Vasiliou) and Kurt Andersen had the honor and privilege of speaking on The SRE Report 2023 (ungated, no form-fill link here). Specifically, we discussed how different personas (i.e., individual contributors versus executives – and manners in between) viewed certain problems, challenges, or opportunities with deltas – or sometimes completely different directionalities – in the report’s researched topics.
We involved the audience by asking them how many different color butterflies they saw in the slide and watched as people put up two or three fingers. We then explained the illusion, saying the butterflies were actually all the same color. The “trick” here is that if you get closer to the visual, the “truth” becomes easier to see.
But so as not to suggest that people who are “closer” or “in the trenches” always see the truth, we also showed another illusion which was easier to solve the further away you were. As it pertains to individual practitioners versus executives, this was the proverbial “sometimes you need to take a step back” rhetoric.
Can you spot which is different? Hint, take a step back and see if it becomes easier.
The “climax” of this talk was our suggested way for all organization personas to have new or better conversations. It’s said 2023 will be “the year of resilience”. If so, then new or better conversations will be foundational.
Closing Thoughts – As a Sponsor
It takes real money to pay our rents and mortgages. This is why:
- Event sponsorships are important.
- But also, event attendees’ relationships and interactions with the sponsors are of critical importance.
I would ask of both attendees and sponsors for all events – not just SREcon – the following:
- Attendees: please make a point to visit the sponsor floor and see how peddled wares can help you. You never know what you will learn.
- Sponsors: please make a point to be efficient when answering attendees’ questions. Remember, there are many booths vying for their time.
In other words, we all sometimes need to involve ourselves in order to learn. Here’s to the next SREcon!