2019 in the rearview

2019 was a very busy year for us. I hadn’t realised how busy it was until I sat down to write this post. There’s also some moderately heavy stuff in here – if you have topics that trigger you, perhaps make sure you have spoons before reading.

We had all the usual stuff. Movies – my top two were Alita and Abominable though the Laundromat and Ford v Ferrari were both excellent and moving pieces. I introduced Cynthia to Teppanyaki and she fell in love with having egg roll thrown at her face hole.

When Cynthia started school we dropped gymnastics due to the time overload – we wanted some downtime for her to process after school, and with violin having started that year she was just looking so tired after a full day of school we felt it was best not to have anything on. Then last year we added in a specific learning tutor to help with the things that she approaches differently to the other kids in her class, giving 2 days a week of extra curricular activity after we moved swimming to the weekends.

At the end of last year she was finally chipper and with it most days after school, and she had been begging to get into more stuff, so we all got together and negotiated drama class and Aikido.

The drama school we picked, HSPA, is pretty amazing. Cynthia adored her first teacher there, and while upset at a change when they rearranged classes slightly, is again fully engaged and thrilled with her time there. Part of the class is putting on a full scale production – they did a version of the Happy Prince near the end of term 3 – and every student gets a part, with the ability for the older students to audition for more parts. On the other hand she tells me tonight that she wants to quit. So shrug, who knows :).

I last did martial arts when I took Aikido with sensei Darren Friend at Aikido Yoshinkai NSW back in Sydney, in the late 2000’s. And there was quite a bit less of me then. Cynthia had been begging to take a martial art for about 4 years, and we’d said that when she was old enough, we’d sign her up, so this year we both signed up for Aikido at the Rangiora Aikido Dojo. The Rangiora dojo is part of the NZ organisation Aikido Shinryukan which is part of the larger Aikikai style, which is quite different, yet the same, as the Yoshinkai Aikido that I had been learning. There have been quite a few moments where I have had to go back to something core – such as my stance – and unlearn it, to learn the Aikikai technique. Cynthia has found the group learning dynamic a bit challenging – she finds the explanations – needed when there are twenty kids of a range of ages and a range of experience – from new intakes each term through to ones that have been doing it for 5 or so years – get boring, and I can see her just switch off. Then she misses the actual new bit of information she didn’t have previously :(. Which then frustrates her. But she absolutely loves doing it, and she’s made a couple of friends there (everyone is positive and friendly, but there are some girls that like to play with her after the kids lesson). I have gotten over the body disconnect and awkwardness and things are starting to flow, I’m starting to be able to reason about things without just freezing in overload all the time, so that’s not bad after a year. However, the extra weight is making my forward rolls super super awkward. I can backward roll easily, with moderately good form; forward rolls though my upper body strength is far from what’s needed to support my weight through the start of the roll – my arm just collapses – so I’m in a sort of limbo – if I get the moment just right I can just start the contact on the shoulder; but if I get the moment slightly wrong, it hurts quite badly. And since I don’t want large scale injuries, doing the higher rolls is very unnerving for me. I suspect its 90% psychological, but am not sure how to get from where I am to having confidence in my technique, other than rinse-and-repeat. My hip isn’t affecting training much, and sensei Chris seems to genuinely like training with Cynthia and I, which is very nice: we feel welcomed and included in the community.

Speaking of my hip – earlier this year something ripped cartilage in my right hip – ended up having to have an MRI scan – and those machines sound exactly like a dot matrix printer – to diagnose it. Interestingly, having the MRI improved my symptoms, but we are sadly in hurry-up-and-wait mode. Before the MRI, I’d wake up at night with some soreness, and my right knee bent, foot on the bed, then sleepily let my leg collapse sideways to the right – and suddenly be awake in screaming agony as the joint opened up with every nerve at its disposal. When the MRI was done, they pumped the joint full of local anaesthetic for two purposes – one is to get a clean read on the joint, and the second is so that they can distinguish between referred surrounding pain, vs pain from the joint itself. It is to be expected with a joint issue that the local will make things feel better (duh), for up to a day or so while the local dissipates. The expression on the specialists face when I told him that I had had a permanent improvement trackable to the MRI date was priceless. Now, when I wake up with joint pain, and my leg sleepily falls back to the side, its only mildly uncomfortable, and I readjust without being brought to screaming awakeness. Similarly, early in Aikido training many activities would trigger pain, and now there’s only a couple of things that do. In another 12 or so months if the joint hasn’t fully healed, I’ll need to investigate options such as stem cells (which the specialist was negative about) or steroids (which he was more negative about) or surgery (which he was even more negative about). My theory about the improvement is that the cartilage that was ripped was sitting badly and the inflation for the MRI allowed it to settle back into the appropriate place (and perhaps start healing better). I’m told that reducing inflammation systematically is a good option. Turmeric time.

Sadly Cynthia has had some issues at school – she doesn’t fit the average mould and while wide spread bullying doesn’t seem to be a thing, there is enough of it, and she receives enough of it that its impacted her happiness more than a little – this blows up in school and at home as well. We’ve been trying a few things to improve this – helping her understand why folk behave badly, what to do in the moment (e.g. this video), but also that anything that goes beyond speech is assault and she needs to report that to us or teachers no matter what.

We’ve also had some remarkably awful interactions with another family at the school. We thought we had a friendly relationship, but I managed to trigger a complete meltdown of the relationship – not by doing anything objectively wrong, but because we had (unknown to me) different folkways, and some perfectly routine and normal behaviour turned out to be stressful and upsetting to them, and then they didn’t discuss it with us at all until it had brewed up in their heads into a big mess… and its still not resolved (and may not ever be: they are avoiding us both).

I weighed in at 110kg this morning. Jan the 4th 2019 I was 130.7kg. Feb 1 2018 I was 115.2kg. This year I peaked at 135.4kg, and got down to 108.7kg before Christmas food set in. That’s pretty happy making all things considered. Last year I was diagnosed with Coitus headaches and though I didn’t know it the medicine I was put on has a known side effect of weight gain. And it did – I had put it down to ongoing failure to manage my diet properly, but once my weight loss doctor gave me an alternative prescription for the headaches, I was able to start losing weight immediately. Sadly, though the weight gain through 2018 was effortless, losing the weight through 2019 was not. Doable, but not effortless. I saw a neurologist for the headaches when they recurred in 2019, and got a much more informative readout on them, how to treat and so on – basically the headaches can be thought of as an instability in the system, and the medicines goal is to stabilise things, and once stable for a decent period, we can attempt to remove the crutch. Often that’s successful, sometimes not, sometimes its successful on a second or third time. Sometimes you’re stuck with it forever. I’ve been eating a keto / LCHF diet – not super strict keto, though Jonie would like me to be on that, I don’t have the will power most of the time – there’s a local truck stop that sells killer hotdogs. And I simply adore them.

I started this year working for one of the largest companies on the planet – VMware. I left there in February and wrote a separate post about that. I followed that job with nearly the polar opposite – a startup working on a blockchain content distribution system. I wrote about that too. Changing jobs is hard in lots of ways – for instance I usually make friendships at my jobs, and those suffer some when you disappear to a new context – not everyone makes connections with you outside of the job context. Then there’s the somewhat non-rational emotional impact of not being in paid employment. The puritans have a lot to answer for. I’m there again, looking for work (and hey, if you’re going to be at Linux.conf.au (Gold Coast Australia January 13-17) I’ll be giving a presentation about some of the interesting things I got up to in the last job interregnum I had.

My feet have been giving me trouble for a couple of years now. My podiatrist is reasonably happy with my progress – and I can certainly walk further than I could – I even did some running earlier in the year, until I got shin splints. However, I seem to have hyper sensitive soles, so she can’t correct my pro-nation until we fix that, which at least for now means a 5 minute session where I touch my feet, someone else does, then something smooth then something rough – called “sensory massage”.

In 2017 and 2018 I injured myself at the gym, and in 2019 I wanted to avoid that, so I sought out ways to reduce injury. Moving away from machines was a big part of that; more focus on technique another part. But perhaps the largest part was moving from lifting dead weight to focusing on body weight exercises – callisthenics. This shifts from a dead weight to control when things go wrong, to an active weight, which can help deal with whatever has happened. So far at least, this has been pretty successful – although I’ve had minor issues – I managed to inflame the fatty pad the olecranon displaces when your elbow locks out – I’m nearly entirely transitioned to a weights-free program – hand stands, pistol squats, push ups, dead hangs and so on. My upper body strength needs to come along some before we can really go places though… and we’re probably going to max out the hamstring curl machine (at least for regular two-leg curls) before my core is strong enough to do a Nordic drop.

Lynne has been worried about injuring herself with weight lifting at the gym for some time now, but recently saw my physio – Ben Cameron at Pegasus PhysioSouth – who is excellent, and he suggested that she could have less chronic back pain if she took weights back up again. She’s recently told me that I’m allowed one ‘told you so’ about this, since she found herself in a spot where previously she would have put herself in a poor lifting position, but the weight training gave her a better option and she intuitively used it, avoiding pain. So that’s a good thing – complicated because of her bodies complicated history, but an excellent trainer and physio team are making progress.

Earlier this year she had a hell of a fright, with a regular eye checkup getting referred into a ‘you are going blind; maybe tomorrow, maybe within 10 years’ nightmare scenario. Fortunately a second opinion got a specialist who probably knows the same amount but was willing to communicate it with actual words… Lynne has a condition which diabetes (type I or II) can affect, and she has a vein that can alter state somewhat arbitrarily but will probably only degrade slowly, particularly if Lynne’s diet is managed as she has been doing.

Diet wise, Lynne also has been losing some weight but this is complicated by her chronic idiopathic pancreatitis. That’s code for ‘it keeps happening and we don’t know why’ pancreatitis. We’ve consulted a specialist in the North Island who comes highly recommended by Lynne’s GP, who said that rapid weight loss is a little known but possible cause of pancreatitis – and that fits the timelines involved. So Lynne needs to lose weight to manage the onset of type II diabetes. But not to fast, to avoid pancreatitis, which will hasten the onset of type II diabetes. Aiee. Slow but steady – she’s working with the same doctor I am for that, and a similar diet, though lower on the fats as she has no gall… bladder.

In April our kitchen waste pipe started chronically blocking, and investigation with a drain robot revealed a slump in the pipe. Ground penetrating radar reveal an anomaly under the garage… and this escalated. We’re going to have to move out of the house for a week while half the house’s carpets are lifted, grout is pumped into the foundations to tighten it all back up again – and hopefully they don’t over pump it – and then it all gets replaced. Oh, and it looks like the drive will be replaced again, to fix the slumped pipe permanently. It will be lovely when done but right now we’re facing a wall of disruption and argh.

Around September I think, we managed to have a gas poisoning scare – our gas hob was left on and triggered a fireball which fortunately only scared Lynne rather than flambéing her face. We did however not know how much exposure we’d had to the LPG, nor to partially combusted gas – which produces toxic CO as a by-product, so there was a trip into the hospital for observation with Cynthia, with Lynne opting out. Lynne and Cynthia had had plenty of the basic symptoms – headaches, dizziness and so on at the the time, but after waiting for 2 hours in the ER queue that had faded. Le sigh. The hospital, bless their cotton socks don’t have the necessary equipment to diagnose CO poisoning without a pretty invasive blood test, but still took Cynthia’s vitals using methods (manual observation and a infra-red reader) that are confounded by the carboxyhemoglobin that forms from the CO that has been inhaled. Pretty unimpressed – our GP was livid. (This is one recommended protocol). Oh, and our gas hob when we got checked out – as we were not sure if we had left it on, or it had been misbehaving, turned out to have never been safe, got decertified and the pipe cut at the regulator. So we’re cooking on a portable induction hob for now.

When we moved to Rangiora I was travelling a lot more, Christchurch itself had poorer air quality than Rangiora, and our financial base was a lot smaller. Now, Rangiora’s population has gone up nearly double (13k to 19k conservatively – and that’s ignoring the surrounds that use Rangiora as a base), we have more to work with, the air situation in Christchurch has improved massively, and even a busy years travel is less than I was doing before Cynthia came along. We’re looking at moving – we’re not sure where yet; maybe more country, maybe more city.

One lovely bright spot over the last few years has been reconnecting with friends from school, largely on Facebook – some of whom I had forgotten that I knew back at school – I had a little clique but was not very aware of the wider school population in hindsight (this was more than a little embarrassing to me, as I didn’t want to blurt out “who are you?!”) – and others whom I had not :). Some of these reconnections are just light touch person-X exists and cares somewhat – and that’s cool. One in particular has grown into a deeper friendship than we had back as schoolkids, and I am happy and grateful that that has happened.

Our cats are fat and happy. Well mostly. Baggy is fat and stressed and spraying his displeasure everywhere whenever the stress gets too much :(. Cynthia calls him Mr Widdlepants. The rest of the time he cuddles and purrs and is generally happy with life. Dibbler and Kitten-of-the-wild are relatively fine with everything.

Cynthia’s violin is coming along well. She did a small performance for her classroom (with her teacher) and wowed them. I’ve been inspired to start practising trumpet again. After 27 years of decay my skills are decidedly rusty, but they are coming along. Finding arrangements for violin + trumpet is a bit challenging, and my sight-reading-with-transposition struggles to cope, but we make do. Lynne is muttering about getting a clarinet or drum-kit and joining in.

So, 2019. Whew. I hope yours was less stressful and had as many or more bright points than ours. Onwards to 2020.

Want me to work with you?

Reach out to me – I’m currently looking for something interesting to do. https://www.linkedin.com/in/rbtcollins/ and https://twitter.com/rbtcollins are good ways to grab me if you don’t already have my details.

Should you reach out to me? Maybe :). First, a little retrospective.

Three years ago, I wrote the following when reflecting on what I wanted to be doing:

Priorities (roughly ordered most to least important):

  • Keep living in Rangiora (family)
  • Up to moderate travel requirements – 4 trips a year + LCA/PyCon
  • Significant autonomy (not at the expense of doing the right thing for the company, just I work best with the illusion of free will 🙂 )
  • Be doing something that matters
    • -> Being open source is one way to this, but not the only one
  • Something cutting edge would be awesome
    • -> Rust / Haskell / High performance requirements / scale / ….
  • Salary

How well did that work for me? Pretty good. I had a good satisfying job at VMware for 3 years, met some wonderful people, achieved some very cool things. And those priorities above were broadly achieved.
The one niggle that stands out was this – Did the things we were doing matter? Certainly there was no social impact – VMware isn’t a non-profit, being right at the core of capitalism as it is. There was direct connection and impact with the team, the staff we worked with and the users of the products… but it is just a bit hard to feel really connected through that though: VMware is a very large company and there are many layers between users and developers.

We were quite early adopters of Kubernetes, which allowed me to deepen my Go knowledge and experience some more fun with AWS scale operations. I had many interesting discussions about the relative strengths of Python Go and Rust and Java with colleagues there. (Hi Geoffrey).

Company culture is very important to me, and VMware has a fantastically supportive culture. One of the most supportive companies I’ve been in, bar none. It isn’t a truely remote-organised company though: rather its a bunch of offices that talk to each other, which I think is sad. True remote-first offers so much more engagement.

I enjoy building things to solve problems. I’ve either directly built, or shaped what is built, in all my most impactful and successful roles. Solving a problem once by hand is fine; solving it for years to come by creating a tool is far more powerful.

I seem to veer into toolmaking very often: giving other people the ability to solve their problems takes the power of a tool and multiplies it even further.

It should be no surprise then that I very much enjoy reading white papers like the original Dapper and Map-reduce ones, LinkedIn’s Kafka or for more recent fodder the Facebook Akkio paper. Excellent synthesis and toolmaking applied at industrial scale. I read those things and I want to be a part of the creation of those sorts of systems.

I was fortunate enough to take some time to go back to university part-time, which though logistically challenging is something I want to see through.

Thus I think my new roughly ordered (descending) list of priorities needs to be something like this:

  • Keep living in Rangiora (family)
  • Up to moderate travel requirements – 4 team-meeting trips a year + 2 conferences
  • Significant autonomy (not at the expense of doing the right thing for the company, just I work best with the illusion of free will 🙂 )
  • Be doing something that matters
    • Be working directly on a problem / system that has problems
  • Something cutting edge would be awesome
    • Rust / Haskell / High performance requirements / scale / ….
  • A generative (Westrum definition) + supportive company culture
  • Remote-first or at least very remote familiar environment
  • Support my part time study / self improvement initiative
  • Salary

Feature flags

Feature toggles, feature flags – they’ve been written about a lot already (use a search engine :)), yet I feel like writing a post about them. Why? I’ve been personally involved in two from-scratch implementations, and it may be interesting for folk to read about that.

I say that lots has been written; http://featureflags.io/ (which appears to be a bit of an astroturf site for LaunchDarkly 😉 ) nevertheless has gathered a bunch of links to literature as well as a number of SDKs and the like; there are *other* FFaaS offerings than LaunchDarkly; I have no idea which I would use for my next project at this point – but hopefully you’ll have some tools to reason about that at the end of this piece.

I’m going to entirely skip over the motivation (go read those other pieces), other than to say that the evidence is in, trunk based development is better.



Humble, J. and Kim, G., 2018. Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations. IT Revolution.

A feature flag is a very simple thing: it is a value controlled outside of your development cycle that in turn controls the behaviour of your code. There are dozens of ways to implement that. hash-defines and compile time flags have been used for a very long time, so long that we don’t even think of them as feature flags, but they are are. So are configuration options in configuration files in the broadest possible sense. The difference is largely in focus, and where the same system meets all parties needs, I think its entirely fine to use just the one system – that is what we did for Launchpad, and it worked quite well I think – as far as I know it hasn’t been changed. Specifically in Launchpad the Zope runtime config is regular ZCML files on disk, and feature flags are complementary to that (but see the profiling example below).

Configuration tends to be thought of as “choosing behaviour after the system is compiled and before the process is started” – e.g. creating files on disk. But this is not always the case – some enterprise systems are notoriously flexible with database managed configuration rulesets which no-one can figure out – and we don’t want to create that situation.

Lets generalise things a little – a flag could be configured over the lifetime of the binary (compile flag), execution (runtime flag/config file or one-time evaluation of some dynamic system), time(dynamically reconfigured from changed config files or some dynamic system), or configured based on user/team/organisation, URL path (of a web request naturally :P), and generally any other thing that could be utilised in making a decision about whether to conditionally perform some code. It can also be useful to be able to randomly bucket some fraction of checks (e.g. 1/3 of all requests will go down this code path).. but do it consistently for the same browser.

Depending on what sort of system you are building, some of those sorts of scopes will be more or less important to you – for instance, if you are shipping on-premise software, you may well want to be turning unreleased features entirely off in the binary. If you are shipping a web API, doing soft launches with population rollouts and feature kill switches may be your priority.

Similarly, if you have an existing microservices architecture, having a feature flags aaS API is probably much more important (so that your different microservices can collaborate on in-progress features!) than if you have a monolithic DB where you put all your data today.

Ultimately you will end up with something that looks roughly like a key-value store: get_flag_value(flagname, context) -> value. Somewhere separate to your code base you will have a configuration store where you put rules that define how that key-value interface comes to a given value.

There are a few key properties that I consider beneficial in a feature flag systems:

  • Graceful degradation
  • Permissionless / (or alternatively namespaced)
  • Loosely typed
  • Observable
  • Centralised
  • Dynamic

Graceful Degradation

Feature flags will be consulted from all over the place – browser code, templates, DB mapper, data exporters, test harnesses etc. If the flag system itself is degraded, you need the systems behaviour to remain graceful, rather than stopping catastrophically. This often requires multiple different considerations; for instance, having sensible defaults for your flags (choose a default that is ok, change the meaning of defaults as what is ‘ok’ changes over time), having caching layers to deal with internet flakiness or API blips back to your flag store, making sure you have memory limits on local caches to prevent leaks and so forth. Different sorts of flag implementations have different failure modes : an API based flag system will be quite different to one stored in the same DB the rest of your code is using, which will be different to a process-startup command line option flag system.

A second dimension where things can go wrong is dealing with missing or unexpected flags. Remember that your system changes over time: a new flag in the code base won’t exist in the database until after the rollout, and when a flag is deleted from the codebase, it may still be in your database. Worse, if you have multiple instances running of a service, you may have different code all examining the same flag at the same time, so operations like ‘we are changing the meaning of a flag’ won’t take place atomically.

Permissions

Flags have dual audiences; one part is pure dev: make it possible to keep integration costs and risks low by merging fully integrated code on a continual basis without activating not-yet-ready (or released!) codepaths. The second part is pure operations: use flags to control access to dark launches, demo new features, killswitch parts of the site during attack mitigation, target debug features to staff and so forth.

Your developers need some way to add and remove the flags needed in their inner loop of development. Lifetimes of a few days for some flags.

Whoever is doing operations on prod though, may need some stronger guarantees – particularly they may need some controls over who can enable what flags. e.g. if you have a high control environment then team A shouldn’t be able to influence team B’s flags. One way is to namespace the flags and only permit configuration for the namespace a developer’s team(s) owns. Another way is to only have trusted individuals be able to set flags – but this obviously adds friction to processes.

Loose Typing

Some systems model the type of each flag: is it boolean, numeric, string etc. I think this is a poor idea mainly because it tends to interact poorly with the ephemeral nature of each deployment of a code base. If build X defines flag Y as boolean, and build X+1 defines it as string, the configuration store has to interact with both at the same time during rollouts, and do so gracefully. One way is to treat everything as a string and cast it to the desired type just in time, with failures being treated as default.

Observable

Make sure that when a user reports crazy weird behaviour, that you can figure out what value they had for what flags. For instance, in Launchpad we put them in the HTML.

Centralised

Having all your flags in one system lets you write generic tooling – such as ‘what flags are enabled in QA but not production’, or ‘what flags are set but have not been queried in the last month’. It is well worth the effort to build a single centralised system (or consume one such thing) and then use it everywhere. Writing adapters to different runtimes is relatively low overhead compared to rummaging through N different config systems because you can’t remember which one is running which platform.

Scope things in the system with a top level tenant / project style construct (any FFaaS will have this I’m sure :)).

Dynamic

There may be some parts of the system that cannot apply some flags rapidly, but generally speaking the less poking around that needs to be done to make something take effect the better. So build or buy a dynamic system, and if you want a ‘only on process restart’ model for some bits of it, just consult the dynamic system at the relevant time (e.g. during k8s Deployment object creation, or process startup, or …). But then everywhere else, you can react just-in-time; and even make the system itself be script driven.

The Launchpad feature flag system

I was the architect for Launchpad when the flag system was added. Martin Pool wanted to help accelerate feature development on Launchpad, and we’d all become aware of the feature flag style things hip groups like YouTube were doing; so he wrote a LEP: https://dev.launchpad.net/LEP/FeatureFlags , pushed that through our process and then turned it into code and docs (and once the first bits landed folk started using and contributing to it). Here’s a patch I wrote using the system to allow me to turn on Python profiling remotely. Here’s one added by William Grant to allow working around a crash in a packaging tool.

Launchpad has a monolithic data store, with bulk data federated out to various disk stores, but all relational data in one schema; we didn’t see much benefit in pushing for a dedicated API per se at that time – it can always be added later, as the design was deliberately minimal. The flags implementation is all in-process as a result, though there may be a JS thunk at this point – I haven’t gone looking. Permissions are done through trusted staff members, it is loosely typed and has an audit log for tracking changes.

The other one

The other one I was involved in was at VMware a couple years ago now; its in-house, but some interesting anecdotes I can share. The thinking on feature flags when I started the discussion was that they were strictly configuration file settings – I was still finding my feet with the in-house Xenon framework at the time (I think this was week 3 ? 🙂 so I whipped up an API specification and a colleague (Tyler Curtis) turned that into a draft engine; it wasn’t the most beautiful thing but it was still going strong and being enhanced by the team when I left earlier this year. The initial implementation had a REST API and a very basic set of scopes. That lasted about 18 months before tenant based scopes were needed and added. I had designed it with the intent of adding multi-arm bandit selection down the track, but we didn’t make the time to develop that capability, which is a bit sad.

Comparing that API with LaunchDarkly I see that they do support A/B trials but don’t have multivariate tests live yet, which suggests that they are still very limited in that space. I think there is room for some very simple home grown work in this area to pay off nicely for Symphony (the project codename the flags system was written for).

Should you run your own?

It would be very unusual to have PII or customer data in the flag configuration store; and you shouldn’t have access control lists in there either (in LP we did allow turning on code by group, which is somewhat similar). Point is, that the very worst thing that can happen if someone else controls your feature flags and is malicious is actually not very bad. So as far as aaS vendor trust goes, not a lot of trust is needed to be pretty comfortable using one.

But, if you’re in a particularly high-trust environment, or you have no internet access, running your own may be super important, and then yeah, do it :). They aren’t big complex systems, even with multi-arm bandit logic added in (the difficulty there is the logic, not the processing).

Or if you think the prices being charged by the incumbents are ridiculous. Actually, perhaps hit me up and we’ll make a startup and do this right…

Should you build your own?

A trivial flag system + persistence could be as little as a few days work. Less if you grab an existing bolt-on for your framework. If you have multiple services, or teams, or languages.. expect that to become the gift that keeps on giving as you have to consolidate and converge across your organisation indefinitely. If you have the resources – great, not a problem.


I think most people will be better off taking one of the existing open source flag systems – perhaps https://unleash.github.io/ – and using it; even if it is more complex than a system tightly fitted to your needs, the benefit of having one that is a true API from the start will pay for itself the very first time you split a project, or want to report what features are on in dev and off in prod, not to mention multiple existing language bindings etc.

Recent changes

I’ve had three pretty significant changes in my life recently. All are worth a little explanation.

Debian

I’ve resigned from my role as a Debian Developer. In truth I hadn’t been active for years, and stepping down just makes clear to everyone what the current status is. I may go back at some point, but I think there are fundamental changes needed to Debian – and most “distros” in fact – for it to really excel in our modern open source milieu. More on that another time, but the relevance here is that if I was to go back, it would be because the consensus around the mission has changed (or because I’ve decided the best thing I can do is try to shift that consensus).

LCA Papers

During the most recent Linux.conf.au we had a meeting amongst the physically present papers committee members. I’d expected that meeting to be able what things we could do to prepare for the next LCA papers process – things like adding blinding to the review system, or introducing paper assignments to facilitate a significantly larger papers committee. However, it turned out there was a bigger topic to discuss – diversity within the papers committee. The general mood in that room was that we had been failing to really shift the diversity dial amongst the papers committee and that new ways to shift it needed to be trialled. One thing in particular that was suggested was replacing the leadership (the theory being that leaders more deeply connected to non-cis-hetero-white-male people would find it easier to recruit those folk into the papers committee). I think many good points were raised, and that if we’d started (say) 6 years ago we could have tried hybrid approaches (e.g. delegating recruitment entirely to someone with such connectivity, or a hard quota).

I don’t think the room actually had consensus on how much diversity is needed… should the committee represent the current demographics of LCA attendees? Or of the open source community? Or of humans? Or should it exceed the diversity in order to counter-balance the current skewed demographics and help lead from in front? I’m not sure what my position is at this point – but I am sure the folk in the room would all have given somewhat different answers, but equally that all felt more was needed.

In the morning following that I resigned – My reasons were very simple: my contribution to the papers committee, while (IMO) significant, are replaceable. There are other people with awareness of interesting projects in web/infra/cloud/programming/build/vcs technology spaces. People who are not cis-hetero-white-male; by leaving I provide an opportunity for the LCA papers committee to increase its diversity much faster than if I stayed.

I deeply loved being on the papers committee, I took great pride in looking for the unknown presenters who could add surprising and fascinating things to LCA. I hope that the committee take this priceless opportunity that we’ve given them to radically shift the amount of diversity in the team. And if it should pass that whatever target is reached, and they were to offer membership to me again in future, well then I’d be delighted to participate in future.

VMware

I joined VMware 2 and a half years ago to work on a suite of new SaaS products being built there. During that time I grew as an engineer, as you always hope to do; finishing up there as SRE architect (for one business unit). I have some thoughts I intend to pull together about what worked well, what didn’t, what things I’d try next time and so on, but those are not yet ready for publication. As of last week I’m no longer at VMware – I’m taking a small break for a bit; I plan to catch up on home and family things – we’ve had a couple of super hard years with e.g. Lynne’s health. I’m also going to do some of the more far-out ‘what if’ things that I haven’t had time to attempt while working. I may even get around to mass review and merging of various testing-cabal patches that I see backing up!