May 6, 2021
In this episode, we get to know Lisa Chan, Head of Software Engineering & DevOps at PETRONAS. She takes us through how she ended up in DevOps by accident, doing business in the next normal and what she’s most excited for in 2021. Also, what about a dancing elephant?
The lightly edited transcript can be found below.
You’re listening to the humans of DevOps podcast, a podcast focused on advancing the humans of DevOps through skills, knowledge, ideas and learning, or the SKIL framework.
Jason Baum 00:18
Hey, everyone, welcome back. It’s Jason Baum, Director of membership for DevOps Institute and your host for the Humans of DevOps podcast. So excited to have you guys back and even more excited to introduce to you Lisa Chan. Lisa, for those who know is an ambassador for DevOps Institute. Among the many things that she does within the DevOps field. She’s also the head of software engineering, and DevOps at PETRONAS. Malaysia’s natural oil company. Lisa, thank you so much for joining us today.
Lisa Chan 00:51
Thanks for having me, Jason.
Jason Baum 00:53
So we’re gonna get human. I like to get personal on this podcast. For those of you who have listened to the past few, we’ve, we’ve been lucky enough actually to have some great guests that I’ve gotten to get to know over the past few weeks. So I’m excited, Lisa, to get to know more about you. So tell me a little bit about yourself, maybe some of your background, and how did you end up in DevOps?
Lisa Chan 01:18
Sure, quite by accident, actually, Jason. So I actually have zero education in technology-related areas. I, I did my bachelor’s degree in politics, philosophy and economics, which is probably the thing that’s furthest away from technology. And then I did a master’s degree in management.
Jason Baum 01:36
So that’s also a natural segue to DevOps then.
Lisa Chan 01:39
Yeah, of course, why not? I spent. Well, I spent 10 years in consulting with Accenture and a lot of Accenture’s work is done off the back of huge systems integration projects. So it was a natural fit, I suppose. Because I was doing a lot of consulting work on top of those IT projects. And I love fixing things. And there’s so many things to fix in it, where it feels like we’re perpetually fixing things and things are always breaking. So maybe it’s just more of my personality, and my education really. So as you said, I’m the head of software engineering in PETRONAS, which is a role I just took on in February gratulations. Oh, well, thank you, or condolences. Condolences. So I used to manage a smaller DevOps team of about 25 people. So now the teams because software engineering is so much bigger, there’s about 200 of us right now. And we build and maintain custom products for the Petronas Group of Companies. It really,
Jason Baum 02:47
that’s exciting. Yeah, I want to get into PETRONAS a little bit later down the road, here on the podcast because I do want to ask about natural gas and natural resources and oil and just, you know, with the big switch to green energy and things like that. So I do want to touch on that a bit later. But first, I want to get to know you more. So, you know, as a woman in tech, we’ve been lucky enough to have two very powerful women in tech on the past couple of weeks. Eveline Oehrlich. And also hope Lynch. And obviously, I work with Helen Beal, and I get to work with Jayne Groll. And you know, these are very influential women in tech. But I’ve been told that tech is not really, it’s more male-dominated. I wouldn’t know because I get to talk to all these great women in tech. And now I’m talking to another. But I do understand there are some challenges being a woman in technology. So the one question I’ve been asking is, you know, what, what challenges have you faced? And has there ever been a roadblock for you in your career that you kind of had to overcome?
Lisa Chan 03:57
Well, to be honest, I never really felt it when I was in Accenture. But I do feel it a little bit more acutely in PETRONAS. I mean, not because it’s a will a woman in tech kind of situation, but because the oil and gas sector is quite male-dominated as well. And actually, within the IT division, we’ve actually got one of the most diverse leadership teams compared to the rest of the company. So and, and I guess I want to talk a little bit about how I feel that personally, I have not, I guess, overcome many challenges that I hear other women in tech going through. And there’s a few reasons for this. I think firstly, I think I was very lucky to be an only child in a family that could afford my education. I went overseas to study so I had the privilege of having that Headstart, I think in life so after that, you know that That kind of set me up really well for having this accelerated career in Accenture. And so I entered senior leadership only after maybe about seven years in the workforce. Right. So so so that I think is it is a privilege. And I feel that because I had that maybe I didn’t feel a lot of these challenges, but a lot of people do. And now that I’m in PETRONAS, I think there might be a little bit of Hippo put hippo thing going on, because PETRONAS is Malaysia’s only fortune 500. So we’re a big buyer of services. And we support a lot of the vendor, the local vendor ecosystem in Malaysia. So people have always, not really treated me like a woman in tech, but they feel me like a buyer of technology in the market. Now now that I have this role. So I know you were hoping for some war stories here. But you know, I’ve been really lucky in my career in technology to be honest.
Jason Baum 06:03
Yeah, I mean, that’s great. It’s probably better that way. Right. And then having a huge major roadblock. I mean, last podcast, with Hope she was telling me that, you know, she was actually outright encouraged not to go into technology, she was told, this is not a field for you, which is, I mean, I didn’t realize it was that it could be that forward. So I think yeah, maybe that experience is better. Obviously. You don’t want that. So but so rather than that, is there anyone who was truly influential in your, you know, growth towards becoming, you know, where you are today in DevOps? Was there like a mentor that you had or someone that you kind of look up to or followed?
Lisa Chan 06:47
Well, I think related to maybe the topic of women in tech, and also, in answering that question, I have a really strong female role model in my life. And that’s my mother. So my parents got divorced very early on in my life. So I was practically raised by my mom, and she’s, she’s one of those type a tiger moms corporate lady, you know, and she’s successful in her own right. So she always encouraged me, to have ambition to make sure I was financially secure. So it wasn’t always easy. Being challenged. I mean, even when I didn’t get promoted, she’d be like, okay, so when’s your when are you going to write your book? When are you going to, you know, when are you going to be made partner? So it was always what’s the next step? What’s the next step? What’s the next step? So I guess I have, I have that role model, I have that encouragement, and I have that mentorship. So so that that encouraged me to look for not necessarily DevOps, but just things that were challenged me things that will put me outside my comfort zone, things that I would feel passionate about learning. So she was a big influence, I guess, in me making this career change, I think, from consulting over to technology and technology to you know, having a strong focus on DevOps and the transformation that comes with it.
Jason Baum 08:07
And does she know about it? Was she knowledgeable about DevOps in particular? Was it just that drive that you’re talking about? Yeah.
Lisa Chan 08:15
Any idea what I do now?
Jason Baum 08:19
It’s hard to explain sometimes, right?
Lisa Chan 08:21
Yes, yes, it is. But she was a former consultant. So so I didn’t have to explain to her what consulting was and I know a lot of consultants have had trouble explaining to their parents what exactly it is they get paid to do. So. So yeah, she at least understood that and she knows now that you know, technology is this huge blossoming industry and she owns technology stocks as well. So she’s like yeah, yeah, yeah, go into technology thing but growth in that industry so
Jason Baum 08:51
so it’s so my parents are great at messing you up and encouraging you to do better so we get it all. I also, that’s great. I love to hear when someone’s when someone mentions you know, an influential figure is their parents because that’s, that’s always promising and that’s the way it should be right that’s who you should get your influences from.
Lisa Chan 09:15
me to write my book.
Jason Baum 09:17
Oh, they’ll always have something to achieve right there. Great. So funny story about so my dad. Actually, when I turned 18 He called me up and said, it’s still the funniest thing that anyone has ever done for me on a birthday. He didn’t wish me a happy birthday. He goes so, Jason. When Eric Clapton was 18 he was he formed the Yardbirds. What have you done with your life? That’s like, I don’t know why that’s stuck with me ever since. And it’s like, that’s like my motivation. It’s like okay, Eric Clapton did this. What have you done with your life?
Lisa Chan 09:51
I know, I know. I know exactly how you feel. It’s like, Emmanuel Macron became president of France when he was 39 What have you done with your life? Yeah,
Jason Baum 10:02
yeah. Well, I mean, we could go down the road of people like, you know, who achieve things at a young age. But so what are some life lessons that you’ve learned with your growth at PETRONAS or just at Accenture or in your career that, you know, maybe you could share?
Lisa Chan 10:21
Yeah, I, I love telling the story about how I got this DevOps gig, because it’s so I mean, it’s so inspirational to me, and I learned so much about just being a human being in tech, actually, because prior to February, I told you, I lead a small team of about 25 DevOps folks before taking on this larger role. But it wasn’t always popular. And it wasn’t always this way, about two, two years ago, actually, wait, 20 2018 we were still kind of trying to persuade people that DevOps was the way to go, you know, we weren’t allowed to use our own tooling, we weren’t allowed to deploy our own products. So it was an uphill battle all the way. But we finally convinced one of the CIO at the times to give us a little bit of space, you know, I told him, I was going to separate this, this a team, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t disrupt normal operations or any of the products that we were supporting. But I would just take this group out, and 30% of them would be from the existing team. And I would hire another 60 or 70% of them from the market so that we will have a nice blend of people who understood the internal culture, and people who had done DevOps in other companies, right. So then he gave me five apps under our control, low criticality funded by it. So we didn’t have to depend on anyone in the business to fund us. And we shielded this little group, and give them a small budget, empower them to use their own tools. And I actually asked them, that one day said, Okay, we have this budget, so tell me what it is you need. And I think I got their wish list within, I don’t know, either the very next day or just in a couple of hours. So they have obviously been thinking about it for a very long time, you know, I want this, this, this, this, this, this, this so, so I feel that it’s, it’s just that they never had the space. And, and, and I do my lesson learned is that I need to ask myself, more frequently, how do I give my teams the space, you know, to innovate, to learn how to do things better. And I’ve been very influenced also by the work of, Gene Kim, and one of his, the quotes that I love is that if a developer has to choose between shipping a new feature or working on something that will improve developer productivity as a whole, he should always choose developer productivity. And that’s, that’s really what the DevOps team was about. It was about improving developer productivity. So they got there to the onboard of their apps, and they got so successful at what they were doing that, you know, it spreads to other teams. And as we went from five to 130, today, you know, after three years, 130 products on our toolchain with 1000 commits a day, 5 million lines of code being automatically scanned all the time. 50 bills a day. So I’m so so proud of the team because whenever I did transformation in consulting, it was always top-down, you know, people following the roadmap, people following an inspirational leader, a CEO giving you a playbook, you know, and this was all grassroots, you know, no one told them what to do. No one gave them a playbook no one had a strategy that was cascaded from the very top level. It was developers making life better for developers. And they didn’t take instruction from me. So I’m, it’s taught me a lot about how much I can learn from my team and not necessarily direct have to direct as leader.
Jason Baum 13:55
You know, so funny. I feel like that’s a life lesson. Right? So I’m, I’m currently learning that lesson, I’ll be in a different fashion. I’m a father of a three-and-a-half-year-old. And I follow. There’s a great, she’s, she’s like an author. She has a podcast named Janet Lansbury. And it’s all about like, raising a child who wants to come home, like when they’re adults, you know, which is an interesting concept, right? And it’s all about its parenting techniques. And what she preaches is kind of what you’re talking about. And it really is a life lesson because we are training the opposite. We are trained to direct. You want something you tell someone how to do it, you kind of guide them how to do it, especially with children or direct reports, whatever it is, you’re directing, right? Even just the name itself, direct reporting, you know, like that. It implies you’re telling them what to do. And in reality, people don’t learn as well. When you tell them what to do. They learn through mistakes and learning and figuring out what it is that they need from you and that’s your role is to provide that resources that help but look given the room to grow, right and it’s so funny because I’m hearing you speak I’m like, Oh my gosh, this is exactly what I’m like dealing with on a day to day basis with my three-year-old. And the other day she like, wowed us. She like went to the sorry, I’m like I’m a parent’s I do hottie speak, she went to the potty all by herself, walked in, did everything she needed to do. She’s like, I need privacy. Okay, close the door, you hear the water running this moving. And she was done and comes out hands clean. And you know, she could do that. And she just did it. And they just show you right? How I can do it. I’m sorry to make this personal about me. But so funny because it applies. That’s a great lesson. I feel like what you just talked about.
Lisa Chan 15:46
Yeah. And, and as a nontechie in tech, I’m always, I will always be a few insecure as a leader that I’m surrounded by people that know so much more about the subject matter than I do. So what value could I possibly add? to lead them to make life better for them? So I and I feel that the tech sector has been nothing but welcoming to me, you know, despite the background, and that’s given me a lot of food for thought and, and I think there is this, there is this inbuilt humility in technical folks, I don’t know what it comes from a life of being abused by, you know, by business, or users when their apps go down, or that when there are outages, you know, live in it is like, no news is good news, you know, you’re able to go to sleep and sleep the whole night without somebody calling you about a server, you know, going down or like a feature not working. You know that’s, that’s, that’s good. That’s a good line. So I think that maybe that makes them psychologically more accepting of me. But you know, it makes me want to try harder because there’s so much hardship in it that people take for granted. And people don’t listen to people in technology, they are not used to being listened to they’re not used to being protected. They’re not used to having psychological safety, that it’s okay to make mistakes. So I think, I think it’s changing, I think it’s changing because their skill set is becoming more valuable, more scars, and developers are becoming some of the highest-paid people on the planet. So people are shutting up and listening. You used to be the other way around.
Jason Baum 17:33
But I’m always in awe of people in it, because you really are. And this is another analogy to parenting, actually, but or similarity is your you have to listen to people and you’re like interpreting another language because the user knows what’s wrong, sort of to them. And they have to explain it, but they have no idea what they’re talking about. So then you have to take that and interpret it into Okay, what does this actually mean? What does this actual problem figure it’s like problem-solving every day, which is kind of exciting? I can understand the appeal of it as someone who’s non-techie. But yeah, so I am in awe because it is kind of like dealing with infants, in a way they cannot communicate properly what it is that is wrong. So you have to then interpret what they’re saying and kind of figure out. Yeah, or tell them to turn it on and off.
Lisa Chan 18:28
And that’s actually one of the principles in DevOps that, you know, like, like a patient that goes to see a doctor, they, they might lie, or they might not tell you the entire truth. So we, you know, it was one of the DevOps principles that you know, observability, that we rely on data and scientific evidence about what a person was trying to do in the application when they came across an error or whether there was downtime or any kind of error. So we put in place, the kind of tooling that makes that kind of visibility possible. And yeah, so as much as possible, not that we don’t think our users are important to us, but we would rather listen to the machine. So the machine that he was doing this, then that that, at least is certain.
Jason Baum 19:20
There’s a lot more human element to it, I think, than people realize, because there is the interpretation. There’s psychology, which is very interesting. We could probably talk about that forever. But I want to go back to you. And I want to go back to you know, some of the things that you’re encountering. So, you know, it’s one of the cool things about this industry. It’s a global industry. We are a global association. We have members all over the world. My podcast with Evelyn, you know, Evelyn’s in Germany, my podcast with Hope she’s in the United States, you’re in Malaysia. Everybody’s dealing with the pandemic though and I want to You know, I? How have things been there in Malaysia? You know, how has it affected you? How has it affected the workforce? You know, and what are their promising signs, you know, here in the United States, we’re, I think over 50% vaccinated at least, I think over 50% have had at least one dose of a vaccine. So there’s promise. But yeah, we’d love to hear from you. You know, how has it impacted? You?
Lisa Chan 20:30
Yeah, your vaccination rate is astonishing, actually, you know, and it’s, it’s it, we are like, in so far behind in terms of our vaccination rate, there is not enough news. There’s not enough metrics. So but you know, that’s, I’m not going to go into that, because because, you know, our governments get not very efficient at distributing the vaccinations at the moment.
Jason Baum 20:54
But clinical science major in us, like I, could see route roaring to get out.
Lisa Chan 21:00
But, you know, talk about being prescient or maybe just pure dumb luck. We, we actually implemented Microsoft Teams, with the deployment date, which was actually mid-March, which coincided with the date that Malaysia instituted its first lockdown. Okay, so I cannot imagine how our company would have would have continued to do business without collaboration to like Microsoft Teams, we were on Skype, an on-premise version of Skype that was always crashing was super slow. And no one could get any work done, honestly. So. So, so thank God, I think that saved, saved a lot of productivity. And we were halfway ramping up our onboarding onto our DevOps toolchain, which allows developers because we use a lot of offshore developers, at any one time, I mentioned to you we have about 2200 internal staff, right. But we are working with anywhere between 500 to 700. Developers that from various companies, so most of them are offshore, they’re in India, they’re in Vietnam. So so they use the tooling to commit their changes to talk to people to you know, review their user stories to prioritize their backlog. So without our DevOps tooling, I think we would have suffered a lot of productivity when it came to developing our products and continuing some of those feature roadmaps. So that was very lucky as well that we had hit some kind of critical mass in terms of our DevOps onboarding. So I think, yeah, that was probably just dumb luck. I mean, no one saw this coming, right? I’m glad that we managed to get that done before. Otherwise, we would really be sitting around twiddling our thumbs and not really getting much done. If I
Jason Baum 22:49
saw this coming, I would have bought zoom stock, I would have bought so much zoom stock. It’s funny, I was working at home from home anyway, prior to it. And our company had already had a just finished with the Zoom Pro for everyone and accounts. And it’s so funny, because like you said it was maybe just a few months prior to pandemic, probably just towards the end of 2019, that everybody was set up with Zoom Pro accounts. So we were set up to go also, I think a lot of companies were already on their way. This just for the ones who didn’t kind of was a kick in the rear so that they could get set up. I don’t know how you do business without it right now like you said, so what is there? Is there hope in sight? You know, in Malaysia, do you see the end of the road? Or are you guys still kind of in the midst of it?
Lisa Chan 23:41
You know, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I mean, the vaccinations are obviously happening and they’re prioritizing the front liners as they should and the senior citizens after that. So low-risk groups like me, probably gonna get vaccinated less so maybe sometime in quarter three, if I’m lucky, or quarter four. So yeah, there is some hope is not as fast as many people had hoped it would be. But it’s given birth to some cool tools within the company as well. We actually piloted this bot on Microsoft Teams, it’s based, it’s built on top of Azure, Azure bot technology, which is just like a chatbot. And it checks in on you every day or Microsoft Teams. So it does this for all our, like 50,000 employees that use teams. So when you log on the board, just say Say Hello, good morning, you know, can you tell me where you’re working? Are you displaying any symptoms? You know, please check-in and then any check-in every day. So that’s how we kind of keep track of where people are, whether they’re there. Yeah, whether they’re under quarantine or facing any symptoms. So I thought that was a good way for you know, it to support our HSA, our health and safety department in terms of tracking where everybody was in and their general state of health.
Jason Baum 24:57
Yeah, it also gives everybody a friend Say hello to in the morning in a very isolated environment, sometimes that can be helpful.
Jason Baum 25:09
So switching subjects, I was told to bring up an elephant. So I did and I watched on SKILup day. You had mentioned the dancing elephant. And briefly, because I know we’re kind of running up against time, can you first of all, have you ever seen a dancing elephant? Because I really want to know. And what does that mean?
Lisa Chan 25:36
No, no, I haven’t personally
Jason Baum 25:39
crashed. I was hoping you would say yes.
Lisa Chan 25:42
Yeah, I mean, I have seen cartoons of elephants and in the circus bouncing balls. But I took the title of my talk. How to make an Elephant Dance because I was inspired by Lucas book. And Lou Gerstner was one of the former CEOs of IBM who had led IBM through this huge transformation program and he had a book called, you know, who says elephants can’t dance. So so I kind of took inspiration from that. Yeah, you know, I, PETRONAS has this big, lumbering legacy IT shop and everything is, you know, in its own silo, it’s fragmented, everything moves slowly. And, and what we did with DevOps was, you know, just, you know, cut across all those multidisciplinary silos. We implement the common tooling, we got everybody on board to the Agile agenda, we trained everyone. So it was a cultural shift, it was a technological shift. So, you know, we, it was a very small group, you know, like a mouse, like a mouse that made an elephant, you know, streaking down, so, so I thought that was a nice metaphor for our journey this past three years.
Jason Baum 26:49
That’s great. And so going back to PETRONAS, I mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, I was gonna ask this question just because it’s, it’s interesting to me, what’s going on here in the United States with a big push to green energy and electric. You’re working for a big natural oil company. You know, how is Malaysia? How is PETRONAS tackling this big push towards renewable energy green energy and the electric movement?
Lisa Chan 27:18
Well, PETRONAS in the context of many Malaysians and what it means and what the role that this company plays in nation-building in general is huge. And I think many people including Malaysians don’t realize that PETRONAS actually contributes somewhere between 20 to 30% of GDP, country’s GDP. And about half of our government budgets actually comes from PETRONAS because there are major shelter shareholders, and it’s a national oil company. So we manage resources and how well we do has a direct impact on how well the country does. So. And we know that stakeholders and people and consumers generally moving in a clean energy direction. So you know, it’s inevitable. In you know, in the past decade, it was about peak oil, we were worried about, you know, the fact that was running out and shale all came about and you know, unconventional reserves came out. So oh, hey, look, we’re not running out after all. So but this isn’t about running out. This is about people not having tolerance for what is perceived to be dirty energy anymore. So our CEO Mater, a very, very big announcement last year. So the timeline is that by 2013 30% of our revenues are supposed to come from noncore oil and gas. So a lot of this includes renewables. And by 2050, we are supposed to be net-zero carbon emissions. So I don’t know what that looks like yet. But for now, we have started buying up some solar companies. So I imagine over time, we will probably be buying assets in water conservation, in you know, other kinds of new energy like wind, maybe we might even be decommissioning some of our dodgy refineries like you see a lot of companies like BP doing now. So we’ll be going down that same direction. Wow. That’s
Jason Baum 29:20
that’s that’s interesting. It’s probably exciting probably scary, I would imagine. But you know, it’s, it’s good to hear the world is kind of all inline on that piece are starting to become in line with it, you know, obviously are in the United States. I think by 2030. Most of our major car manufacturers have already made the declaration that they will be electric, which, which means my next car probably will be electric, which is pretty, pretty interesting. Pretty crazy. Hopefully, it’s affordable. That’s what I’m a little worried about. Alright, so You know, to wrap things up, let’s end on a, I guess a positive. What are you most excited about for the future? What are for you personally or for DevOps? It doesn’t matter. I just, you know, what are you excited about?
Lisa Chan 30:15
Personally, I’m very excited about getting my vaccination and traveling. I am an avid diver, I love to go scuba diving, and I have not done so since the pandemic. I love to travel. So and I have not been able to do that either.
Jason Baum 30:33
So what’s your favorite place to travel?
Lisa Chan 30:36
Oh, you have a favorite place. But I love to hike. So there are a lot of beautiful places in the world where you can do that. So and it’s Japan, or I’ve always wanted to do the Tour de Mont Blanc in Switzerland, I any go through, I think not just Switzerland, but in France and Italy as well. So I’ve always wanted to do that. That’s probably one of the hikes that was on my bucket list. I was going to do it this year, but then, you know, things change. So personally, that’s what I’m most excited about to be able to see the world again. In terms of my career, I am most excited about our move to cloud actually. PETRONAS has always had its own data centers. So the majority of our workloads in our applications, they’re hosted in about nine data centers that we have domestically all around Malaysia. So this year, we’re going to be making a huge move to the cloud. And by the end of the year, more of our workloads will be in the cloud, then on our data centers. So So for me, that’s very exciting, because it unlocks, we get to move away from this brick-and-mortar business. And that’s the end the call opens up. So so many opportunities in terms of serverless architecture, manage databases, and we you know, we want to spend less time babysitting servers and more time coding. So I think it’s not just me, a lot of our developers are very excited about that. That’s happening this year.
Jason Baum 32:12
Excellent. Well, all things that sound promising, and I wish you luck with all that, and probably most of all, getting your vaccine so that you can go travel. I think that’s all of us, all of our hopes is to just regain some normalcy in our lives or so that we could go back to doing those things that we want to do or have always dreamed of doing. Like, you know, taking a hike that you’ve always wanted to do. I think that’s fantastic. Well, Lisa, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast this week.
Lisa Chan 32:44
Thank you, Jason, thanks so much for having me.
Jason Baum 32:47
And thank you for listening. This has been another episode of the humans of DevOps podcast, we’ve been talking to Lisa chan DevOps Institute is a professional association. For the DevOps professional, I encourage you all, if you haven’t to check us out at DevOps institute.com. Check out our membership options. It’s, it’s if you’re a DevOps professional, no matter where you are in your career, we have content for you at a premium level. I really encourage you to go check that out. If you have any questions, you can also reach out to me. Thanks for listening to this episode. Don’t forget to join our global community. And remember, you are part of something bigger than yourself, you belong. And I’m going to end it like this because I ended it like that last time, live long and prosper.
Thanks for listening to this episode of the humans of DevOps podcast. Don’t forget to join our global community to get access to even more great resources like this. Until next time, remember, you are part of something bigger than yourself. You belong