DevOps Institute

[E3] Upskilling: Stay Ahead of the Curve with Sam Fell, CloudBees


On this episode of the Humans of DevOps Podcast, Jayne Groll sits down with Sam Fell, AVP of Enterprise Marketing at CloudBees, to discuss upskilling and how IT professionals can identify which skills they need to learn in order to stay relevant and be able to help their organization thrive.

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 the S K I L framework. Here’s your host, DevOps Institute CEO, Jayne Groll.

Jayne Groll:
Hi, everyone. This is Jayne Groll, CEO of the DevOps Institute, and welcome to another episode of the Humans of DevOps Podcast. I’m particularly excited today because I have a good friend and a good colleague joining me. Sam Fell from CloudBees. Sam has been a great supporter of the Humans of DevOps. He’s been a great supporter of the DevOps Institute and I’d like to welcome Sam. Hi, Sam.

Sam Fell:
Hi, Jayne. Thank you for inviting me. Happy to be here.

Jayne Groll:
Sam, why don’t you tell us a little bit about you, about your Human of DevOps journey, and then of course, tell us a little bit about CloudBees.

Sam Fell:
Wonderful. A little bit about me. I am human and I’ve been human for, I won’t tell you my age, but a long time. I got into the DevOps space … I’d done things like APM and desktop change management. It’s funny, when I was doing the APM stuff my wife was over at BMC and she was an agile, like scrum manager. She was helping people manage projects and things like that.

Back in the day I used to say, “Yeah, you know, that’s interesting but agile is really only for devs. There’s really not a lot of money in it. There’s not a lot of value in it. It’s just sort of a project management thing.”

When I left that space and I came over to to the DevOps space, when I started working for Electric Cloud back in 2015, I realized how powerful the concept of agile was and how it allowed people to break really large problems into smaller bite-size chunks and how applicable that discipline was to so many disciplines that humans take part in and one of those being marketing.

I consider myself sort of an agile marketer and I love the DevOps space. I love the conversations that you can have about … You and I were just having a conversation about frameworks and about ideas. There’s so much past sort of prior knowledge that some really brilliant people have put together around this space.

Without even knowing that it was going to be DevOps, right? Peter Drucker, I talk to a lot of folks who pull on his work because he really figured out knowledge work is where humans are going to be able to really leverage our strength and if we can figure out how to make knowledge workers more productive like we did with, you know, the industrial revolution where we made physical labor … We sort of optimize that process. If you can make knowledge work as optimized as that physical labor the idea is there that it’s going to just transform the world.

We’re seeing that happen, right? It’s really, really exciting to be part of an industry and a culture that has got a growth mindset, they are respectful, and they touchback on the history that they’re building on top of, the foundations that they’re building on top of. They don’t sort of say, “Well, I’m inventing this now.” They always give credit.

I give credit to Gene Kim as somebody in the field who takes a lot of pride in doing that and helping to build up people who may no longer even be around because they were brilliant and they had these great ideas.

That’s sort of what I am doing over at CloudBees right now. I’m working with the teams to try and help understand how CloudBees can help with those efforts. How do we make that knowledge work that we believe is also very important? How do we make that knowledge work more accessible to the humans? How do we help those humans really advance their cause?

Jayne Groll:
You know, Sam, knowledge, I mean, it’s such a powerful concept, right? It’s not lost or forgotten in the digital revolution. As you know, and of course our listeners hopefully will find out very quickly, you and I have a history in trying to understand the current state of knowledge.

In 2018, DevOps Institute had an idea of being able to identify what skills are going to be a must-have, nice to have, or not important as we started to move forward in this, I’ll call it a knowledge revolution to feed on you were saying, and so we partnered with Evelyn Oehrlich formerly of Forrester.

You and I had kind of a milestone breakfast when you were still with Electric Cloud a few years ago when I talked about this idea of doing research on upskilling and which skills are actually now considered critical for individuals and teams and organizations to have. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that milestone breakfast?

Sam Fell:
Absolutely. One of my favorite parts of my job and the parts of this ecosystem that we find ourselves in in the DevOps space is being able to just talk with all these brilliant people and, again, to be able to give back to the folks and to try and help people do something that is much bigger than any one of us.

We did a DevOps World Jenkins World show with about 2000 of our closest friends a couple of weeks ago in San Francisco. Jayne, you were there, your whole team was there. Sasha, our CEO, was up on stage talking about the pace of change and how technology is helping society in a lot of untold ways. The way that he really put it to people … He had a picture of a new Tesla car with a couple of dogs in it and the screen had on it, “Yeah, it’s 70 degrees in the cabin. My owner’s in the store. He’ll be right back” or she’ll be right back.

The idea there was that somebody tweeted to Elon Musk saying, “Hey, this is a problem that we need to solve. Can you help us solve it?” Two days later, Tesla had rolled out a patch over the air that allowed these cars to basically leave themselves on with the climate control when there’s animals in the car and have the car be locked and have the screen come up so that passersby would be able to see that this was happening.

If you project that forward and you think about the accelerating curve you’ve seen the Accelerate report from Nicole and the folks at Google Cloud and you’ve seen how these elite performers have broken away from the high performers.

There is I think an accelerating or a virtuous cycle with knowledge. The more knowledge you have, the more access to knowledge and the more knowledge you share, the more access to knowledge you have.

A year and a half, two years ago, you and I connected and you had this idea around, “Hey, you know, we’re doing lots of stuff with machine learning and we’re doing lots of stuff with automation.” There was a lot of stuff in the news about people fearing that they’re going to be losing their jobs. The No Ops sort of movement, which sort of became a new ops movement, which I thought was very clever.

There’s all these things that humans are an integral part of this whole process and yet a lot of the work that they do and the work that I do as a manager is to try and make myself obsolete so that I can move on and do other things.

In general, humans don’t want to become obsolete because that’s a terrifying place to be in an economy where there may not be enough jobs or, you know, whatever that that fear is that you may have.

You and I got to sit down at a breakfast that was brokered by another fellow [inaudible] Johnson to talk a little bit about this idea you had of, “Hey, what if we could measure where people were in their skills and what kinds of skills the industry was looking for so that we could help organizations train these folks to be able to do the work that needed to be done, to take advantage of all the priority work that had been done by Peter and all these other people to help them really understand that?”

That’s really where this started with your idea of, “Hey, let’s see if we can help the humans instead of just focusing on the technology.”

Jayne Groll:
Well, you know, I’ve always appreciated the fact that you saw that vision and, of course, CloudBees saw the vision as well. And so Electric Cloud and CloudBees, now all CloudBees, really helped us bring that project to life.

I mean, for us, the problem statement was IT professionals are told they have to upskill. The question is which skills? Alright, so there’s such a broad range of skills but there’s also such a huge talent gap that it’s really difficult for an IT professional. I mean, I was an ops person for a long time. What new skills do I need to acquire in order to stay relevant in order to help my organization?

The interesting part is we launched this survey last year at DevOps World in Nice, France and at the same time you launched it at DevOps Enterprise Summit and 1600 people joined us in the project and said, “We’ll help you with that data.”

The resulting report, which of course is available at, is really insightful. I mean, I think the biggest gotcha was that soft skills were equally important to process and technical skills and so while we invest a lot in training people on new software, on new technologies, and of course that’s very important, and we train them on agile and ITIL and DevOps and scaled agile and Linux and any other SRE process, you know, maybe there’s a gap in focusing on human skills. Again, I thought the results of the report were really fascinating and very, very deep. But Sam, you know, once is not enough, right?

Sam Fell:
Yeah. The real value comes when you can start seeing that the Delta year over year, right? It’s like saying, “I’m going to go on a diet. What’s my weight today?” If my weight is, whatever it is, then, “I’m done.” Well, that’s not quite accurate. I need to come back a week later and say, “Okay, you know, have I changed my behavior? Yes or no?” I won’t tell you whether or not I actually followed my diet but I can weigh myself again and see whether or not my action or my inaction has caused any sort of a change.

If we want as a community, if we want to try and move the ball forward, I think it is very important to take that status check frequently. I guess we’re doing it once a year, which the amount of work that you and Evelyn put into trying to collect the data and analyze it it’d be the right cadence for us to be able to then reflect back and say, “Okay, it’s been a year and we understood where the gaps were and we’ve applied some investment to those gaps.”

Whether you’re an individual contributor and you went out and skilled yourself up by taking training or whether you’re an organization who wants to continue to hire very talented people and you’ve invested in training programs to help make sure that your people feel like you’re bringing them along and that you’re helping them improve themselves.

I think that’s all very, very important. Being able to go back and measure, “Well, did it work?” Right? I mean, that’s an important part of Gene Kim’s three ways, right? Is that feedback loop.

Jayne Groll:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, once was really interesting, but we know in a market where the shelf life of your skills is becoming shorter and shorter and shorter we want to be able to validate, first of all, the first year’s data but we also want to track the patterns.

If last year, say, AI showed up as a nice to have but not so much a must-have are we going to start to see AI or machine learning as more of a must-have as more skilled people become available and more training and more opportunities become available as well? I’m really fascinated by all of that.

As you know, on the stage at DevOps World a couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of standing there with you to announce that the survey for the 2020 upskilling DevOps enterprise skills report is open. I’m hoping that people that are listening here will go up to the website, go up to CloudBees. We’re really, really so excited that CloudBees is, again, a supporter and a sponsor of the report helping us bring this important information to the communities and the community is very global.

The survey will stay open until mid-December. If you’re listening, please take a few minutes, go fill out this survey. This affects everybody. If you’re an IT professional then the upskilling report has data that you really want to focus on and help grow your career and your own skills portfolios.

Again, from an upskilling perspective, just to touch on one more subject, Sam. You know, this isn’t just us, you, me, Sam, Jayne, CloudBees, DevOps Institute talking about upskilling. We know that there’s been some pretty significant investments in upskilling recently, including an announcement by Amazon of a $700 million commitment to upskilling 100,000 of their employees. Surely you’re seeing I think more of the skills need, the talent need, in your customers and your community as well. Do you want to share some of that?

Sam Fell:
Yeah, absolutely. You know, at Electric Cloud we were selling primarily, we were talking primarily, to folks who are on the receiving end of all this technology that the developers were doing what developers do best, which is innovating, experimenting, finding new ways of solving entirely new categories of problems.

The operations folks that they were working with were trying to absorb all of this technology and they were trying to absorb all of these updates. You know, the whole idea of continuous delivery and continuous integration and having those things happen in a more agile, frequent fashion. That’s not a motion that a lot of those folks were used to. Some of them are very used to it now and a lot of them are way on top of it but there are a lot that were saying, “Hey, you know what? The pace is just too much and I’m being overwhelmed by this thing. How do I figure out how to keep up?”

Having the ability to sponsor research that helps us quantify the areas that are most useful for these folks to upskill themselves, to help them pull themselves up by the bootstraps, and put them in a position where they can carry that knowledge forward, they can absorb those changes more easily, they can be more resilient as an operations organization and more flexible and agile. I guess it comes all back down to being agile.

You know, it’s a real privilege for us to be participating in sponsoring this survey and sponsoring these results because we do think that … You know, I have kids and if I look out 20 years there are going to be all sorts of problems that nobody ever thought could be solved with technology or with software that will definitely be able to be solved with technology and software. From an environmental perspective, from an assistance perspective, or from a medical perspective.

What else could we do to really accelerate the pace of human evolution more so than investing in the technology that we are able to evolve so quickly that supports us? We’re really, really excited about the effort that you’re putting in and we’re proud to be supporting it.

Jayne Groll:
Well, thank you very much. You know, just to wrap up a couple of things and one I haven’t even told you so I’ll surprise you as we’ll surprise our audiences. Well, first of all, please again, if you are a Human of DevOps and IT practitioner and you’re listening to this podcast, please take a few minutes and fill out the survey. The data is very deep and it really does help everyone that’s in a technology role around the world.

The second thing is I’m really happy to announce that as part of the effort to serve the human community around the world, DevOps Institute is partnering with Teach For All. For every survey respondent that we get, we’re contributing a dollar to Teach For All.

If you’re not familiar with Teach For All it is an organization that has a very global footprint. The goal is to be able to support children, the future humans of DevOps, in their educational opportunities by equipping teachers in underserved communities with curriculums and resources to be able to grow the next generation of doctors and technologists and professionals and every other occupation and career, each of which in the future and today touches in technology.

We’re really delighted to do that as part of our commitment. I know that CloudBees will be excited about that as well. For every survey respondent $1 goes to Teach For All.

Sam Fell:
That’s lovely. I love that motion. I think that’s fantastic. You know, whatever we can do to help give back. James Governor at DevOps World Jenkins World talked a lot about this during his closing keynote. How do we get to 100 million developers? You’d think it would be all about sort of training and technical stuff but really it’s about being open to new ideas and inclusive of new people and making sure that it’s accessible, this technology is really accessible to people. I love the idea of investing in sort of the children of DevOps and making sure …

Jayne Groll:
The children of DevOps. Yeah, I love that. Okay, well, anyhow, I think we’re out of time but, Sam, thank you. I mean, thank you for really articulating so well the need for really a knowledge revolution and being able to support. Thank you for your vision a year and a half ago in my crazy idea of doing this research. Of course, thank you to the team at CloudBees for your ongoing support and able to do that.

As you can hear, I have a little thunderstorm around me so it’s probably time for us to sign off.

Sam Fell:
That’s the exclamation point.

Jayne Groll:
That was the exclamation point, wasn’t it? It was fantastic. I couldn’t ask for a better … Anyhow, again, I’m Jayne Groll. This is the Humans of DevOps Podcast. Sam Fell, thanks very much. Until next time, have a great day.

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.

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