(Note: For simplicity, I'll refer to web operations, server systems, devops, and so on as simply "Ops" or "systems".)
Do what others consider impossible
Do you ever wonder how some companies can scale to over $100,000,000 in annual revenue with less than 20 hours per week spent on their Ops?
That's an oddly specific example, so you probably haven't wondered that exactly! But the fact is, a few engineers know how to do this, but most don't.
I've had a few of clients that have been able to do exactly that. I've also had dozens of smaller clients who have been able to scale to multi-millions of dollars of annual revenue with under 10 hours per week spent on Ops.
Many engineers have a hard time believing these scenarios are even possible, but that is only because they haven't personally seen it done and have no idea how to do it. (Yet!)
The "default" ways are SLOOOOW
It's not the engineer's fault necessarily that they don't know how. The default way to create systems is to follow the well-respected examples of others. That seems perfectly reasonable right? Well, it seems reasonable, but it is SLOOOOOW and hugely inefficient. Here's where this "default" strategy falls down:
- The example you are copying is from a system with different needs than yours. I can't tell you how many small and medium sized companies I've come across that use Netflix or Google as a model for their systems. They end up wasting a ton of resources trying to do things that only make sense at truly massive scale. Ultimately, they end up throwing away their competitive advantage and making it less likely to even get near the massive scale they are trying to emulate.
- The example you're copying is a copy of a copy of a copy. And that original copy is 20 years old. News flash: the Ops world has changed a lot since then! In my consulting I come across modern companies making decisions that would have only made sense in the 1990s. Insanity!
Unfortunately this "default" way of building and running systems will be with us for the foreseeable future. Here's why:
- It feels right (even when it's not). When a high-status company has done something, then it feels like you get a little of that status by doing the same thing. It's easy to justify doing that thing because "High Status Company" also did it.
- It makes the right ways feel wrong. There's so much momentum for the defaults, that often when I show engineers how to do something far simpler and cheaper, it will just feel "wrong" to them. They don't realize that much of what they feel comes from the marketing of software vendors, infrastructure companies, and Ops consultants that push their preferred way of doing things. Those guys may be acting in good-faith, but they have a huge disincentive in you having simpler systems. In nearly every case it means less revenue for them.
The effectiveness of your systems is NOT measured in feelings!
The effectiveness of your systems is measured in how efficiently they serve your company's goals. Goals like:
- Extremely low maintenance
- Low cost
- High reliability
- Robust security
- Readiness to scale
- Ease of hiring
- Support for high-speed development
That's what this training program is about: learning how to get beyond the alluring, yet painfully slow defaults and instead use High Velocity Ops.
With High Velocity Ops, instead of copying from the examples of others, we start from the foundational First Principles and from there learn the strategies for building extremely simple, robust, low-cost systems.
Reasoning from First Principles
The systems engineering field is still in its infancy. Many "expert" systems engineers are encyclopedias of low-level technical knowledge, but don't have a grasp on the key fundamentals.
And it's those fundamentals that make the difference between speed and excruciating sluggishness for business growth.
The best way I've found to teach modern systems for maximizing business growth is to start from the basic foundations and work up from there.
Elon Musk explains the First Principles approach:
"First principles is kind of a physics way of looking at the world. You boil things down to the most fundamental truths and say, 'What are we sure is true?' ...and then reason up from there."
To describe the power in this, he gives a great example:
Historically, battery packs cost $600 per kilowatt hour. People assume that's just the way it is. But, if you look at the basic elements of a battery pack, you see that it is just a combination of elements like cobalt, nickel, aluminum, carbon, and polymers put in a sealed can. However, if you look at the costs of those individual materials and add them up, it comes to only $80. So, then it's just a matter of coming up with a clever way to combine those materials and you can create a dramatically cheaper battery pack.
The advantage of First Principles is that it cuts through all the outdated traditions, zealotry, and hyped-up fads around systems.
Without building from First Principles, there is often a lot of, "But some Unicorn company did it this other way..." or, "But so-and-so expert said this one thing..."
Using First Principles establishes clearly what you need and what you don't.
Many systems are not built from First Principles, and this is how you can tell:
- There's a bunch of complex expensive-to-maintain crap they don't need
- There's a bunch of absolutely critical things missing
Without building from First Principles, your systems end up:
- Exposed to catastrophic risk
- Requiring 5 to 50 times more engineering hours than necessary
Even engineers that are considered technical geniuses fall into these traps. They get caught up chasing every new fad and adding it to their systems. Despite their technical prowess, if you look only at the business metrics of their systems, these technical-marvels-of-waste are indistinguishable from incompetence.
How this Benefits You
Any sufficiently technical engineer can set up systems that wastefully drag along at 5 to 50 times slower than needed. That is neither rare nor valuable. Lots of people do that. It's sadly quite common in our industry.
This program prepares you to be one of the most powerful engineers when it comes to maximizing your systems for the fastest business growth. That is very rare and very valuable. It will benefit you throughout your career whether you're an early engineer at a new startup, a CTO running an engineering team at a larger company, or a founder of your own venture.
If you’re a current or future engineering leader:
- Clearly understand what good systems look like and know how to show appreciation for quiet, cheap, stable systems
- Retain the talented engineers that make these ultra-efficient systems possible before they’re snatched up by competitors
- Know exactly what to look for when hiring top systems engineers, which means seeing beyond resumé buzzwords and selecting those who can deliver on the metrics that matter
- Sleep better at night knowing your company’s Ops are running smoothly without your direct supervision
- Free up a surplus of engineering hours that you can use to give your engineers benefits like 20% time and the opportunity to work on open source projects
- See through bad systems advice and protect your team from falling victim to it
- Use First Principles to help your team understand the big why behind the High Velocity approach
If you're an Ops engineer:
- Be a top performer in your company
- Free up your time for more interesting and valuable projects
- Outcompete other engineers for systems jobs and know how to sell yourself with the growth skills that matter
- Learn how to demonstrate your high value to your company —which can be a challenge since the best systems are the most quiet
- Avoid the traps that lesser engineers fall into when trying to show their worth with technical adventuring and unstable on-fire systems (various forms of 'heroics')
We'll cover 10 modules in the main program.
1. Strategies for Maximizing Growth
- Closer look at the purpose and benefits of these strategies
2. Navigating Hazards
- Countering bad advice
- Most common mistakes
3. First Principles: Business Growth
- Ops role in business growth
- How bad ops slows business growth
4. First Principles: Systems
- The fundamental purpose of the system
- The components of the system
- The fundamental needs of those components
5. First Principles: Workflows
- Fundamentals of system workflows
- creating environments
- regular recurring tasks
- as-needed triggered tasks
- recovery workflows
6. Strategies for Speed: Don't Die
- Mortal risks
- Crippling risks
7. Strategies for Speed: Avoid Slow Downs
- Key factors in slowing growth
- Strategies for countering each slowing factor
8. Strategies for Speed: FULL Speed
- Key factors for maintaining top speed
- Hiring engineers with systems speed skills
9. Strategies for Speed: Scaling
- Scaling principles for maximizing speed
- How to not throw-away your advantages when at smaller scales
- How to keep costs low when scaling your team
10. Strategies for Speed: All hands on deck
- How to sell the benefits of High Velocity Ops to engineers
- Calling out bad system smells
- Reward what is impressive
- How to maintain visibility for invisible systems
A Great Investment
While it's impossible to estimate exactly (it greatly depends on your scale and business situation), this program can save you and your company many thousands of engineering hours and millions of dollars.
The sooner you get started, the sooner you'll have the power to boost your systems for speed and create an advantage over your competition (not to mention, freeing up your own time for more interesting projects).
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Answers to Your Questions
Am I a good fit for this?
If your top priority is creating great systems that deliver on the most important business metrics for your company, then yes!
You care deeply about these:
- Extremely low maintenance
- Low cost
- High reliability
- Robust security
- Readiness to scale
- Ease of hiring
- Support for high-speed development
The folks I've found that are typically a bad fit for this are those who:
- Only care about the technology and ignore how it impacts the success of their business.
- Can't break from tradition and must always follow the crowd, no matter how slow they are going.
- Are addicted to heroics and must keep their systems in a constant state of adventure/peril so they can be the perpetual hero.
What scale do you cover?
This program covers scale from the very early seed-stage startup to companies (or divisions of larger companies) with annual revenue up to a few hundred million. Of course, revenue is a very loose indicator, but it will be accurate in most cases. We don't cover scale that requires building your own data centers, etc.
What if the program isn’t for me? Can I get a refund?
Absolutely. You can sign up for the program and get a full-refund if you cancel before the last session.
No questions asked, no hard feelings, just a fair refund if it's not for you.
How long is it and how is it delivered?
About 7 hours of instruction and 2 hours of group systems consulting delivered live via online video (~9 hours total).
It is typically delivered in 3 sessions of 3 hours each (though I may offer other formats periodically).
How do you know this stuff?
In short, I've completed hundreds of successful systems-improvement projects for my clients. More details on my About page.
Do I need a technical background for this program?
Not really. This is primarily a strategy training program. I've even taught this material to business executives and they fully understood it (though I did take a little extra time to explain some concepts like DNS, network encryption, etc).
Approximately 95% of the program requires no previous technical background. For the 5% of the program that requires a bit of technical explanation, I will let you know ahead of time the concepts you'll need to understand (it's not a lot).
In my experience, it's the basic strategies where systems most often fail. With the wrong strategies, no amount of technical brilliance will save your systems. That's why this program focuses primarily on getting the strategies and First Principles right.
Can I ask questions?
Absolutely. There are regular Q&A opportunities throughout the program.
Can you help me with my particular systems?
Yes —in the group consulting sessions I'm happy to answer these questions. Keep in mind though that this isn't a deep technical program so the questions should be primarily focused on the system strategies.
If you'd like private consulting where we review your company's systems and create a customized speed-up plan, there are special Systems Speedup packages available exclusively to alumni of this program.
I'm embarrassed about my systems, will you judge me?
You don't need to worry about feeling embarrassed about your current systems when we work together. Your systems have gotten your business to where it is now. That's awesome just in itself. We don't worry about the past —our only aim is to evolve your systems to be even better at achieving your business goals.
At some point in my career, I've made nearly every mistake we cover in the program. I've seen many of my engineering idols at the top companies in the world make these mistakes. Don't worry, you're in good company ;-)
Can you deliver a customized private version of this program to my company?
Yes, depending on my availability. If you'd like the program to be delivered privately to your team and customized to your particular systems and goals, contact me for details.
What software will I need to take the program?
You will need a Flash enabled browser to participate in the training.
The Chrome web browser comes with Flash built-in, so it's an easy option. It is also available for Mac, Linux, and Windows. Download it here.
For the nitty-gritty details on the system requirements for attendees on AnyMeeting (the platform we're using) —take a look here.
To test your setup, use the AnyMeeting System Test.
What about privacy?
I do not share system details associated with the company's identity without written permission or unless the details are already public. I will share generalized system stories anonymously but I always change any details that could possibly be used to identify the company. I do share the company names of my notable past corporate customers in a general list unless I've made a special agreement with them beforehand.
Will you sign my NDA or other contracts before working together?
Sometimes, but I have a significant surcharge fee for this since I need to take time to review it and have my lawyer review it, etc. Contact me with the details and I'll provide you a quote on the fee.
I really want to take this program, but I can't afford it right now. What are my options?
I plan to run a special version of this program periodically for those that are in a situation where they can't currently afford the program (like you're in a developing country, are a student, have 15 children, or something similar). Send me an email and describe your situation. Then if it is a good fit, I'll add you to the waiting list and when there are enough people on the list, I will notify you of the discounted price and dates for this special version of the program.
Please note though that this special version of the program will be different than the regular one. This program will be customized to cover the topics for those that have more time than money available to them. I realize that time is still in short supply for many students and those in developing countries, however, the reality is that purchasing time-saving solutions is often not an option in those circumstances. So, I skip many of the strategies where you can essentially trade money-for-time and outsource parts of your Ops work. Instead, I focus more on covering how to make the best use of your time since you will have to manage those things yourself.
I'm still not sure if this is for me. How can I learn more without taking the program?
That's no problem. This isn't for everyone. I'll be writing regularly about many of the topics I cover in the training programs and you can receive that content for free if you are subscribed to the email newsletter:
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