A Story of DevOps >> Episode 12. Resurrection

This article was inspired by Rising Strong, by Brene Brown and follows my previous 12 articles are highlighted at the bottom of this article.

I started at BAE Systems on Monday 13th July 1998. Fresh-faced, ambitious and ready to take on the world. On Friday 13th July 2008, exactly 20 years later, I left BAE Systems to join DevOpsGroup as a Principal DevOps Consultant.

My story is not a simple one, far from it. But its our life experiences that make us who we are. I am normally a very private person but after writing a number of articles on #AStoryofDevOps, I felt it was time to tell some of my story.

"Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness in our lives; it’s the process that teaches us the most about who we are." Rising Strong, Brene Brown

The Reckoning

I was born in Newtown, Wales on Tuesday 14th September 1976, just after the hottest summer on record. Ironic as my next big change in my life is during the next hottest summer since then – 2018.

I spent a significant part of my early life in Grimsby, South Humberside and although I have some happy memories, I didn’t have the happiest childhood. Self-confidence was a really big issue; affected by issues such as racism and domestic violence, this had a considerable impact on me and my sense of self-worth.

The following teenage years were also difficult. The sense of ‘turning out like my father’ was always playing at the back of my mind and this impacted my studies and my personal relationships – a deep sense of fear perpetuated my life and affected my self-confidence. I recall a lot of stress in our family home as a result of my father’s behaviour, my mother met someone else and remarried then we relocated to Kenya, Africa.

After a long spell of Malaria, I started Secondary School but because the school had no spaces left in my year group I had to go down to a lower year. I really struggled – O Levels were much harder than GCSEs. I struggled to understand the language, the subject and the culture. I was already behind in my studies and days and weeks went by and I was not progressing. The school was a private academy and there was a mix of kids there; ranging from students who respected their parents efforts to get them a good education to those who were joining their parents business’ and did not really need to try. As a result, the teachers tended to focus on the kids who worked hard and did well, I was not focussed on as a student as I was not doing well.

After weeks of not progressing, particularly in Maths, I remember working all night to try and get the first questions done. I went into the staff room the next day and placed the work on my Math’s teacher’s desk saying “now will you teach me?” Schools in Kenya still exercised corporal punishment and I knew that this bold behaviour could result in recieving the cane at all-school assembly – but I had to do something.

However the Maths teacher simply smiled and said “ok”… then went back to marking her papers. From this point on things changed – I wasn’t sure if it was because the teacher had changed or because I had. Working hard, showing commitment and persevering had got me a result. Over the next few weeks I applied the same tactic and improved in all my subjects. Every month we would have tests on what we had learnt, then quarterly and annual tests. After failing my first month’s tests, I did better in my second month’s and by the quarterly tests I was second in my class. Thereafter, I was either first or second in the year group-in friendly competition with other high performers in the class.

The months went by and I was enjoying school, I loved playing basketball and had good friends. Africa had grown on me and I felt at home. We also had a dog who soon became my best friend, I would wake up to Hippos yawning on Lake Victoria, these were happy days.

Then, things started to go wrong – the elections started and violence broke out – On the way in to school one day, from the back of the pickup truck, I saw a man being chased, caught and hacked up with a sickle. There was blood everywhere.

The company my step-dad worked for also made changes and he was released from his Quarry General Manager role – it was time to return to England. For reasons I don’t understand, during this process we lost our family home in England and could not get all our belongings back from Kenya hence we ended up in a Bed and Breakfast in Cleethorpes with no home and no possessions, we had to start again.

As a result of these changes I had not taken my O Levels in Kenya, also, it transpired, I’d missed GCSE exams in England. I went back to my previous school and they suggested that I took some tests to see if I could go straight to A Levels. I recall doing a couple of Maths tests and doing well so they let me in to do A Level Maths, Further Maths and Physics. I also completed GSCE English with a resit group.

In addition to this, to support my parents, I got a part time job working in an Arcade on the seafront. I remember these as happy times – working on the seafront, studying subjects I enjoyed, making new friends, etc. I had a life of two parts – a dark, gloomy home life and a fulfilling and enjoyable education and work life.

The day came when I had to choose a university course having not spent any time thinking about it! I picked up the UCAS book on the day of submission and started reading from the beginning of the list of available degree courses. I picked the first one I liked the sound of that was connected with Maths and Engineering.

A few months later I was in Manchester’s UMIST university studying Aerospace Engineering. A new city, a new challenge – free from the past – or so I thought. However, the fear, insecurity and rejection of my past life stopped me being the best I could be. Although I was ‘free’, I did not how to be free. Despite this I developed great friendships and when pressure was applied I did the work necessary to keep me in the course.

"All though I was free, I didn't know how to be free" 

I had little financial support during university so I worked in Pizza Hut’s kitchen (almost full time); here I evolved my work ethic. I realised the importance of working hard, working smart and the importance of customer experience. I was keen to learn and develop and as a result quickly mastered the craft of making Pizza’s to a high standard. I soon turned my focus to kitchen maintenance and cleanliness. Competing with my friend and colleague Ben, we would see how quickly we could close down the kitchen on a evening, this meant we could get back to the house and game all night on the new PS1, we were hooked; Tekken, Wipeout, Tomb Raider and Doom – Happy Days!!

Looking back, this was my first experience of ‘Lean’ – I managed to achieve near perfect closedowns, normally taking over an hour I got them to less than 15mins – in some cases, I could close down a mainstream Manchester City restaurant in under 5 mins. This was achieved through meticulous planning during the course of the evening, by making sure that shorter-shift staff were prioritising the right work, learning and cleaning as the shift progressed and shutting the whole place down almost as the last customers left the building. If all went well, I would just need to put the lids on the containers of ingredients (which I had already stacked away in the fridge), remove the cling film from the already wiped surfaces, set the final pot wash for the day and mop the floor where I had been standing. 5 mins – done. Unfortunately, I could not leave until I had helped ‘Front of House’ also close down but with 2 of us, we were done in no time.

One day at university I was asked if I had submitted applications for the 4th year 6 month placement, I hadn’t, by the time I applied there was one left; British Aerospace. I filled this in praying that I would get this as this was my last chance. Thankfully I received a call to go for an interview and I was given a place at British Aerospace.

Around this time when I met Rachel, who later on became my wife. Rachel had a massive impact on my confidence and belief in myself. Loving and being loved helped to redefine who I was.

In just over a year, I finished my placement with British Aerospace, was offered a scholarship, I finished my degree, learnt how to drive, bought a house, got married, started a full time job and became a Christian. Some very significant changes occurred in my life – I went from being a student to being an employee, husband, father and believer in relatively short time.

Over the last 20 years, I have progressed through BAE Systems with multiple roles in aircraft platform support, marketing, business development, strategy, IT project management, infrastructure service management, business systems service management, Service Integration and Management (SIAM) and finally Product Management.

During this time, we started a company which subsequently failed. Combined with my day job, this resulted in huge levels of stress and put strain on my job and marriage. Together with the business failures and some intense counselling, I learnt a lot about myself and made some dramatic changes which have helped both at home and at work.

I was also on the board of trustees for a charity called Lords House Farm for around 10 years, this provided horticulture and animal therapy for disadvantaged people. It was an extremely rewarding experience as we made a significant difference to young people’s lives in the North West. Unfortunately, with the Economic Downturn we had to transfer ownership to a much larger organisation and we relocated some of the work to a smaller operation in Cumbria, (you can still visit Llama Karma Cafe in the Lakes).

On Friday 13th July 2018, I left BAE systems – 20 years after starting, to the day! My final 3 months were emotional; from the time I decided to leave, to handing in my notice very early one Friday morning, from preparing for and managing my handover and saying farewell to colleagues and friends, to having a great big send off which I will remember all the days of my life. My time there has been a privilege, it has been an honour and blessing to serve at BAE Systems, I will miss it and my colleagues.

This brings me up to date and now I am taking a big leap in leaving the company I have served and loved for the last 20 years to join a business that shares the same passion for organisational transformation as myself. DevOpsGroup, previously DevOpsGuys, helped my in the early days of our Story of DevOps. They were the Eric-type role from the Phoenix Project and they have pointed me in the right direction and corrected my course where needed, they challenged normal ways of working and have counselled me when things were tough. Three years on, following a dramatic transformation at BAE Systems, I am ready to join them to help others on this journey.

The Rumble

Reflecting on the past 41 years of my life, I see the influence of two dominant forces – Fear and Belief. In my early years, insecurity, rejection and fear of failure were dominant – my need for safety was great and, as one of the base needs in Maslow’s hierarchy, this drove a lot of my behaviour. I was withdrawn and did not believe I had any value or could be loved. I had been rejected by people I loved most, I was fearful of becoming something I did not want to be and I lacked confidence.

Success at work, together with meeting my wife and having a family, helped to alleviate some of my fears but deep down insecurities were still strong. Despite this, I started to believe in myself and I had a purpose – a goal to work towards. Also, significantly, Rachel was a Christian and early 2000 after attending Church with her, I started to realise that there was a higher power in Universe, I realised that His goal was to love us and for us to love him and each other despite the pain and suffering the world. There are a whole host of articles I could write on this subject – but the key for me is that I learnt about God in a meaningful way, I recognised and felt His presence and power in my life and my faith began to grow.

This did not stop the failures in my life and there were things in me that had to break – the barriers, pride and controls I had put around my life, these had to collapse and a new Raj began to form built on a more solid foundations of hope, trust and authenticity. I began to learn who I am and started to love and trust myself, this changed my relationships at home and at work. I ‘brought myself to the party’, I liked it and others responded well.

A key part to becoming the new Raj was dying to the old Raj and this could only be done through forgiveness, which, according to Brene Brown is basically facing up to your biggest hurts and deepest grief and releasing the cause of the pain. This is not just something I had to do once but it’s something that I need to constantly revisit. I had to forgive so many people in my past and I had to forgive myself – this was the hardest.

"To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form if self-interest. It is also a process that does not exclude hatred and anger. These emotions are all part of being human. You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things: The depth of your loveis shown by the extent of your anger.

However, when I talk of forgiveness, I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than one being consumed by anger and hatred.  Remaining in that state locks you in a state of victimhood, making you almost dependent on the perpetrator. If you can find it in yourself to forgive, then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator.  You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person, too." Brene Brown, Rising Strong.

The stories in my head have changed, the connections to my emotions and feelings have changed and I behave differently. I have more faith and confidence, hopefully, with more grace and humility to others. I am not the finished article and I will continue to grow and change until the day I die. What I have learnt is that my faith needs to be greater than my fear. Fear hold me back from being who I am supposed to be and faith pushes the boundaries of who I am today.

The Revolution

I have stepped out – leaving the comfort and security of BAE Systems, whom I have respectfully and diligently served for half my life. Heading into new waters through engaging with the outside world I now aim to help others understand and traverse the high paced technology environment where organisational culture predicates business performance.

This is not to say there are not new fears to face, but I have faith – I believe that I have a purpose to achieve, I have a strong family and have joined a a great company and on these foundations, we can help build skyscrapers!

At the beginning of my life, I felt the the end of my story was not going to be a happy one. As part of facing up to my fears and failures, dealing with the pain and hurt in my life and forgiving myself and others, I have gained a new perspective on life which entails faith, hope and love. My future has been re-written and I play a much bigger part in the re-writing of my story.

Writing this article has been really difficult and there are still many areas of my life I have not written about. Facing up to what has happened in my life is one thing, dealing with the impact is another and will be an ongoing process. We all have a story, much of which tends to be written for us, our fears and failures can hold us back and affect our story.

I have learnt sometimes things happen to us and they hurt us (like breaking a leg) but then we don’t let it heal properly. Later on in life, in order to heal properly, the leg needs to be broken again and set straight so it can recover and grow strong. Perhaps in some senses, we need to emotionally break to rise strong again.

I hope that this series of #AStoryofDevOps has been useful and my articles have helped others toward their goals – feel free to reach out and connect.

  • A Story of DevOps
  • Episode 1 >> Origins (Traversing the Change Curve)
  • Episode 2 >> One Ring (Alignment and Empowerment)
  • Episode 3 >> Freedom (Leadership)
  • Episode 4 >> Assemble (Productive and Teams)
  • Episode 5 >> Shield (Tools of the Trade)
  • Episode 6 >> Kryptonian (Value, Flow, Quality in a Complex World)
  • Episode 7 >> Jedi (Mastery)
  • Episode 8 >> Balrog (Confront the Brutal Facts)
  • Episode 9 >> Kryptonite (Anti-Patterns of DevOps)
  • Episode 10 >> The Suit (Digital Transformation)
  • Episode 11 >> Flux Capacitor (Automation and Orchestration)
  • Episode 12 >> Resurrection

#AStoryofDevOps #DevOps #Ressurrection #Vulnerability #Leadership

Raj Fowler

I am a natural, enthusiastic and authentic leader who understands the impact of IT as a differentiator for business performance and how organisational culture directly influences IT and business performance. With a strong appreciation of the changing technology environment, I have spearheaded a transformation of organisational ‘ways of working’ through adoption of the philosophies and principles that underpin DevOps, Agile and Lean. As a result, I have a track record of delivering operational excellence whilst improving IT agility, security and responsiveness enabled through close business relationships, technology-led thinking and inspirational leadership. 3 years ago we delivered about 50 to 100 changes per annum across about 80 business systems, all of which we managed using our standard plan, build and operate practices. Change was difficult and the transition from project to service was painful. I lived the opening chapters of the Phoenix Project on a regular basis. I now manage over 100 business systems and we categorised 7 of these as Products which include ServiceNow, Salesforce, Cognos, SuccessFactors, SharePoint. SAP and Bespoke Applications where we have established Product Teams. These are teams that build and support Product using DevOps philosophies. As a result, we delivered over 2500 changes last year whilst at the same time improving the service by 30%, improving customer satisfaction and employee morale. Using the "you build it, you support it" (Amazon) mentality, change is no longer a big event but a normal everyday occurrence and the usual spikes of incidents are no longer there, in fact with each change we deploy, the incident volumes reduce! Teams are not only delivering new features but are cleaning up their code and removing technical debt with every release. As a result, we have made a significant impact to the efficiency of our internal functions which in turn helps the competitiveness and profitability of the enterprise.

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