Epi. 43: Setting Service Level Objectives to Prioritize and Optimize Software and Manage Risks – Kit Merker, COO of Nobl9

Learn more about Nobl9 at: www.nobl9.com

Find Kit Merker on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kitmerker/

JC: Welcome everybody to another episode of the Future of Biz Tech. I’m your host, JC Granger. And I have another fantastic guest with us on the show today. And listen, if you end up loving this episode, please show your love and appreciation by following this podcast, wherever it is that you’re listening. And be sure to give it a five star rating, hopefully with some nice comments on there. Because that is how techies like you and me can find podcasts like this. So today I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing the COO of Nobl9, Kit Merker. Kit, thank you so much for being on the show. Tell the audience a little bit about yourself. And what does Nobl9 do? What do they do it for?


Kit: Hey JC, thanks. Great to be here. Well, let’s see I’ve been in the software business a little bit too long, like 20 years. And Nobl9 is really all about making it so that software teams can make better decisions about reliability. And I don’t know about you, but whenever I use software, it doesn’t always work 100% of the time,


JC: Oh, no, mine always works 100%. No failures, no downtime, no bugs — no, we’re perfect.


Kit: You might have the magic touch, right? So whether you’re, you know, streaming a video or trying to upload your check to your bank account, or if you’re trying to order food, you know, and actually, it’s crazy, because all of us are so dependent on software now, you know, we use it for everything from how we eat, how we do money, how we find love, you know, it’s all software. And it doesn’t work 100% of the time. And that’s because it can’t. And so what we tried to do at Nobl9 is we made a set of tools that help you embrace failure, help you manage the risk. So it doesn’t actually completely ruin your day, but helps you decide which things you need to pay attention to and which things you can ignore. And that’s helping software teams sleep better at night and run their operations in a way that makes our customers happy. So that’s the mission we’re on. It’s something I’ve been passionate about for a long time. And it’s really cool to have a company completely focused on it.


JC: So let’s talk about real case use right. So first of all, who’s like your perfect client like, of all that, because we have a lot of techies that listen, a lot of software companies and things like that. So which segment of our audience do you think is like, “Oh, yeah, I mean, this would make my life so much better”, right? And then after you answer that, then it’s you know, give us like a like, like, let’s paint the picture of what it would be like to actually utilize what you guys have and how it helped them. 


Kit: Sure. Well, the people who use it, or benefit the most are people who are carrying the pager or dealing with the fact that their software is unreliable, the people who are, you know, basically trying to make sure that the system is up and running. And when it isn’t, then it interrupts their life. I call the industries the downtime equals dollars industries. So we’ve been helping out a lot of financial services companies, you know, if the markets open their software needs to work, right, or they’re dealing with customers, retailers, and e commerce, you know, you can go buy from somebody else, right? video streaming, media companies, communications companies, video games is a really big segment. For us. So basically yeah anywhere where the software being down or your system, your cloud being down equals dollars for you, this is where the benefit is. In terms of the before and after, you know, life without Nobl9, basically, what it looks like is, you’re either ignoring problems that are facing customers, you’re finding out about it too late, and you’re kind of in a reactive mode, or in other cases, you’re too proactive, you know, think about where you know, the pager goes off, it wakes you up to go look at something and by the time you get to the you know, login and check out the server, it’s already recovered. And that feeling of frustration that a lot of engineers face, you know, they’re having to build on their software. And then for the people who are maybe less on the technical side, but on the business side, their frustration comes because their engineers keep telling them they got to re architect refactor, pay down technical debt, you know, do all this other work. And the product managers, the business stakeholders, well, what do they want to do? They want to get features, right, they want to get more customers, they want to get more new capabilities out to the market, right? And so that’s where their frustration comes in. What we do after you deploy Nobl9, you get your first service level objective. That’s really what our system is all about service level objectives. Once you have these goals set up, what it lets you do is balance between focusing on fixing your reliability issues, or shipping features, helps you focus on you know, staying asleep versus responding. And these goals, you know, it’s really just a matter of understanding all the different systems relative to reasonable goals for the service. And by having that in place, everybody kind of gets to relax. And that’s the I think the biggest thing, you refocus your energy on the productive work that you want to do, as opposed to fixing all that broken stuff.


JC: So we know what you do, but how do you do it? Like for example, I mean, you know, software engineers and people in software companies, for example, to you know, they’re like, “Well, yeah, I mean, that’s what our goal is too” so how are you doing what they can do? Why is it that how is engaging with Nobl9 ensure that they don’t have that downtime? Like what is, what are you actually doing for them, whether it’s been integration, is it like a redundancy kind of, you know, backup system that can jump in or I mean, you know, what is it how you doing it? How are you saving their life from downtime?


Kit: Yeah, it’s a great question. So the interesting thing about it is, no one can guarantee a lack of downtime. In fact, you know, quite the opposite. In fact, the trick to the whole game is instead of defining reliability goals, what we do is we set unreliability goals, okay? So if you think of it as, instead of saying I want something to, you know, work at least 99.9% of the time, we say, well, 0.1% of error is acceptable to unreliability goal, okay. And that means that over achieving the goal is actually a bad thing as well. And what that lets you do is to define an acceptable amount of error, and then engineer your system for that. And there’s all kinds of interesting engineering techniques, which I won’t bore people with, but you know, kind of summarizing, right, you can add caching so that you’re not dependent on external systems, you can add queues so that you can keep track of the work that needs to be done and process it as soon as it’s available.


Kit: You can add retry logic with exponential back off, so try it every hour, or try to every second and then go to a minute and then to an hour and the retries, don’t add up to more load on the system, these techniques can be put in place if you understand the reliability characteristics of the different parts of the system, okay? So what you’re really doing is defining the goal, not just looking at the data, because the data is meaningless, right? I have all this monitoring data. And I’m staring at you know, we call it watching the matrix, remember from the matrix where he’s like, staring at the greens?


JC: Yeah all the greens in the screen..


Kit: Yeah, we don’t need a better dashboard. Okay, what we need is a system where it has a defined goal. And then if it looks like that goal is at risk, then we alert automation and try to recover, maybe we throw more servers at the problem, maybe we wake up a team. And by having that defined written down goal, as part of the code, right, actually encoded in the application, the system can be engineered to be more resilient. Now, we didn’t invent this set of practices, this whole service level objective, error budgeting, resiliency, reliability engineering, this has been developed at big software companies like Google, and Facebook, and Amazon, etc, all we’ve really done is productized it, we’ve turned it into something that any organization can adopt very quickly, we’ve based it on open source standards, we’ve made it very intuitive to use, we’ve made it integrate with all these different places in the market. So yeah, it’s not a magic wand, you know, just like, you know, the fad diet or gym membership isn’t going to make everything magically better. But it gives you a framework and a set of tools that makes your efforts much more predictable, and much more likely to succeed. 


JC: So which types of software companies or any kind of, you know, company in that space are like, Who does this benefit the most? I mean, is it like, server farms? Is it social media companies? Is it like MarTech? Like financial systems? I mean, instead of saying all of them, like give us like, one good example of like, Hey, listen, this company we worked with, or this type of company we worked with, you know, their systems do this, and this and this. So any downtime costs, I mean, we talk on Wall Street, like, you know, who does this really help the most? Because it cost them the most when it goes bad.


Kit: Yeah, and getting into some, you know, specific, specific-ish examples, unfortunately, I’m not really in a position to disclose who some customers are. But you know, some of the use cases I think are really interesting. Like, let’s say you were doing high frequency trading, you know, you’re watching the stock market and placing trades, and you do that with very, very high frequency. And what that means is that if your system goes down, while that’s occurring, and it doesn’t have to be fully down, even a small, you know, 50%,30% delay to the latency of that system could have a massive impact on, you know, millions, if not billions of dollars, right, there can be a huge, huge amount of impact, because you miss the opportunity. And the opportunity doesn’t resume, right? And so this is where, when you’re designing the system, you need to think about all the contingencies that would equal that risk. But guess what, we all have limited resources. Even if you’re a giant financial institution, you only have so much time in the day to build software to build infrastructure.


Kit: So you need a way of prioritizing, and this is really what it comes down to setting these goals, the service level objectives, SLO, they really set the prioritization. So you can say, you know what, given the challenge, do this, and not that, because it’s going to have a bigger financial impact for us. I was actually talking to a site reliability engineer at a hedge fund. And he told me that there are basically two SLOs. When the markets open, it needs to be 100%, when the markets closed, it can be 0%. And that’s kind of the way to think about the reliability is that it’s not the same at all times, you know, some retailers…well, guess what, Black Friday, you know, the holiday period – significantly more important than the rest of the year. So instead of saying, you know what, the system needs to be up the same level all year, instead, you want to recognize their seasonality, right, that certain days, and certain transactions are more important than others. Another great example from the retail space, you know, imagine you’ve got a website where you can buy some shoes, you like shoes?


JC: I love shoes. I use them every day.


Kit: You use them everyday, exactly.


JC: I’m wearing one right now.


Kit: So think about this, you’re going to click on the catalog, right? You’re clicking on the catalog, looking for what shoes you want to buy, okay? And many of these other click this special click where you actually purchase the shoes, right? Put all those clicks in one big jumble of data, you’re gonna see the catalog clicks, which is a high volume, but low value clicks, right? If the catalog doesn’t work, you’ll click it again. Now on the other hand, if you click the Checkout button and it doesn’t work, it’s a very low volume, relatively speaking, right? You might do 100 clicks on the catalog for every one click at checkout.


JC: But it’s a high value..


Kit: But super high value. Well guess what if you put that on one set of data, and you set a goal for the whole thing, you’re going to overbuild the catalog and you’re going to under build the checkout right? So you get the point. So what we do is we help you divide that into two different sets, we say, Hey, you know what catalog clicks go over here. And we set a specific goal on the speed and the reliability that you know what percentage of the time it has to work. The checkout, we set a different-  set different goal, and we separate it. Now as an engineer looking at the system, I can see these two piles of clicks, right? I can understand them relative to the goal. And if there’s a bug, I can prioritize which one to fix. This is what’s so important is bringing this level of understanding and also connecting it back to the business in the user, the customer, right? How do we know what’s going to cause the customer to complain in the forums can be another great example. There’s a particular gaming company, which offered free user experience and a paid user experience. And they wanted to separate between the free and the paid so that they could create a better experience for the paying customers, get them connected to the servers and everything in a much more reliable way. And encourage the freebie users to upgrade. by managing it with SLOs, they can define these different populations, right, they can define the goals for those populations. And it can set an experience based on you know, the number of servers and the application that drives the right behavior from those end users. Right. So all of this is about connecting the software systems back to the business, right back to the things that actually drive happiness, loyalty, upsell, conversion, retention, right? All those things matter to business users. 


JC: Yeah


Kit: It’s all exactly right. It’s all about these user experience, and also about the gross margins. Because if we all go try to build the perfect software system, it’s incredibly expensive, incredibly expensive. So this, this is really, hopefully, it’s kind of makes sense. The people who benefit from this concept are struggling with this issue where they’ve got really tough decisions to make, right? They’ve got competing priorities. They’ve got business stakeholders and say, I want it to be perfect. We got to make it completely secure. It can’t ever go down. And then “Oh, wait a second. At some point, I got to make some trade offs. Right. At some point, I got to decide, look, do you need the system to work like Black Friday level every day of the year Really? Or can we maybe save ourselves some money by not building it for those times and reinvest that energy into the times that really matter”, right?


JC: Yeah, I like that too, because you can reroute funds where it’s necessary, when it’s necessary.


Kit: Exactly right.


JC: It’s a blanket statement, you know, you can be, you’re bleeding cash, you don’t even know it, you know, so I like that. And for the audience, just in case, some people don’t know what SLO stands for.


Kit: Yeah, Service Level Objective. Okay. And it’s similar, people are familiar with service level agreements. Okay. SLA is a really common thing. And SLO is similar to an SLA, but it has a couple of key differences. Okay. The key difference between SLA and an SLO is that the SLO actually has two goals built into it instead of one. an SLA says I must be at least this good, right? Hey, I want to I gotta get the pizza to the house within 30 minutes or your money back. That’s an SLA. Right?


JC: Yeah.


Kit: Well, what if the pizza comes within 30 seconds? It’s within the SLA, right? It’s bad for business. What if I designed my pizza delivery company to always deliver pizzas within 30 seconds when the SLA is 30 minutes?


JC: Sure.


Kit: I wouldn’t be overspending. I’d be hired, I’d be building a pizza places every two blocks, right? Yeah. So what we do instead is we say, look, if I want it within 30 minutes, well, it’s really between 30 and 25 minutes, right between 25 and 30 minutes is what we would do within a slot, we’d actually define like, what slightly overachieving it looks like, and that the gap, you know, between perfection and that that number, we call it an error budget is the amount of error the problem that we’re anticipating, it’s the risk that we’re accepting in the service. And we know that if we set it correctly, we’re not going to lose customers. If I have a 30 minute guarantee, I don’t have to deliver within 30 seconds to keep the business right. And by the way, even at 35 minutes, I got a way out. I come in at 25 minutes every time, maybe I’m cutting it close, but I can run a business effectively, right? Yeah, this is the idea of the SLO. It’s about setting a goal that both comes from the bottom must be at least this good. And from the top, where it should not exceed this level of goodness.


JC: So it sounds like you know, you’ve got that old saying of it’s a game of inches, but it sounds like what you’re doing it’s a game of millimeters. You know, like, that’s short, like every little bit counts. And you know, and and but that’s kind of why I see this of what you guys do. You made a game of inches, no game of millimeters to optimize for optimization.


Kit: It’s a great way, if I’d never heard of it that way before.


JC: That’s free.


Kit: It’s like yeah, like that one. That’s great.


JC: That’s your one liner. Well, we’re recording this so you got this. That’s great. I’m gonna keep it and well on that note that you know, I’m such a marketing guy, right. That’s how I seem to be the lens because yeah, my agency route 11 years now. So let me ask you the next question, which is, you know, it sounds you guys got a really specific great system in place for you know, software engineers, you know, data farms, maybe you know, software companies, how are you getting the word out? What are you doing for your own marketing? You know, for the audience listening, what have you done that’s worked, what have you done that maybe didn’t work, you know, people kind of piece that together and kind of help them figure out maybe what they could do? 


Kit: Well, I’ll tell you one of the things that when you’re marketing to developers, I feel like it’s a very specific challenge. Okay. There’s a few interesting challenges with developers. I don’t know if you’ve worked with developers, I used to be one, you know, they’re very cynical. They want the facts. They want to know what’s really going on. And they have very low tolerance for BS. Okay, right? This is.


JC: No bluff, give me the stats. It’s a very logical process with most of them anyway.


Kit: That’s right. At the same time, what’s interesting is that every engineer, I know, is interested in learning. They’re interested in problem solving. And they’re interested in building relationships. And so what that leads us to is actually building community building technical community. And that’s where we focused, I would say, the vast majority of our, you know, quote, unquote, marketing efforts has been on building a community around this practice of SLOs. Not the company Nobl9, but the practice of SLOs. And also the broader set of practices around Site Reliability Engineering, or SRE okay, and this is the discipline that we mostly work with. So we created a SRE meetup, which has grown now to over I think it’s just shy of 800 members worldwide, we meet monthly, started at zero about a year and a half ago, and started in Seattle pre-pandemic, and it’s really grown into something pretty phenomenal. We’ve got, you know, great diversity in the group, people from all over the world, you know, we have tried to do 5050 gender balance for all of our talks, a really cool group there, and some great leaders that are helping organize and run that. So that was one big thing we’ve done is build that group, and it’s all about understanding reliability, understanding the practices and challenges.


Kit: And in case, we also launched an online event called SLO com, or slow com, and that ended up being a much bigger thing than we expected. And it says slowcom.com. And I was just literally today asked if we were going to do it again next year. And I hope we will, we’re trying to figure out if we can do it, if there’s an in person version, or an online version of it, but we had 50 speakers, seven hours of content, over 1000 people, 1000 hours viewed that content. 2400 people showed up to the event, just an amazingly engaging experience. And we had just such a fun time doing.. Oh, not to mention the 17 sponsors and the media coverage, everything else we got. So really cool thing we’ve done there. And it’s interesting is that if you go on a journey of learning and educating with the people in your community, inevitably, they start to come to trust that maybe you know what you’re doing, and that you can build a software product that solves their problems. And if you’re not pushy about it, and they come to you and they say you know, I think we’re ready, right? We’ve been studying these practices, we’ve been trying to figure out if it’s going to work for us, we think it makes sense. And now we’re ready to get some, you know, professional help supply the platform and get things up and running. And that to me is a very, very honest, fair way to build the relationship is to kind of lead it through the education. You know, we do some of the traditional a little bit the traditional marketing stuff, we buy some search ads here and there. And we have some webinars, things like that. But you know, especially during pandemic, the thing that has been the biggest has been content and community and the virtual events are tough to do, when they’re done in a way that’s really about learning and connecting, it works pretty well.


JC: Well, that’s really cool especially that community building part there because a lot of people they look at marketing is very one dimensional, you know, they think it’s just ads or it’s just blogs, or SEO or you know, emails and stuff like that. And what people don’t realize is you can have the outrage, but you know, you want to and that that’s one side you have to because you know, you got to get eyeballs on it, right. But when they get the eyeballs, they got to have something to look at. Right? You got to have a good quality thing to look at once you get their attention. And sounds like you’ve gotten that part. So that’s really cool. So the Future of Biz Tech being the title of this podcast. So we’re going to ask a two part question here. First part is, you know, where’s Nobl9 going in the next, you know, six months, a year, two years? You know, is there any cool features coming out? Any inside scoop that my audience can get? And then also, on top of that, where you know, no company is completely original, my opinion. So I know you have competitors. So between you and all your competitors, as an industry, what you do? Where do you see the industry going in that kind of five to 10 year mark, do you see any advanced, you know, AI or any other or shifts in the market that are gonna affect it? So whereas Nobl9 going in the short term, and where’s the industry going in the long term?


Kit: Well, I’m not supposed to talk about our short term roadmap, but I’m going to anyway. 


JC: Oh yes!


Kit: Yeah I know. It’s so exciting. Well, you know, one of the things about Nobl9, and what we’re doing right now is, we’ve spent the last bit here getting all the integrations and this has been such a big part of our platform is that we know, especially in the software industry, you know, no company can exist on their own, we have to fit into the developers existing toolset, you know, how they check in their code, how they collect their monitoring metrics. And so we’ve been building a lot of those data integrations and partnerships. Well, now we’ve gotten to a point where we have so much data, we’ve built a new capability, that we’ll be launching relative really soon, I don’t think I’m allowed to say the name of it. But essentially, what it lets you do is take all the data from the source systems and auto generate reasonable SLS from the data lets you take the existing data as you have it, and then use that as a starting point. So you don’t have to invent your own goals. It says, hey, look, you’ve been able to perform at this level, we’re gonna go ahead and make that your starting point goal, and you can refine it over time, make it better, you know, or maybe loosen that goal if you’ve been overachieving or getting lucky, which is usually, and that’s going to make productivity go through the roof for taking especially large organizations that have you know, hundreds or 1000s of different services and developers make it so they can get started super fast. You know, right now, developers get up and running in about 10 minutes on noble nine. And if we can do that across a whole organization and have them set up their reliability environment quickly, I think it could be a game changer. That’s one thing we’re working on right now.


JC: That’s cool. So here’s something that I’m that and tell me if this is the right analogy to this. So I keep seeing these Domino’s commercials coming out of they have this new thing. So Domino’s I think.


Kit: I got you thinking about pizza, I got to think you about pizza.


JC: Yeah you did? Because I’m hungry now too. I want pizza. But I remember I believe it was Domino’s who did this Originally, I could be wrong. But back like in the 80s. It was like it was that whole famous. It’s what happened to your door? 30 minutes or it’s free, right? Yep. And that was something they had to create a you know, and there was times you know that there was a big marketing campaign. And they did the math, and they said, Listen, we’re gonna probably end up having to refund X amount of pizzas. But this marketing campaign will get so many people ordering based on that. But they’ll make up for it. Right? That was their plan. Now, they eventually stopped that at some point. But it went on for years, right? It was like a whole thing. And now no pizza company does it really. But everyone still says that because it’s such a famous tagline. Now Domino’s has this thing where I saw them come back into this where they said basically curbside pickup, you pull up in the second you pull up and you hit on the app that you’re there, that if it’s not in your hands within two minutes from like that, they will come out and bring it to it in two minutes, then it’s your next pizzas free right? much. Here’s my question with what you do – this new feature coming out, Is it safe to say that it’s this kind of technology that would allow a smaller company than dominoes with all the resources, or even just big ones like Domino’s or other companies, where your algorithm could say, listen, here’s the window of which this is actually viable? Like, like the software would have told them two minutes is from all the data we have, you need at least two minutes to get out there so that you’re not taking this hit, if you’re gonna give them the next piece of for free, like is it your software? And what’s coming out? The ability to take the data and spit out? Like you said, a service level operation or an operation I’m sorry.


Kit: Objective.


JC: Objective, thank you. Where it could have been the one to tell them rather than having to spend all this time money experiment, because you know, they probably experimented and these little test markets, right? They probably lost some money here, if I made some money there until they figure it out. But your software could literally tell them that almost on the spot? Is that kind of what you’re going for.


Kit: You got it, I mean that maybe not for the pizza delivery scenario. But if you had, yeah, if you had a system, and it was you were asking yourself the question like okay, well, you know, maybe we think we need five nines, or four nines, and people throw around these big numbers, but we just look at the data you have. And we say, hey, look, make it as good as it’s been historically make that the goal, just set a starting point. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do here so that you can look at the data, and we can look at the data for you and just generate the starting point, I suppose. And then you can make it better from there, in this pizza example would be like, you know, hey, somebody has this harebrained idea this two minute, you know, campaign, they run the data and they go, “Oh, I think we only really guarantee five minutes”. Or we could even say maybe a better way to put it right. With the SLO concept. It’s really a percentage, you say, Oh, well, you know, one out of 1000 is going to happen within five minutes. And you know, one out of 100 we can get done within you know, longer than two minutes, right? You can start to see the bell curve, right? Because really what you want understand is the customer experience in a statistical way. It’s not about one customer’s experience of two minutes, it’s what percentage of the time Can we meet that goal? 


JC: Yeah and what acceptability is there of not meeting and having to give away that free next pizza?


Kit: Exactly you got it. This is exactly the concept of being able to understand what is a reasonable level of customer service. And we do it in a digital context. So if you think about it, as, hey, I want to see, you know, how long should somebody have to wait in the lobby before they get added to this multiplayer game? How long should it take to upload a mobile check and get the cash into your bank account? How long before the email from your trade confirmation shows up? Right? How long should it take to price the discounts on my shopping bag full of clothes, on a retailer website? Right? All of these scenarios are what we’re talking about here. And we’re just gonna make it easier to understand not based on guesswork or wishful thinking, but actually based on the data, right, which is what we want ultimately, what we’re going to do, so.


JC: That’s really cool. So I’m gonna ask a question, I usually ask them the beginning, but I am curious. You’re the CEO. Are you one of the founders? And if not, or even if so, what what was your motivation to either join the company or start the company?


Kit: Well, I’m technically not a founder, but I kind of get to say I’m like employee one. Some people think I’m the third founder, which is kind of fun, but I’ve known the founders for many years and I had originally planned to join a little bit later. But I came in pretty much right at the beginning. You know, look, I had worked at Google, I worked as a product manager, there I was, I understood how the operations were there, I worked at Microsoft, I wasn’t totally happy with how he did software operations there. And from being in that space for so long, and seeing how people struggle to run their software in a reliable way. Their cloud infrastructure, their applications, their mobile apps, you know, it’s so challenging, and it’s so important. And so much of it has to do with not setting good goals. And when the idea of this company was really about taking this tried and true method that we saw in these big cloud companies like Google, and make it so it was super simple, that it was an easy user experience, it would fit into the way that enterprise developers worked, it would take all the math, and just hide it, just hide all the math, so people can click some check boxes. And guess what all the math just happens, right? Just make it easy. And that concept to me became really, really powerful. And then on top of that, you know, my experience doing developer community working on Kubernetes. And, you know, those kinds of projects. When I was at Google, I love building developer community, I love working with developers, I love helping them adopt new ways of doing things. And to me being able to do that was a really exciting part of of the job. So that’s really to me, I mean, you can tell I’m super excited by it. It’s like building companies from nothing. It’s a fun, and sometimes stressful thing, but it’s really rewarding. Going back to your question, though, about what are the industries going? Because this is an interesting angle too. Okay so.


JC: I would like to know, like just said that long term like like sports, yeah. massive shift. Where do you see it? See new technology popping up? And you know, what’s, what do you think?


Kit: Yeah, I think there’s a paradox. This is actually to me is one of the most interesting parts of this puzzle. And I think it applies more broadly, because you’re asking about AI, for example, right? There’s this technology space we call AI Ops, right, which you hear a lot of people talking about this idea that you’re going to hand over to your software operations to robots, essentially to AI. Okay. And one of the things that I’m always intrigued with is this thing called the paradox of automation. Now, if you’re not familiar with this, I’ll explain it very briefly. So paradox of automation says that, the more you automate some process, the less humans are involved. Make sense. However, when humans are involved, the criticality of their involvement increases. What does this mean? You’re driving in a self driving car? Everything’s good, right? You’re on autopilot. It’s great. You’re not involved in the driving process, right? Until a, you know, what is it the the Harvest Moon shows up, and the car doesn’t know what it is with the truck pulls out in front of you or something happens, you got to grab the wheel, so you’re less involved, which is great. However, your criticality of involvement goes up to a point where, you know, you can have very severe incidents, the same thing happens in our software infrastructure, and our data centers, and cloud computing all this other stuff. And so when we think about automation, and we think about artificial intelligence, I think it’s really important to put it in the context of the humans in control, and having awareness of how the system works.


Kit: And there’s a difference between delegating, understanding the system versus delegating the authority over the system. And so this is one of the I think one of the challenges that everybody in this space, you know, whether you call it DevOps, site reliability, engineering, observability, you know, all of these different areas that are, you know, some amazing companies growing in the space is if they lean too far toward artificial intelligence, in the sense of giving authority, as opposed to getting artificial intelligence to help the humans, right? Build better systems and automation. So the struggle that’s in front of us, and it’s gonna apply to us, it’s going to apply to our competitors, and our, our integration partners and other people, and most importantly, to our customers. Because a lot of our customers are on this mindset that I got to automate everything. Sure, right. I got to automate everything, because I got all these people and I got my cloud operations, and everything’s got to be automated, and the people will focus on higher level tasks, right? This is what the mindset is. And I think that’s true to a point. But there’s a limit. And there’s a limit to how much software can really help us if we don’t ingrain in our mindset that we have to have the visibility, the control. The power has to lie with humans who ultimately, you know, the software is here to serve us, not the other way around. Right? So I guess that’s my dystopian future kind of view. I don’t want to give the power to Skynet, right?


JC: I really was just gonna say.. until Skynet takes over, which is we have a whole different issue on our hands so


Kit: Exactly, let’s not have that happen.


JC: Last question for you. If you if you could pick one book that you’ve read or listened to that you think is an absolute must read for for technology or anything else, you know, what would it be what what book could the audience go pick up the you’re just like, you got to read that book.


Kit: Two books popped in my head if that’s the right the one the one book that as a marketer, okay? I think the book Obviously Awesome by April Dunford is probably one of the best books on marketing that I have personally ever read. And it completely changed my point of view and how to position Nobl9. And she also, you know, does speak quite a bit about Tech Stuff too, which, you know, in marketing books, it’s kind of rare. But the one that I was thinking, that’s my like very practical one. The other one I was thinking about, though, and I was I always talk about this to my CTO, Alex Nada, is Zen in the art of motorcycle maintenance. And the reason why is that book to me is about the journey for quality. And to me, this is like, when you look at the higher level pursuits, you know, there’s practical stuff. But when you really think about the bigger picture here of how we want to build businesses, and build quality into our systems and software into our systems, Zen in the art of motorcycle maintenance, to me may have inspired and challenged me more than any other book I’ve ever read about the idea of the pursuit of quality. So there you go.


JC: Sounds like something that Harley Davidson would have inspired. You know, because they started off with they got so big, from World War II, actually, by making their bikes, not only quality, but easy to work on in the field, right? And that’s really what separated them from the competition for getting those military contracts was, you know, they’re like, Listen, this is so easy. We can literally show your people how to do this, if something breaks out out there, because all the other ones before you had to contract them to come out and fix it. And it’s like, that ain’t gonna work on the front line. No one’s putting in an order and someone can come up with a toolbox. It’s like, uh-ah, like, you got it. Like we got to do this here. So that’s interesting. I like that. I’ll check that one out. So how can people find you guys online? How can they reach out to you specifically Kit if they have some higher level deal or question?


Kit: Well, we’re at Nobl9.com, and I’ve mentioned sloconf.com (S-L-O-C-O-N-F.com), sloconf is our conference. I’m on Twitter at Kit Merker. I’m on LinkedIn, pretty easy to find. But yeah come check us out Nobl9.com and you can sign up for a trial and we’d be happy to give you a tour of the product if you want to see how it works.


JC: And it’s noble with no E right? Nobl and then number nine, correct?


Kit: That’s right. But if you put in the E, you’ll find us anyway.


JC: Okay, so you bought the domain, that’s smart. That’s smart. Well, that’s for everyone out there listening. Again. If you liked what you heard today, be sure to subscribe to this podcast, give it a five star rating put some cool comments in with it. So other techies like us can find it. And we can learn about all these amazing software and services that are out there on the market today and specifically the inside scoop which we were able to pull out of Kit today. So thank you Kit so much for coming on the show. And I look forward to speaking with you soon again, sir.


Kit: Thanks, JC It was a lot of fun!


JC: Goodbye!

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