Welcome to Women of DevOps, Episode Eleven! Did you know 11 is my lucky number? And that Sharyl Jones, today’s guest, just so happens to be from the same town I’m from in Canada? Life throws us funny coincidences sometimes! And sometimes, life also throws us amazingly intelligent women!
Let’s hear what Sharyl has to say about life as a woman in tech, DevOps tooling, and why she loves Indellient so much.
‘Til next time,
Can’t listen to the audio? Read on below for a transcript of our conversation.
Rox: Hey, everyone. Thank you all so much for joining us for another episode of Women of DevOps. Today we are joined by Sharyl Jones. Hi, Sharyl!
Sharyl: Hi Roxanne, how are you?
Rox: I’m well, thank you! I would like to know, just to start, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Sharyl: For sure. I’m the VP of DevOps Services at Indellient, where I lead a talented team of DevOps specialists. We deliver custom DevOps solutions to our clients. Our clients really are varied. We have some large clients, all the way up to very large enterprise clients. But whatever the case, we deliver solutions that help them leverage cloud-native services, and leading-edge technologies to deliver value to their customers.
As for me, personally, I’m a mom of three plus one puppy. My background is in Computer Science and Electronics.
Rox: Very cool. And just so our readers know, when Sharyl and I were first discussing this podcast, we ended up discovering that we both lived in the same places in Canada, which is really cool. As some of you know, I’m in Tampa now, so it was very awesome to meet somebody in DevOps in Canada. Yay!
Sharyl: And female, right?
Rox: Yeah! Heck, yeah.
Sharyl: Not easy to come by.
Rox: For real! Continuing on, how long have you been in tech? What was your career progression like?
Sharyl: Oh boy. I’ve been in tech since, what, 1996? So I guess that’s around 25 years now. I started my career in telecom at a company called Nortel Networks, which was a fairly large company here, it’s a Canadian-based company.
I started as a Systems Administrator on the Unix side, so I’m really dating myself now. From there, I moved into technical support, and working throughout a couple of years in that space. Then I moved on for more of a delivery perspective, into QA, delivery, and then into QA leadership.
I took some time off, eight years sabbatical to have children. When I came back, my technical skills were a little bit dated, so I went into more leadership, solution delivery, project management, and ultimately to where I am now, which is in DevOps leadership – which is kind of full circle. Very, very odd progression. But here I am, back to where I started.
Rox: Odd progression, but very cool progression. I actually want to expand on that a little bit, because you’ve had such varied jobs – QA, Scrum master, project manager, etc, etc. What led you to your love of DevOps? Expand a little bit more, if you could, on how you ended up in DevOps specifically?
Sharyl: Well, it was sort of haphazard. Like I said, I started my career as a Systems Administrator, and frankly, back then, I didn’t know what that essentially meant. One of my first projects was developing tools for developers where I was working, for one of our teams. It was ironic to come back to DevOps after 20 years. How I got into DevOps was, when I started at Indellient back in 2017, I started as a technical project manager. I worked there, in that space, for about a year and a bit. As a company, we started to offer DevOps services because we saw the need in the industry, and we saw the need with our clients.
The DevOps business grew big enough to take on a PM for their projects, and I jumped at the chance to work with them. Over the course of those years, I also started to learn, “Okay, well, what is DevOps? What is this team we’re starting? Why is it important? And, why does everybody keep talking about it?” So, I became the PM for that team. I was managing the delivery of all of the projects for our DevOps clients. Over the next four years, our business kept growing and maturing, which opened up the opportunities to grow the team and move into this leadership position that I am now in.
Rox: Very cool. You mentioned DevOps in the way that it’s like you just kept hearing about it and hearing about it. It’s a really, really cool industry – basically touches on just about everything in tech. So with that in mind, is there an area of DevOps that you haven’t touched much of yet, but that you’re super stoked to get involved in?
Sharyl: Absolutely. When I thought about this question, because you passed me them beforehand, application observability came to my mind immediately. What we’re seeing a lot of is, as organizations are maturing in their DevOps processes, there’s that piece at the beginning of inserting application observability so that in the production world, applications are easier to manage.
As people are moving to cloud and we’re modernizing their infrastructure and their applications, it’s a prime opportunity to design for observability and build a little bit more into the solutions, and really help our clients on that handoff. So once we hand off something, sometimes we stay on and we do monitoring and production support for our clients. But often times, we are handing that over, and we want to hand over a solution that’s robust, scalable, mature, and easy to manage once it’s out in the wild.
Bits and pieces of that, there’s a tangential piece to it, that we’re working more and more in is optimizing cloud costs, managing cloud costs, and being able to do that effectively. Shifting that left a bit, and being able to have observability into all sorts of things to do with what your application is doing.
Rox: Right? Ideally, especially for cloud costs, that should be something engineers are right in – they’re the ones incurring those costs. It makes no sense really to have to wait 30 days later and get your bill shock. It’s a lot easier to involve them right at the beginning so they can see how they’re incurring the cost exactly.
Sharyl: Exactly. We’re working with one of our very large enterprise clients right now. We’re working with them to optimize their cloud costs, and they have teams working on dashboards and gathering all the data from all the different cloud providers, breaking it down at the application level, then at the resource level. But we came in, we said, “Well, wait a second, what about earlier on in the lifecycle of the application? What about when the application is being designed to move to the cloud? There’s opportunity there to design in better observability.” Yes, the dashboards are important, but those are metrics that are lagging. So how can we design better for managing the cloud costs as we’re onboarding into the cloud?
Rox: Absolutely, that’s such a good way to go about it. That should always be front of mind like that. Observability is – oh my gosh, imperative.
Sharyl: Everybody knows, “Oh, we should move to the cloud, we’re going to save operational costs and whatnot. If we’re going on a serverless route, we’re going to save all of the maintenance and support of the OS.” There’s lots of great – autoscaling, all of that – lots of great reasons to move to the cloud. But if you don’t have observability and cost control as part of the equation from the get-go, then your costs may not be what you expect, and you may not see the return on investment the way you thought you would if you don’t think it through.
Rox: Absolutely. So we’ve talked quite a bit about tooling so far. Very hard question – gets me different answers all the time – but DevOps: is it a set of practices and tools, or is it a culture?
Sharyl: Yes, very good question. For me, DevOps is a culture that’s enabled by a set of software development and delivery best practices. So the key is that this culture allows organizations to deliver value to their customers faster and more efficiently. And yes, tools are part of that. And yes, practices are a part of that. But culture is really what’s going to enable all of those put together.
Rox: Love it. Combined the two. Love it. Could you tell us a little bit about Indellient?
Sharyl: Absolutely. Indellient is an IT services company. We are a Canadian-based company, privately owned. We’re located in Oakville, just outside Toronto. Right now we’re about ~105 employees. We have six service areas that we offer services in. DevOps is one of them of course, but we also have cloud development teams, we also have data science, analytics, AI and machine learning teams, and then we have shared services, such as project management, a UI/UX team (very talented), and solution design.
All of those services combined, we find we have a unique value proposition to offer our customers. We’ve heard this over and over again – this didn’t pop out of thin air for me – our customers tell us they love working with us because they can come to us for their technology needs. We can accommodate them. It’s all about being able to help the customer get to where they want to be. We can run a project start to finish. And like I said, no matter what technology comes in, we have experts that can form project teams. Very flexible in our engagement models.
We definitely operate in an agile methodology, so that there’s that iterative approach to reaching little bits of value along the way when we work with our clients. I think that covers it.
Rox: Very cool. I believe in our prior conversation, we had talked about a lot of tools that you’ve worked with – if I recall, it was Jenkins, Circle CI, Terraform; the list went on and on. I just wanted to know what your thoughts are on current tools on the market.
Sharyl: Sure, and just to be honest, I personally don’t use these tools. But my team is very proficient in using A to Z tool-wise. We don’t have a preferred stack, we have to work with our clients. Any time we go into work with a client, they have already established tools and processes, so we work with what they have, meet them where they are.
Now, my point of view is that tools are only as good as the value they deliver. And since a value is in the eye of the beholder, there’s no best tool for all clients. We don’t have a standard tech stack for the tools we use. We believe that some tools sure stand out in terms of the implementation of best practices, usability, and the delivery of value. But every client we work with has a different landscape, like I said. Given those different landscapes and different business objectives and technical objectives, we really have to take everything into account before we first propose and then implement a tool. It depends. There’s that answer. It depends.
Rox: It really does. And it depends, too, on if the client wants to spend money on a tool, or if they’d rather support open-source projects. There’s so many variables in there.
Sharyl: Absolutely. Actually, I’m glad you mentioned that, because a lot of the work we do is in enablement. So what I mean by that is, we’ll go into a client and they might not know exactly what they need in terms of DevOps practices or tools because they don’t have the experience. And so we’ll introduce a new tool, a new practice, and we will enable the client to then work and develop their own stuff on top of that. A lot of times it is starting with open-source versions of tools, which then leads to, “Okay, now we see the value in what this tool is doing for us, so we’re willing to invest more money.”
Rox: That’s very cool. So to get back to you on a personal level, what drew you to tech?
Sharyl: Honestly, I had an older brother growing up and he was really into computers back when computers first came out. He would do programming and I would sit there and I’d watch him. I got him to teach me how to do it as well. So really, from an early age, I was programming my name going across the screen in different colors. I thought that was super cool!
The more I learned about programming and the whole methodology of problem-solving behind creating bits of code, the more that fed into my strengths. I was always very strong analytically and from a problem-solving perspective. Loved math, loved all the sciences. When I was going to university, it was kind of the up-and-coming field, especially as a female. It wasn’t something females did, and I was always one to want to not go with the flow. So I applied for computer science in university. My parents were pushing me there, because of course, it was the new up-and-coming thing, the internet wasn’t mainstream. It was part of the early 90s rush into IT. I think I got caught up in that.
Rox: Gotcha. I’m gonna echo your shoutout to your big brother here. Big shoutout to big brothers everywhere, because mine got me into this too. [laughs]
Sharyl: Isn’t that funny?!
Rox: Yeah. And that wasn’t the only thing, too. He played saxophone, and then I started playing saxophone. Big brothers are awesome.
Sharyl: [laughs] That’s awesome.
Rox: You mentioned education really quickly and I’d like to get your take on education. Four year degrees, bootcamps, learn as you go – what are your thoughts on education?
Sharyl: Well, I’m a big proponent of lifelong learning. So learn as you go is really, I think, a lifelong endeavor. I think it’s important for a person to evaluate how they learn best and pursue that route. So for example, learn as you go is great for some people, but for others, they need to have more structure.
Having said all that, I believe four year degrees are tools, let’s call them, in your personal/professional toolbox. I do think that investing time, money, and effort to achieve a degree of some sort shows a certain amount of commitment, perseverance, motivation, and intelligence that shouldn’t be discounted. However, it’s not a viable option for all people in society due to economic, social, or other barriers. So, if an individual has done their best to learn a skill, as long as they can communicate what they’ve learned and communicate the value of what they learned – if I were looking at two resumes, and one had a four year degree and one didn’t, I would evaluate, “Okay, what has this other person done versus the degree?” I’m not gonna choose a favorite. Lifelong learning is what it’s all about.
We’re not really taught to sell ourselves. But it’s a very important skill, and whether you’re selling yourself and you have a four year degree, or bootcamp, or you’ve just learned over the years, it doesn’t really matter. But you gotta be able to sell what you’ve learned, if that makes any sense.
Rox: Oh, it does. It makes a lot of sense.
Sharyl: I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of interviews over the last year because, well, there’s that great resignation that happened. And frankly, we did not fare too, too badly, but we were actually growing the team. I more than doubled the team this year. So after nine months of doing tons and tons of interviews, that’s the biggest takeaway for me: your background isn’t so important, but you need to be able to get – especially now it’s all virtual, right – you need to present yourself in a way that you can sell your abilities. That’s a skill in and of itself.
Rox: Oh yeah, completely agree. Speaking of that – it’s related in a way because it’s about if you could go back and do it all over again, what would you change? Is there anything, such as learning to sell yourself better or whatnot? What advice would you give yourself, in regards to your career?
Sharyl: I think definitely selling yourself. I didn’t think of that as part of this question, but definitely sell yourself. Also, to make decisions based on my own values and goals and not according to someone else’s.
I think when you’re young and you have people saying, “Oh, you’re so good at this, or you’re so good at that. Why don’t you do this? Why don’t you do that?” You’re pushed and pulled into many different directions by people actually saying that to you, but also by society’s stereotypes and “rules,” right?
As a female, we’re not necessarily pushed towards math and sciences, so it would have been easy for me to fall back on, “I’m going to go get an arts degree” – not to minimize anything of that sort, but that wouldn’t have been the right space for me.
Also, notice what you enjoy doing versus not doing. If you’ve ever found yourself in a position or a role that you really clicked with, or you didn’t feel good about yourself at the end of the day, it’s good to notice those things and to make changes. I wish I had known that, because I spent a lot of time and a lot of years in roles that really didn’t set my soul on fire – and life’s too short. Focus on the things that make you feel good about yourself, but yet are challenging and align with your values and who you are. I think those are the main points.
Rox: Those are great points too, and I wish – your second point here about noticing what you enjoy doing and not – I wish I had taken that into consideration more. It was more so like, “Oh well, I’m doing this, I don’t really like it, but I should probably stay here for at least a year.” No! If you don’t like it, if the environment is toxic, if you don’t enjoy the work you’re doing, feel free to leave. You don’t have to stay there.
Sharyl: Yeah, exactly. I think that route will resonate a lot with people because – I don’t know, we just feel like we have to stick it out. You don’t want to quit. But it’s not quitting. It’s observing and then acting accordingly.
Rox: Yep, yep, you do not have to do something that makes you unhappy just because.
Rox: Back to happier things. What is your favorite part about working for Indellient?
Sharyl: Oh, the culture. For sure. The culture here is amazing. Which is to say, really, the people are amazing. I truly respect and I trust everyone that I work with. We’ve built an organization based on psychological safety and trust, which translates into being able to achieve success as a collective unit.
I love working in the services business. This is really my first opportunity to do so, and honestly, I love it because it gives me the opportunity to work with different clients. Like I said, we work with really small startups all the way to very large enterprises. Each client, no matter what the size, they each have their own objectives or challenges in regards to different processes and tools. There’s never two projects that are the same, and I love that because the work is never boring or simple. There’s always complexities and problems to solve.
Working at a smaller company gives you the opportunity to perform many different roles. If you see something that needs to be done in your project, but it’s not necessarily your “role,” well who cares, let’s work as a team and we’ll get it done.
I personally love it also because I have the flexibility to do things in other spaces. What I mean by that is, I’m also a fitness professional. I can offer fitness classes to my peers, just for fun. I started a wellness committee and at lunchtime today, we just had a session. We called it a motivation mashup. I start the session and I say a couple of things I’ve learned because I’ve been in that industry for 10 years, tips and tricks and hacks to stay motivated, and we all talk about it. It’s great to be able to exercise two different passions in one place.
Rox: Absolutely. That’s really cool. That’s actually one of the things that drew me to Harness a lot. They have a whole women@ – all the women of Harness in a group together, there are monthly mixers. It’s one of the ways to take being a woman in tech really seriously and put the attention there. It’s really cool.
Sharyl: That’s awesome. I’m so glad to hear that. Every time I hear of organizations doing that kind of thing, I get so happy.
Rox: Yeah! Actually, since we’re on that note, talking about women in tech – and you broached this a little bit earlier, too – what has your experience been like, specifically, as a woman in tech? Do you feel like you’ve had to work harder to prove yourself?
Sharyl: Yeah, unfortunately, yes. [laughs] Back in the 90s – and I don’t know if this is still a thing, but the males in the class used to call us unicorns. And by ‘us,’ I mean me, because I was the only woman – or the only female – in my computer science program at the time.
Throughout my career, I’ve continuously felt the need to prove myself to prove my worth. I’ve often felt I’ve had to work harder than my male peers, often for less respect and opportunities. I don’t know why that’s the case, but I have felt that throughout my whole career. Frankly, it’s really easy to fall into that constant ‘hustling for worth’ mindset. I think I’ve had it for a better part of my 25 years in the industry, but I’m conscious of it, and being conscious of it allows me to get out of it. I can honestly say that now, I don’t feel it anymore.
That’s why I wanted to mention the mindset, because when I reflect on it I think, “Well, was it me that just was pushing myself? Or was it in fact, real?” And frankly, it doesn’t matter whether it’s perceived or actual, it was my experience. I think women do face very real challenges that men don’t face. For me specifically, I’ve experienced unwanted attention, always worrying about saying the wrong thing, and then having to “leave work” – relieve my career to raise my children. Those are challenges that maybe a man would face, but women definitely face that, I would say, more than men do.
Rox: Oh yeah.
Sharyl: Yeah. Over time, it’s been great to see more women in the industry. At Indellient, we have – I don’t know the exact numbers, but a good half to a third of the workforce we have is female, which is fantastic. I think it’s just challenging. I’d be curious to know what your thoughts are on the subject.
Rox: Oh, I feel like I have had to work twice as hard just to be taken half as seriously as men. I know that’s probably harsh words that some people won’t enjoy hearing, but it’s the reality that I personally have had to face. I think it’s really important to validate that. Like you said yourself, you’re not sure if it was real or perceived. Doesn’t matter. That’s how you felt, that needs to be validated. You know?
Sharyl: Yeah, yeah. I wanted to throw that in there because I think at the beginning of my career, it was definitely real. But then I carried it with me – it was my baggage to carry. At some point, I feel like I should have let it go sooner than I did. I guess that was my point there: Learning to trust your own skills more to not have to hustle. Believing in yourself more. Not letting what other people say or how they make you feel – feel like an imposter. That imposter syndrome is real. But is it real because we make it so, versus do you truly feel like you belong? And if you do truly feel like you belong, then can you let that go easier?
Rox: Yeah. That’s gonna depend a lot on if you’re at the right company or not, too, because if you are at the right place, you won’t feel that way.
Sharyl: Honestly, the greatest challenges I’ve had in my career have been with other women. I think it’s because there is that hustle and that competition, almost, to prove yourself that sometimes goes in direct conflict with each other, which is very sad. I’ve experienced it.
Rox: You know what, you have a good point there. I’ve heard that a lot from women where it’s like, you almost feel the need to compete with other women to get that seat at the table with “the menfolk.”
Sharyl: Yeah, because there’s only one seat. Whereas from a male perspective, if you think about it, what would a man’s experience be like, or a male’s experience? Well, they go to university, most of the people in the program are male, so they don’t have that problem of not fitting in. They don’t have that problem of not being part of the clique. I ran into that a lot! You’re not invited to the study sessions. And if you are, you’re made to feel uncomfortable because you’re a female, right? I don’t need to call that one out, but like, do you want to go with a bunch of guys that you don’t know to somebody’s house? No, because it’s not necessarily safe, right?
I read an article years ago, but it made me imagine what life would have been like if you hadn’t had to worry about the fact that you were a female and a male’s world? It would have taken a lot of stress away.
Rox: [laughs] Yes. Oh, my gosh, yes. I think that’s why programs like Girls Who Code, Girl Develop It – they’re just so important. You give women that safe space that they can be themselves and learn without that fear and that insecurity and all that – ugh – we need more programs like that.
Sharyl: Yeah. I have a daughter, and I remember when she was younger, in grade school – let’s say she was grade four – so about the age where kids start to have interests. She came to me one day, and she said, “I hate math. I hate science.” Actually, no, it was grade six. I said, “Oh, why is that? Because you loved science, you loved math last year. You get really good marks, and you really are enthusiastic about doing your homework.” And she’s like, “Ah, well I just don’t like it.” I was speaking to my friend the next day, she did her degree in chemical engineering (again, women in tech) and then she became a teacher. I explained to her what my daughter had said, and she said, “Unfortunately, in schools, if your child gets a teacher that doesn’t like math or doesn’t like science – and as women, we’re conditioned from a young age to feel like we’re not really part of that STEM team, we’re not pushed towards it, that’s for boys – if you get a teacher that really has absorbed that as part of their own beings, that’s gonna rub off on the kids.”
I started to notice, they don’t really ever do that. They don’t do much science. When the teacher does them, she doesn’t give homework. She doesn’t make it fun, she doesn’t make it exciting. She says to the class, “I don’t like doing math. I don’t like doing science.” Well, my girl picked up on that. I thought that was super interesting and sad.
Rox: Yeah. Kind of emulate that behavior.
Sharyl: Yeah, exactly.
Rox: So let’s talk about kids. Earlier, you said that you left the workforce to raise your children. You took eight years off. How did it affect your career to have a gap like that?
Sharyl: I would say it put me a good 10 years back just because in the tech industry, everything had changed. My skills were very, very dated. I didn’t keep up on skills, mind you, but you know, I had three kids in four years so there’s really no time for anything else. [laughs]
But frankly, I wouldn’t have changed anything. During that time off, when things shifted, it was what it was. When I came back into the workforce, I had to figure out what my strengths were and how I could use those strengths to add value. That was a good exercise in self-discovery, I have to say. It’s been kind of a self-discovery ever since that happened.
It’s been about 10 years now since I’ve been back in the workforce. I’ve reinvented my value, I had to go after roles that I thought I could be good at. It really worked out. One thing in particular, though, is I had to let go of my technical side, because I would have had to go back and do some upskilling, and I didn’t really have time or the inclination to do that. Which is interesting, because I could have gone that route, but I didn’t, and I landed somewhere where I feel very happy and privileged to be in this role I’m in now.
I really think things worked out for the better. Women can have it all. Can you have the career and the family? Yeah, absolutely. It’s not easy, there’s some very real limitations as I’m sure you can relate to. But, you just do your thing day after day, and hopefully, you’ll find yourself in a more rewarding position.
Rox: Perfect. Two more questions for you. Number one: What’s one piece of advice you could give women to help them feel more welcomed and comfortable going into tech?
Sharyl: For men? That’s a very good question. I would say to treat everyone equally. I’ll give a really simple example: You’re going into a meeting and your male counterparts are commenting on, “Oh, your hair,” or what you’re wearing. Would you do that to your male counterpart? Probably not. That’s a very simple example, but very telling in the sense that that’s what I mean by equal. I’m there to work, we’re in this professional environment, and nothing else really matters.
Rox: Agreed. [laughs] There was one of my podcasts I did – I think it was Kat Cosgrove, she gave me an answer to this question that was like, “Lend us your voice.” That always stuck with me, because it’s so true. If a man says something to a man, instead of a woman saying something to a man, chances are they will listen a little bit more than they would if it was a woman. It got me reflecting on past experiences. Like, “You know what, that’s so true! If a guy had told you this, you totally would have listened.” [sighs]
Sharyl: Yeah, pretty sad.
Rox: So my final question for you: Is there anything exciting coming down the pipeline for you?
Sharyl: There’s always new things happening! I feel like this year has been – we’ve come out of the blocks just racing. It’s been really busy in the last few weeks. I’m starting to get into value stream mapping, and I’m really enjoying this field. I see this framework as a tool to use in my toolbox, so to speak, to enable discovery discussions with clients and help them determine where to invest in automation.
Like I said earlier, a lot of our clients know they should be doing the thing, DevOps, but okay, what does that mean? And how can you translate that into business value? You want to automate some of the repeatable, consistent processes that your team is doing. But you want to be able to sell that to get funding, to get budget, you want to find a champion within your organization that you can get on your side.
Value stream mapping is one tool to help understand where different changes can be made to a process that will help bring value. Also a great method in collaboration and planning. You bring everybody together in a concrete way, and you talk about the processes that they’re all involved in and how something goes from being an idea to being a valuable thing that you put in your customers’ hands, which of course, translates into some sort of business value.
I’m a big believer that tools are the easy part. The hardest part of what we do is imparting the understanding to all the people involved. Why are we doing what we’re doing? How do we have to modify what we’re doing to make it better? How do we empower each other and enable each other at each step to do the thing that needs to happen to bring value?
I see this tool as really helping make projects more successful, because the more value you can bring to your clients, the more success they’re going to achieve. Pretty excited about that.
Rox: Yeah, absolutely. Value stream mapping – it’s kind of funny to see things that were used in manufacturing and whatnot originally get taken into tech like that. It’s very cool stuff.
Sharyl: Yes, it is. I did the value stream mapping course off of the value stream consortium website, of which I’m a member in. Excellent course, it goes through all of the history and the origins of lean and value stream management and mapping.
Rox: That’s very cool. Well, Sharyl, I want to thank you so much for your time today. This was a great conversation. I’m very grateful you were my guest.
Sharyl: Thank you for having me Roxanne, and I do wish everybody out there all the best in all the things DevOps in anything else you are working on this year.
Rox: Perfect. Thank you so much, you have a great day, and readers/listeners, thank you so much.
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