Scotty Isn’t DevOps

I was listening to the most recent episode of our Gestalt IT On-Presmise IT Roundtable where Stephen Foskett mentioned one of our first episodes where we discussed whether or not DevOps was a disaster, or as I put it a “dumpster fire”. Take a listen here:

Around 13 minutes in, I have an exchange with Nigel Poulton where I mention that the ultimate operations guy is Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott of the USS Enterprise. Nigel countered that Scotty was the epitome of the DevOps mentality because his crazy ideas are what kept the Enterprise going. In this post, I hope to show that not only was Scott not a DevOps person, he should be considered the antithesis of DevOps.

Engineering As Operations

In the fictional biography of Mr. Scott, all he ever wanted to do was be an engineer. He begrudging took promotions but found ways to get back to the engine room on the Enterprise. He liked working starships. He hated building them. His time working on the transwarp drive of the USS Excelsior proved that in the third Star Trek film.

Scotty wasn’t developing new ideas to implement on the Enterprise. He didn’t spend his time figuring out how to make the warp engines run at increased efficiency. He didn’t experiment with the shields or the phasers. Most of his “miraculous” moments didn’t come from deploying new features to the Enterprise. Instead, they were the fruits of his ability to streamline operations to combat unforeseen circumstances.

In The Apple, Scott was forced to figure out a way to get the antimatter system back online after it was drained by an unseen force. Everything he did in the episode was focused on restoring functions to the Enterprise. This wasn’t the result of a failed upgrade or a continuous deployment scenario. The operation of his ship was impacted. In Is There No Truth In Beauty, Mr. Scott even challenges the designer of the Enterprise’s engines that he can’t handle them as well as Scotty. Mr. Scott was boasting that he was better at operations than a developer. Plain and simple.

In the first Star Trek movie, Admiral Kirk is pushing Scotty to get the Enterprise ready to depart in hours after an eighteen month refit. Scotty keeps pushing back that they need more time to work out the new systems and go on a shakedown cruise. Does that sound like a person that wants to do CI/CD to a starship? Or does it sound more like the caution of an operations person wanting to make sure patches are deployed in a controlled way? Every time someone in the series or movies suggested doing major upgrades or redesigns to the Enteprise, Scotty always warned against doing it in the field unless absolutely necessary.

Montgomery Scott isn’t the King of DevOps. He’s a poster child for simple operations. Keep the systems running. Deal with problems as they arise. Make changes only if necessary. And don’t monkey with the systems! These are the tried-and-true refrains of a person that knows that his expertise isn’t in building things but in making them run.

Engineering as DevOps

That’s not to say that Star Trek doesn’t have DevOps engineers. The Enterprise-D had two of the best examples of DevOps that I’ve ever seen – Geordi LaForge and Data. These two operations officers spent most of their time trying new things with the Enterprise. And more than a few crises arose because of their development aspirations.

LaForge and Data were constantly experimenting on the Enterprise in an attempt to make it run better. Given that the mission of the Enterprise-D did not have the same five-year limit as the original, they were expected to keep the technology on the Enterprise more current in space. However, their experiments often led to problems. Destabilizing the warp core, causing shield harmonics failures, and even infecting the Enterprise’s computer with viruses were somewhat commonplace during Geordi’s tenure as Chief Engineer.

Commander Data was also rather fond of finding out about new technology that was being developed and trying to integrate it into the Enterprise’s systems. Many times, he mentioned finding out about something being developed the the Daystrom Institute and wanting to see if it would work for them. Which leads me to think that the Daystrom Institute is the Star Trek version of Stack Overflow – copy some things you think will make everything better and hope it doesn’t blow up because you didn’t understand it.

Even if it was a plot convenience device, it felt like the Enterprise was often caught in the middle of applying a patch or an upgrade right when the action started. An exploding star or an enemy vessel always waited until just the right moment to put the Enterprise in harm’s way. Even Starfleet seemed to decide the Enterprise was the only vessel that could help after the DevOps team took the warp core offline to make it run 0.1% faster.

Perhaps instead of pushing forward with an aggressive DevOps mentality for the flagship of the Federation, Geordi and Data would have done better to take lessons from Mr. Scott and wait for appropriate windows to make changes and upgrades and quite tinkering with their ship so often that it felt like it was being held together by duct tape and hope.


Tom’s Take

Despite being fictional characters, Scotty, Geordi, and Data all represent different aspects of the technology we look at today. Scotty is the tried-and-true operations person. Geordi and Data are leading the charge to keep the technology fresh. Each of them has their strong points, but it’s hard to overlook Scotty as being a bastion of simple operations mentalities. Even when they all met together in Relics, Scotty was thinking more about making things work and less on making them fast or pretty or efficient. I think the push to the DevOps mentality would do well to take a seat and listen to the venerable chief engineer of the original Enterprise.

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