American DevOps - Inaugural Tech [un]Conference

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American Airlines Tech [un]Conference 2022

We have a small, scrappy group of folks in our Product Agility space that help drive our Delivery Transformation efforts. The transformation work itself is federated out to passionate teams; however, the coordination of that transformation effort and other organizational change efforts flow through our Product Agility team.

Things like our internal OKR tracking tool (OKRaa – get it, “AA”), internal DevOps dashboards, and product taxonomy oversight flow through Product Agility. These same folks also coordinate and host a fantastic virtual community session to promote Delivery Transformation efforts, called Interact Studio.

With innovation and culture top of mind, the team was ready for something a little more in-your-face and harder to miss. With the full support of our leadership, we went high-stakes with an internal, all-day meetup to create an environment for our community to connect around DevOps. A date was identified, the mission inked in pen … and that made it real.

Mission: DevOps Revolution

DevOps at American Airlines is summed up as the union of people, processes, and technology in an infinity loop of value and connection. The loop considers our customers and technologists and aims to keep everyone aware, empowered, and happy. So, how do we create a thoughtful, interactive, and immersive plan to spark this?

  • We knew the format would be inspired by DevOps Days. We didn’t want to re-use the name to respect the DevOps Days brand. We landed on AA Tech [un]Conference. The [un]conference is a format familiar to tech-minded people, and the fact that the “un” speaks softly to doing things a little differently (like building our stage in the middle of a sushi bar), and not having to be so formal, it resonated with creating a community of geeks to get together and share.

  • We needed a tagline, of sorts. Something to help ground an initial theme and to help guide our first speakers’ talks. The initial draft “the human side of technology – technology enabling transformation, building for the cloud, and managing people’s wellness” was the starting point to guide our approach. American Airlines has spent years on Delivery Transformation around Product and “a”gile – each have a facet of “people.” However, the goal of the initial scope was around organizational structure and flow. We landed on The Human Side of Technology: Enabling Transformation, Cloud, Culture, and Wellness.

Why The Human Side

With all the transformation effort and energy in focus areas like “a"gile and Product, and then a pandemic, we realized we hadn’t ensured that our technical transformation anchored to people. We had to get tactical in a pandemic world:

  • Remote capabilities
  • Managing VPN/connectivity
  • Video/conference call capabilities at scale
  • Digital dry-erase board approach for collaboration
  • End of day “virtual” happy hours … with many cameras off :(

We lost some of the human side of technology. A tone had set in that wasn’t what our culture embodied. We are all about being Passionate, Selfless, and Accountable and that’s hard when we had to focus on resources (not people). We had to be selective with our time and figure out 1-hour chunks of time to stay connected. We no longer had the water-cooler or the coffee bar or the cafeteria to step away from the screens. That selectivity started to morph into exclusivity. Perceived or real - some amount of hierarchical elitism bled into the fiber of US. Our first tech [un]Conference was going to focus on empathy, inclusion, and to make sure we get back to authentic PSA behaviors.

To help surge excitement for this first endeavor, we invited the outside in. We reached to friends in the DevOps world and asked them to come talk about the human side of technology.

DevOps community friends, Nathen Harvey and Amanda Lewis from Google, and Julian Dunn from GitHub, came with stories “outside”. From data and anecdotes around the State of DevOps to describing elements of effective product-oriented cultures, we had wonderful keynotes to anchor our theme.

Let’s Talk Next

In upcoming blog posts, we’ll dig deeper into how the event went, the ideas that are blossoming, and some of the how we did it.

our author(s):
Blaine Daiutolo