Interview with Senior DevOps Engineer
Valentyn Nastenko has worked in IT since the time when computers widely appeared in Ukraine. Being one of the most experienced specialists, he keeps an eye on all the systems and infrastructures in the development process, making sure everything works correctly. In modern times we created a name for this profession – DevOps – but in fact, he was doing it before it went mainstream without that specific name. Being a DevOps Engineer is a hard and responsible job that requires a vast amount of knowledge, as well as practical expertise. In this interview, Valentyn shares the details of his uneasy but interesting path, the specifications of his job, and the intricacies of working in IT in general.
You’ve been working in IT for at least 20 years, is that right? What brought you here in the first place?
I loved playing arcade games and back in 1992, my parents bought a ZX Spectrum for me. My mom was smart enough to ask me if I wanted to understand how games are developed. So she encouraged me to get into programming, and although I didn’t learn how to program games, I found that it was my passion, until I met girls.
So I’ve been programming for almost 30 years, and I still love it, and I’m learning something new every day.
What did you study at University? Was it something tech-related?
It may come as a surprise, but no. My first education was in a vocational college – I studied as a welder. Then I went to University to train as an electric locomotives specialist, but after a few years of studying and spending time coding, I realized that I’m interested in the business side of software development. Because just a code won’t bring you money, but it’s relevant usage will. That’s how I switched to accounting and graduated as an accountant.
Was there any moment when you realized that IT is something you love and want to spend the rest of your life doing?
I think it happened when I started to notice how passionate I was waiting for 3 am to connect to the internet to find out something about a piece of code in pre-Google times. Or when I wrote my code on a piece of paper and was waiting for an opportunity to type it and see how it works on a University computer, or any other computer I could get to.
I think a good sign of success was when I got second place at a University programming contest. There were hundreds of programmers from the programming faculty and me, from the electric locomotives faculty, who showed incredible results.
You are clearly a tech geek. Do you have any hobbies outside of this sphere?
As for other hobbies I like to read books, a lot of books: sci-fi, nonfiction. And to watch old tv shows with beer and snacks.
What hardware did you choose for your children?
Chromebooks. It minimizes the chances of breakage, they can’t download a virus or spoil something to then run to me and beg to fix it. I’m fixing enough stuff at Clearmove, I don’t want to fix more things at home.
A lot of modern IT companies mostly have youngsters in their offices. How do you find communicating with them? Do you feel the age difference a lot?
I learn all the time from others, from their successes and mistakes. I like to be older sometimes, it is interesting to see changes and analyze them.
From one point of view, the young generation is walking on well-traveled paths in terms of programming. My peers used to look for pieces of information here and there before even Google appeared, whereas a millennial can get a full needed course in seconds. On the other hand, I see how much they should learn to stay up to date. Frameworks change all the time, and with the nowadays crazy pace you constantly need to learn new things just to stay relevant in IT. In my case, I accumulated the knowledge slowly and gradually, but modern coders need to learn a huge amount of information in the short term. I like to see these changes, it is extremely interesting.
Also if I compare working in “young” IT companies with older and conventional ones, people in the first type are easier and more outgoing. They are always open to anything new (including new tech trends), adaptable to change, and easy-going. I like that I can invite my colleagues for a short trip outside of the city and they will be ready in an hour. Whereas when you work with older people everything is slow and rather boring. When I work with younger people I feel younger as well.
About your job
The role of DevOps is growing quickly. It seems like only 5 years ago people didn’t know about it. How does it feel to do something so new and hard to explain?
Yeah, DevOps Engineer was ranked second in the recent Top 50 Jobs report.
In fact, DevOps is not new for me, I worked as a DevOps engineer before it went mainstream. Automation processes, set up servers, fast responsibility to crash the application, deploy and update services, communication with business units and developers. It all existed before and it was named “system operation and support”.
How do you explain to your parents’ friends (or children) what your profession is?
I like this question, especially from my wife and kids. Usually, I just turn on some episodes from the TV show “IT Crowd”. Although they still don’t understand anything about my work, they have fun.
Is DevOps fully appreciated in the business world?
Too often, DevOps gets left out of the process. It can feel too technical, too far removed from end-users. But if you’ve ever waited for a page to load, you know how critical DevOps can be to customer experience. The business benefit of DevOps: You control how people interact with your applications, almost on demand.
The DevOps’ role aims to create synergy between the departments of software development and systems management. So is it accurate to call you a connector?
Think of our application like a car. DevOps is the fuel that gets it on the road, as well as the mechanic who keeps it running, fixes it after a crash, and upgrades it to deal with new conditions. It’s not enough to launch an application, just like it’s not enough to roll the car off the assembly line. You have to consider how it will be used over its entire lifetime. DevOps is how you make, implement, and update that plan.
Why did you decide to become a DevOps professional instead of staying a developer or a system administrator?
I considered myself on the Ops side of the aisle before the evolution of DevOps as we know it today. As a system administrator, I felt like I was stuck in a time warp, with a small tinge of fear.
As a system administrator, I couldn’t continue to operate at my current skill level. I needed automation skills to manage large servers, as well as to understand how everything works to know what’s going wrong, and when and how to heal said environments.
Along with changing my mindset came acquiring the necessary skills in order to sustain and support infrastructure, and ensure its reliability and availability to continuously integrate and deliver applications, services, and software. So I became a DevOps engineer.
A critical role of a DevOps Engineer is to be an excellent communicator. How do you boost your communication skills?
I just honestly tell people what I think. I know feedback is fuel. Good feedback is too important for all of us. Bad reviews are a reason to think about what’s wrong, how can you improve it?
I believe in the golden rule: treat others as you would like others to treat you. That is easy and saves a lot of time.
What is your biggest challenge at work?
My challenge is getting the right thing done on time. Developers always depend on infrastructure and libraries. And if something is missing they are blocked, they can’t continue working and the company loses money. So my challenge is to prioritize among the never-ending amount of tasks and get things done for everyone in the right order.
Another challenge is overtime. It seems like my working time is 8 hours but in fact, it can be way more in urgent situations. For example, sometimes I need to wait until the working hours in the UAE are finished so that I can upload some updates to our software. In Ukraine it’ll be 2 am but what can I do? There is no better time to do it. Or, as I mentioned, when the whole team is blocked because they need me to spend 30 minutes to write a piece of code to let them continue their work – how can I refuse? Being a DevOps is a big responsibility indeed.
Your work experience is nearly 20 years. What companies did you work for before? What made you switch to a start-up like Clearmove?
I like working in startups. This is a roller coaster with no clear direction. Without clear data on the market and users, you need to rely to some extent on your instinct and any of your ideas about customers. Working in a startup means I am an important member of a small team. A startup has fewer people so everybody’s role is important.
This leads to being more responsible, reliable, versatile, and willing to explore to improve. The authority to make decisions when required in a startup makes it easier to work efficiently. In a startup, it is hard to ignore a person who is doing a good job because it is very much visible. However, mistakes will be noticed too but that means striving for perfection for me and that is never a bad thing! Feedback is fuel, isn’t it?
Working in a startup is a crazy experience. I love it!
Do you have a good understanding of Global Mobility? Do you see its importance?
I am originally from Dnipro and I had the experience of moving twice within Ukraine.
My first relocation was to Kharkiv and it was a terrible experience. No support, no friends, no relocation money, I lived at a friend’s place and was rarely visited by my family. I had too many unsolved problems.
The second relocation was completely the opposite. The company supported me in moving to Kyiv: I was provided with accommodation, they helped me with the kindergarten for my children. I had a support manager and I got the answers before I thought about the question. And this was really great. I think the fact that my relocation was nicely sorted out pushed me to make a decision about taking a job and moving. This is how I realized the importance of a proper mobility program. So yes, sure I understand how important it is, what we are doing here at Clearmove.
Which of the company’s values (Innovation, Initiative, Responsibility, Leadership, Resilience, Teamwork, People) resonates with you the most?
Innovation, Initiative, Responsibility, Leadership, Resilience, Teamwork, People are parts of the culture we build. Culture sets the tone for how we interact with customers, stakeholders, and how we interact with each other.
This can vary from startup to startup, but most of them have a common element that helps them succeed – people who are passionate about what they do. In most situations, each individual working in a startup contributes to the overall culture. And when we have people who believe in the mission and our culture, and they deliver faster than others who just work to live a normal 9 to 5 life.
What would you recommend to those who’d like to join Clearmove?
To learn, learn, and learn some more. Never stop learning. My favorite quote from Lewis Carroll is “My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” IT is not the field where you can gain a profession once and work for years without developing new skills. You either choose the path where you constantly learn or choose a very small specific niche to work in. Otherwise, IT is not for you.
I have a wonderful example from my life. I had a friend who was a system administrator and in 2014 he was asked to join the army. He came back in a year or so and his knowledge was worth nothing. Before he used to be my guru, I wanted to become like him, but in a short period of time technology and the economic situation changed so much that he couldn’t cope with it anymore.
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