‘You Build It

‘You Build It, You Own It’: DevOps Culture at Walmart Labs

‘You Build It, You Own It’: DevOps Culture at Walmart Labs

As a technical person trawling through the wilderness of most any online job board, it’s hard to avoid postings like this one seeking a “Master DevOps Engineer.” DevOps — the practice of tightly integrating the work of software developers with that of IT professionals — is rapidly becoming the rule rather than the exception. Yet, a large cross section of companies both within and outside Silicon Valley still subscribe to the notion that DevOps is something that can simply be tacked onto a job title and therefore achieved through a strategic hire or two.

There’s nothing wrong with a DevOps job title per se — Walmart even has a few — but throwing manpower at a problem rooted in organizational limitations is a surefire way to fail. There can be no DevOps engineer before there is a DevOps culture, and for the vast majority of companies, fostering the latter is the greater hurdle.

Instilling DevOps values at a company unaccustomed to them is no small feat. Walmart Labs confronted these challenges head-on in its journey toward a more flexible cloud architecture to power its e-commerce business.

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“When we were switching to this approach, there were a bunch of struggles,” recounted Vitaliy Zinchenko, principal software engineer at Walmart Labs and founder of OneOps, the cloud application life-cycle management platform Walmart acquired in 2013. “The developers want more flexibility, but they don’t want to take more responsibility. On the other hand, you have operations teams that don’t want to lose any control. But eventually it all worked out.”

In spite of the substantial challenges posed by the transformation, Walmart Labs had little choice but to wholeheartedly embrace DevOps three years ago. Back then, Walmart.com was a single, massive app that was neither stable nor scalable. New releases were pushed once every two months and required the involvement of multiple teams across the organization. To remain competitive, the company knew it needed to adopt a substantially more flexible IT model.

To that end, everything was rewritten from the ground up with DevOps in mind. Walmart.

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