DevOps: A Boy Named Sue

Everyone has an opinion about DevOps. Similar to what has happened to cloud, Agile, Lean and Scrum, this unavoidably leads to cult behavior. Strong beliefs, not only on what it really is but also how it should be integrated with current organizational and technological practices, lead to fierce discussions and multipolar behaviors. But does it really matter to pinpoint the exact definition and scope of DevOps? Johnny Cash has the answer.


In 1969 the inimitable Johnny Cash wrote one of his masterpieces, ‘A Boy Named Sue’. In this vivacious song, Cash describes the struggle of a young man whose father named him Sue, soon after which his father left him. As a child he was mocked and bullied over his peculiar name, and the anger towards his father grew every day. When they accidentally meet in a bar years later, the young man attacks his father, blaming him for his turbulent childhood. Only when the father explains why he deliberately named his son Sue, to encourage his assertiveness in this brutal society, they bury the hatchet.

The name DevOps (coined by Patrick Debois) is in fact a limitation of its true promise. If we read about the Three Ways of DevOps (systems thinking, fast feedback and continuous learning), we recognize the broad applicability and potential benefits of the underlying principles. In all of the recent transformation journeys I am/was involved in, one of the first struggles has always been to highlight the broader context of DevOps. It’s not just about (IT) development and operations. What about the business, or security and compliance, to name a few?

But perhaps this very limitation may just be the reason why DevOps will be around for many years to come. The name provokes immediate debate regarding its true meaning, scope and applicability. If challenged correcty, this will focus the strategic discussions towards the underlying principles.

And that is precisely what will make DevOps sustainable in the end. Not its name, as I’m confident it will evolve in the next few years. But the sheer reason why we needed it in the first place. It’s not about Sue, it’s about resilience.

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Dave van Herpen

Principal Consultant High-Performance Transformations, Quint Wellington Redwood

Dave has been involved in numerous Agile and DevOps transformations as lead consultant, (management and team) coach and trainer.