DevOps, Compliance

Stephen Lauck, who joined Contino at the end of 2017 as an Account Principal, is an experienced DevOps expert. We recently sat down with him to gain some insight from his 10+ years of experience.

Stephen Lauck cuts an imposing figure.

The day I spoke to him, he’s wearing a black t-shirt, with his hair pulled back, and he’s sporting a pretty epic beard. He looks like he’s in a rock band (partly because he is). He’s eloquent, clearly passionate about DevOps and has a strong pedigree with over a decade of experience in the field. Oh, and he’s not definitely not shy about sharing his opinion.

“Everyone,” he said, not mincing his words, “has a compliance problem.”

“No one is really talking about this, but the trouble companies have with cloud adoption isn't because they don't know how to use AWS. It's because they don't know how to get the controls they had in place before AWS into AWS,” Lauck said. "I believe the key of moving into the new modern IT is how you deal with your old liabilities.”

Unique Experience

“There's not a lot of people out there with as much experience doing this already than me. There's just not a lot of people who have done it this long and in the biggest companies,” Lauck said.

“My value is that I've done it in so many enterprises in this exact space, and I've traveled the world of this space. I can talk about issues in not just this one use case, but about issues in the last 14 enterprises I was in.”

It’s been over 10 years since Lauck was a software engineer in Rails development. From there, he sidestepped into what would become known as DevOps. “It was really, how do we deploy our stuff, and now that we have these ‘clouds’, maybe we don't have to ask IT,” he said. “And from there it just took off, and I was a contributor and a user of Chef software which was a big thing in the DevOps movement.”

After four years at Chef, he moved to HashiCorp as a Senior Technical Account Manager, working with clients directly. But he didn’t want to limit himself to just focusing on one link of the toolchain. I realized at some point that it's not about a specific tool. Maybe,” he said, “the thing we're transforming is the thing that we can do -- and we can use all of these tools.”

He had actually been thinking about doing something similar to Contino (helping enterprise organizations adopt DevOps and cloud computing), but didn’t want to start something by himself. “When I started putting Contino into my accounts at Hashi, I realized that maybe I’m on the wrong side of the fence because none of these tools just work,” he said. “You need the people.”

He ran into Ryan Lockard (Contino’s VP of Consulting in the US) at a DevOps day in D.C.,  and they were discussing some ideas in a room full of 100 people. “Everyone was listening to us talk, and I kind of realized that there's something special here,” Lauck said.

When visiting the Contino headquarters in London, his feelings were confirmed, and he realized he was definitely at the right company. “I looked around at everyone and thought, ‘There's a whole room of people just like me.’ I've just been locked away at these software companies, so I'm pretty excited. It’s really a perfect fit.”

He’s thrilled about the type of work he’ll get to do at Contino.

“Basically, if you're a big company and you have computers, you need my help. There's very few people that have been in all these companies like me, doing this specific work at the biggest companies in the world.”

Legacy Liabilities and Powerful Compliance Wizards

Lauck is concerned about companies that are trying to move to the cloud but still haven’t discovered a serious legacy threat that can undermine the entire process. He uses a house metaphor to illustrate his point.

“Everyone wants to move to the new, fancy condo, but they are coming from these old Victorian houses that they have to deal with at some point,” he said. “You can't move into your new condo in the city unless you take care of your old house. And it's dilapidated and has some major issues that may cause buyers to back out. So now, your old house is this huge liability that's preventing the move to the new place.

“If you want to help someone get in the cloud, you have to help them with that old house and help them to reduce that liability. That legacy liability is blocking their cloud adoption and only Contino knows that and can help them with it.”

Based on his experience, he says the big enterprise companies aren't stupid and they have really good people. According to Lauck, those companies aren’t sitting on the DevOps sidelines because they can’t figure out that they need to adapt. He remembers a fitting anecdote: “There was a time I thought the whole problem was that they couldn't get servers because it was too slow a process, and so we're building 50,000 servers in five minutes.”

But it still wasn’t quite right, and the alarm bells were going off in his head. He had his a-ha moment. “If you don't bring along the controls,” he said, “then none of this is getting out, and we actually just made it more of a problem for the enterprise. I helped them turn on their cloud strategy and then we thought, ‘Oh my God. We just split-brained the whole company.’”

Then, the project would get shut down, and Lauck and his team had to figure out what went wrong. They soon discovered their problem: they had woken up a sleeping giant.

“For years, enterprises had been doing things right in the data center. They have all these complex processes in place and then, all of a sudden, we’re just building machines willy-nilly that could raise compliance issues.”

“And the minute you turn that on, you picked a fight with the worst department in the whole company,” he said. “Governance – they are the sleeping giants of the company. Everyone ignores them like they're rubber-stamping changes in the data center. It's some Excel spreadsheet with a green line in it, but all of a sudden you open up Azure and people are building things in there. They wake up, and they’re not happy!”

He compares the governance department to an all-powerful wizard.

“Yeah, they're basically a wizard that just kills everything. Lightning shoots out of their fingers and destroys it all because they are the most powerful person in the company,” he said. “But you didn't realize this person even existed until after you finished the cloud adoption.”

“So once you know they do exist, why don't you go make friends with them first and figure out a way to make sure the things they care about became part of the DNA of the adoption. Otherwise, you’re in serious trouble.”

Guitars and Grease

When not at work, Lauck prefers working with his hands – away from a keyboard. Lately, he’s been into restoring old motorcycles, and his garage that has turned into a hub for other amateur mechanics in the area. “I hang out with some real luddites,” he said. “I love it when I'm hanging out, and they’re like, ‘Don't you hate all these tech guys?’ I'm like, ‘Yeah, they’re the worst.’”

Lauck, who plays the electric guitar, says being in a band has given him some perspective.

“If you think it's hard to do consulting, try being in a band,” he said as he laughed. “We argue passionately about completely subjective things and no one even gets paid! So going into a work project, even on your worse day, it’s not as bad. I can get in there and say, ‘You guys are getting paid right now.’ They should want to be doing this,” he said, “so you might as well make it fun.”

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