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What does it take to be a tech visionary? As Lubos Housa sees it, one of the main qualities you need is being able to complain.

Czech people are never afraid to complain. If there’s a part of the Barclays mindset that we exemplify, it is definitely ‘challenge’. It’s a lot simpler to point out issues than it is to drive actual change. But if you have a passion for making things better it carries you through.

Lubos picked up the Tech Visionary award at Barclays’ latest GTA Awards for his tireless efforts to bring a DevOps approach to every part of our tech business.

DevOps is a philosophy consisting of a set of practices that combine software development and IT operations. The aim is to shorten the systems development lifecycle and provide continuous delivery with high software quality.

In the past, development was often done in siloes. One team would plan the architecture. One team would write the code. Another team would test everything. Another would put it into production. Another would manage and operate it. When issues arose along the way, the work was sent back down the chain.  And that inefficient, antagonistic cycle ran again and again until, eventually worked. DevOps looks to eliminate those siloes and make the development cycle far more seamless.  

In some ways, it’s a relatively simple concept, bringing different parts of the development and operations lifecycle together to ensure that everyone is aligned, and processes run smoothly. However, the way a business acts on that potential can have an impact on everything, from software quality to systems security, from employee experience to overall performance.

When Lubos started his career as a Junior Developer, in 2009, engineers had a lot of autonomy but much less support. “When I joined, there were just 40 of us in Prague. And there was so much freedom. I was scared all the time! But as the site grew, I grew. And I started to realise the power of DevOps to overcome some of the obstacles we were facing.”

Now the team in Prague is made up of c.1400 tech people, with an incredibly strong engineering cohort. And it is Lubos’ team who work across the global business to help engineers find the balance between the freedom to try things and the safety to do them in the right way.

At the heart of DevOps, there are a set of development practices called CICD - continuous integration and continuous delivery in which incremental code changes are made frequently and reliably by introducing automation into key stages of the deployment. CICD relies on having the tools in place to automate the builds and testing. It relies on basic shared resources like a source code repository and a set place to store packages of new code. 

“Back in 2009, there was very little tooling for engineers. So we started to lay the foundations to support our work in Markets. By 2016, I was a regional department head, and I created a DevOps team to support approximately one thousand engineers working on Markets technology. “

At first, the team consisted of just Lubos and a colleague in New York. Within three years, it was 30-40 people, running tools and advocating for all the ways in which automated CICD processes could make developers’ lives easier.

In 2021, Lubos was approached by Barclays’ Chief Technology Office (CTO) to apply those approaches across the board as part of Development Services.

It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. And a chance to really put Prague on the map for DevOps. But it was also a big challenge. Scaling up from 5,000 engineers on our tooling to supporting 20,000. I decided to go for it, as long as I could take my entire team with me.”

CTO is responsible for the big decisions across Barclays about the development technology and processes we use internally and how we use them. How we deliver changes into production. Which controls we apply. How we audit our output against our regulatory responsibilities.

“In my old team, we always had CTO to blame,” jokes Lubos. “Now I was leading the central team. It was a big eye-opener. It’s easy to complain but it’s way harder to drive change and improvement at every level.”

A core part of DevOps is people. “That’s the biggest part of the education process,” says Lubos.

People think that DevOps is just the tools. But it’s the combination of people, process and tools that make a difference.

“It’s about empathising with people. Being aware of different personality types. Understanding the demands and priorities being put on adjacent teams. Helping everyone work together to become more productive.”

One of the key steps is finding open-minded people to act as ambassadors across the organisation.

The more people hear the arguments for a more collaborative approach, from multiple angles, and from people they trust, the better

“You have to get buy-in. Because there are always things you can improve at an enterprise level. But there are also always ways in which the obstacles are personal.”

The bottom line is that developers don’t get things wrong intentionally. “We talk to everyone involved and acknowledge their pain. But we also put up a mirror to show where they aren’t helping themselves. We all do it – inefficient habits that cause trouble down the line. You have to sit with developers and explain the ways in which they are making their own lives more difficult,” explains Lubos.

Lubos and his team draw on industry research for their inspiration, and for proof that embracing DevOps methodologies can have far-reaching impacts. The DevOps Research and Assessment team (now part of Google Cloud) has been publishing academic research on the state of DevOps across all kinds of tech organisations since 2014.

With data from 32,000 professionals worldwide, DORA provides an independent view into the practices and capabilities that drive high performance in technology delivery. Their research uses behavioural science to identify the most effective and efficient ways to develop and deliver software.

DORA measures a business on the two key factors of DevOps performance: speed and stability. Speed captures the deployment frequency and lead time for changes. Stability captures an organisation’s change fail rate and time to it takes to restore service.

The results are pretty persuasive. Organisations who are elite performers against DORA benchmarks are twice as likely to meet or exceed their organisational performance goals.

In the real world, that means that businesses who truly embrace a DevOps approach have a competitive advantage over the sectors they work in. They are more profitable and more productive. They increase market share, customer numbers and customer satisfaction levels. They operate more efficiently, and deliver more, better quality products and services.

Just like the DORA research says, our world is a constant balance between speed and stability. But we can’t always control the speed

The world is changing at an incredible pace. Our customers and clients expect more from Barclays, newer products and services, faster than ever before. And the technology at our disposal is changing all the time. If the pace of change is growing, and you do nothing -  the stability decreases naturally over time. To stay on top of it, you have to raise the levels of automation and control.

The positive thing is that the DORA research shows if you have the right tools, culture, processes and approach then you don’t have to choose between speed and stability. There’s real, live proof that if Barclays embraces DevOps, we can increase both at the same time.

For Lubos, those gains start with putting the right guardrails in place. “If everyone works with the same tools, and those tools are built with controls baked-in then developers can be more creative and more productive without the fear of breaking things or wasting time.”

In the past, a developer was given thousands of pages of rules to refer to as they went along. “Our vision is to simplify all that. We want to get to a place where if one of our engineers does something that would break a regulatory rule, the tools they are working with simply tell them they can’t do it. And then provide instant feedback as to why it’s not possible,” explains Lubos.  

Lubos and his team are working with our key partners, all across technology, to implement this vision. And helping the business to take all those rules, from all the different regulators around the world, and translate it into code.

“We’re on a journey – and we’re making significant progress. We want to create a future where developers don’t need to read those pages any more. When they do something wrong, they get immediate help. And our colleagues in the Chief Controls Office (CCO) or Chief Security Office (CSO), can codify all of these controls into the development process.”

All of which will make discussions with auditors much easier. “We won’t have to dig around to prove that we’re meeting regulations. We can show that the right guardrails are automatically in place, embedded into the platforms our engineers use.” 

That sense of security is one the ways in which DevOps creates more satisfied, more fulfilled teams.

Developers are happier because they feel safer and know they can’t break things. CCO and CSO teams are happier because they can effectively implement the necessary controls

At the heart of DevOps is the idea of getting the basics right. Of laying good foundations, so that everything else you build on top is more effective. Which explains why one of Barclays’ true tech visionaries, and one of its biggest advocates for DevOps, doesn’t currently have DevOps in his job title.

“I’m still part of CTO Development Services, but now I’m leading the core engineering function.” That means looking after the core tools used by all 20,000 engineers across Barclays. Like Confluence, Jira, Nexus. CICD tools like Jenkins, Team City and DTP. Sonar for code quality and Bitbucket for source code.

“These are the tools that developers rely on every day. They have to be stable. They have to keep pace with our changing needs. So we’re bringing a DevOps approach to the tools that support DevOps across Barclays. Investing in people and infrastructure. Delivering a high pace of change without sacrificing stability.”

Visionary people bringing DevOps to life. It’s happening here.