deep listening: creating conversational agility

Deep Listening: Creating Conversational Agility
Speaker: Brian Branagan

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Reasons we don’t listen

  • Want to speak
  • Overwhelmed by details
  • Bored

Statistic: a third of projects fail because of poor communication and ineffective listening

Project failure lingers as a source of agitation even when move on to other projects. Like a low priority background process

Need to improve outcome of conversations to have better outomes. 93% of what we comunicate is from body, emotions in tone of voice/body language. Only 7% is words.

Layers of Deep Listening
Each layer contributes to the layer above it. A shift in one layer changes the others

  1. Our speaking – the actual words. Coordinates actions with other people. Includes opinions, facts, requests, commitments. Types include transactional (ask/tell), positional (advoicate from a role), transformation (share a vision)
  2. Our emotions – expressed in voice and body language. Emotions begin as biological responses to circumstances. This is why sometimes was experiences before know why. Body pattern matches for a similar emotional signature. This makes us upset based on past occurences. Predisposes us for certain kinds of action. Four basic emotions: fear, anger, sad, glad
  3. Our body – generates sensations and energy. Our way of interacting with the world around us. Informs us about threats to our safety. Fight reaction. Helps identify friends/foes and lets us know how to fit in

Conversational agility is moving from “me” to “we”. It’s havig two people who can listen.

Most important thing is to pause and ground yourself – when upset, grounded, etc. Wiggle your toes to feel the ground and relax. Watch your breathing rate.

practical empathy – live blogging from qcon

Practical Empathy: unlocking the superpower
Speaker: Pavneet Singh Saund @pavsaund

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speaker’s blog:

Started by telling the story about the guy who broke the prod database on his first day on the job and how it was poorly handled. Compare with speaker mixing up two elements (physics) – asked how was and was told his boss has done that and suggested to go home/rest/come back next day.

What is Empathy

  • Ability to see world as others see it
  • Ability to understand another’s current feelings
  • Witholding judgement
  • Communicate that understanding back to them

Told story about a team deciding to work more hours where they could. Speaker worked as well to keep up. But exhausted becuase little kids and burden on wife. Impacted family and daughter. Burned out and quit for 6 months while on vacation.


  • self-empathy is checking in with your own feelings and needs. Anger is an unfilled need.
  • Mindfulness – non-judgemental awareness of experiences in the present moment. For developers, sometimes a task is hard to start. ex: too big. Taking a few minutes to focus before starting helps. Be more engaged in moment and keep calm
  • Journaling – Writing thoughts and feelings honestly can be healing. Can empty the mind. Agile retrospectives are also a good place for reflection. But that’s for a team. Having a place you can swear provides a safe place to be honest. Also, makes awareness of how much filter own thoughts.


  • Listening to understand – put aside immediate goals. “Don’t just do something, listen”. As developers, our first reaction is to solve problems.
  • Listen withough judgement – Breathe to calm down. Be curious to learn and avoid irritation/frustration of not understanding
  • Assume good intent – “bad” intent could be misunderstanding or language/translation problems. Retrospective prime directive.
  • Listening to connect – Try to connect situtation to a feeling within you. Be curious to try to get to underlying feelings so can relate and understand

Gaining perspective

  • Challenge comfort zones – seek out diferent perspectives, learn about context
  • Walk a mile in their shoes – sit with the users, understand what they are trying to do. Pair with a tester. Work in customer support

“Empathy is the key to understanding”
“Empathy is a skill. You need to actively practice giving and receiving empathy”
“Empathy is hard”

Can’t have empathy in a culture of blame/shame
Empathy is hard. Takes energy and boundaries.
Empathy is a choice. It is a first step toward making more options available

managing millions of data services at heroku – live blogging at qcon

Managing Millions of Data Services @ Heroku
Speaker: Gabe Enslein

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AWS S3 failure

  • February 28, 2017 – AWS S3 outage – pager duty failed to give message
  • Down for about 6 hours
  • Heroku recovered before everyone went to bed (10pm Eastern)
  • Avoid failure by having failover strategies
  • Would have taken 35 years to recover if had to do all tasks manually
  • No Heroku customers lost any data


  • Layers of abstraction simplify evelopment
  • Everything rus on hardware at some level down
  • Abstractions can hide real problem
  • Can be harder to reproduce problems
  • Can model many tasks as state machines – both deterministic and non-deterministic moels

“just” implies it is easy. Be skeptical. How easy to repeat? How often is “just”

Automate yourself out of a job – recurring and one off work

If haven’t gotten a heartbeat in a while, don’t know health.

Not all states used by all systems

  • installing
  • available
  • uncertain
  • unavailable
  • retiring
  • retired
  • archived
  • terminated
  • restart
  • upgrading

Check on

  • Backups
  • Replication
  • Security
  • Performance

Manual fixes can cause more problems than started with. Immutuable infrastrucure enforces the “just”. Script the exceptions; don’t manually tinker. “Break Glass” in case of emergency procedures still help. Modeling emergency remedies help so computer can fix when detects instead of waking someone up.

Infrastructure is code, not a second class citizen. Test it for functionality, performance and regression.

Then March 15, 2017, there was a Linux denial of service and admin escalation vulnerability. Needed to see none of the images were affected. Can fix image so customers get when start up.

Key Takeaways

  • Automate yourself out of regular operations
  • Have emergency automation in place – scripts, jobs, etc
  • Make routine failover strategies
  • Treat infrastructure as full units
  • Abstractions have their limits