How I Joined Blameless, Matt Davis, Senior Infrastructure Engineer

Matt Davis

There was a rushed stillness in the air. That odd pre-tsunami silence briefly collapsed around us. Then, pandemonium: blasts, screams, horns, cheers... within minutes of each other, Los Angeles had won the World Series and Matt Davis accepted a role as Senior Infrastructure Engineer at Blameless.

Coincidence? Or complexity? How did this happen?

Why did the Dodgers win the World Series? Well, they hadn't won it in 32 years! It was time! Maybe so, but this doesn't tell us much about the ball club or the game. How did they win it? What were the contributing factors, circumstances, and external pressures? Now that is juicy stuff.

A question that we should all ask after incidents is how the system got to this point. There is little use in asking why. Such paths of inquiry do not teach us much about the nature of the system itself because of limited perspective in the question. It rests its laurels on counterfactuals, its corollary is always why not. The road to blame without accountability is paved with bias, and views that lead to judging are not what we want.

Asking the question how gives more shape to the true story of what happened. So instead of trying to summarize the complicated whys about joining Blameless, I stepped back. I thought up and out, and about you, reader. Maybe you are trying to get a job during a pandemic. Or you see a position on the Blameless job board that fits. You may be interested in how someone like me, a music major, ended up as an infrastructure engineer on a passionate technology team. Whatever your truth, I'm here to tell you the story of how accepting the offer at Blameless wasn't actually a choice at all. That's how intuitive decision making works.

Even with tasks like finding a new job, pattern recognition plays a huge part when we are confronted with a decision. Context is absorbed and mental simulation helps us evaluate options. The experience of shared perspectives (team member collaboration) and adverse situations (incidents as wormholes into understanding system behavior) contributes to this emerging mental model. In fact, the higher fidelity our model, the more diverse our set of simulations become, allowing us to respond in more adaptive ways to adversity.

You hear this clearly when blues musicians improvise: there is a set of very resilient melodies that "work" in a 12-bar blues. The music is immediate so it is not recognized as a choice. It is what the mental simulation says should happen.

For instance, understanding my own expertise by examining how I learned is what guided my decision to narrow my job search. I recognized experience solidifying around hands-on areas of operations and chose opportunities that fit. In interviews, this allowed me to emphasize the peaks where I have seen my intuition grow strong (i.e. robust technical operations and incident management).

To bump up my coding, I created an API and filled in gaps beyond my experience deploying them. When I wasn't studying new material, I was learning how the last interview failures further informed my decisions about which future opportunities to pursue (i.e. learning reliability from history).

In addition to considering analytical data (e.g. a side-by-side "pro/con list for joining a company"), several failed interview rounds encouraged me to perform more and more pre-mortem exercises as time went on. What happens if I do not get this job (i.e. practicing proactive experiments)?

I decided to lean on community, an insight I gained from finding success with chat groups during past job hunts (and searching the 'Net for answers is no stranger to any SRE). A ton of emotional support came from social media and even complete strangers! I took a disciplined approach, checking scrollback and job boards in a dozen Slacks each day. The diligence paid off, I seized an opportunity.

I was in that chat channel because of the confluence of my decisions, the culmination of how. My momentum led me to becoming a part of the Blameless mission to build socio-technical tools for humans that care about robust applications, site reliability, and bolstering resilience. All while underlining the just culture in our workplaces we need to navigate complexity in our adaptive world.

Truth is, I know next to nothing about sports. Nevertheless, LA winning a landmark game literally as I received my job offer after months of diligent work... well, they felt connected. Against the dreary backdrop of 2020, these luminous events glowed joy brightly across the LA basin that night, and for a brief second, I was sure the fireworks were for me.