"It works on my laptop" is a blame game

August 16, 2020

There is an infamous dialog between developers and operations teams (eg) where the core of the exchange is the developer saying "it works on my laptop" and then the operations team saying "well, pack up your laptop, it's going into production". Sometimes this is reframed as the developer saying "it works on my laptop, deploy it to production". One of many ways to understand this exchange is as a game of who is to blame for production issues.

When the developer says "well it works on my laptop", they're implicitly saying "you operations people screwed up when deploying it". When the operations people say "well pack up your laptop", they're implicitly saying in return "no we didn't, you screwed it up one way or another; either it didn't work or you didn't prepare it for deployment". The developer is trying to push blame to operations and operations is trying to push blame back.

(This exchange is perpetually darkly funny to system administrators because we often feel that we're taking the fall for what are actually other people's problems, and in this exchange the operations people get to push back.)

But the important thing here is that this is a social problem, just like any blame game. Sometimes this is because higher up people will punish someone (implicitly or explicitly) for the issue, and sometimes this is because incentives aren't aligned (which can lead to DevOps as a way to deal with the blame problem).

(This isn't the only thing that DevOps can be for.)

Playing the blame game in real life instead of in funny Internet jokes isn't productive, it's a problem. If your organization is having this dialog for real, it has multiple issues and you're probably going to get caught in the fallout.

(I almost wrote 'you have multiple issues', but it's not your problem, it's the organization's. Unless you're very highly placed, you can't fix these organizational problems, because they point to deep cultural issues on how developers and system administrators view each other, interact with each other, and probably are rewarded.)

Realizing this makes the "it works on my laptop" thing a little less funny and amusing to me, and a bit sadder and darker than it was before.

Written on 16 August 2020.
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Last modified: Sun Aug 16 00:00:42 2020
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