While DevOps involves programming and engineering skills, its true center is people. See how senior DevOps engineer Asare Nkansah uses his love of working with people and his investments in personal development to keep DevOps focused on team members and customers.
Explain your role as a senior DevOps engineer and a few of your responsibilities.
DevOps is in my job title, but it’s more than a set of tasks—it’s a philosophy. The concept of DevOps revolves around the effort of dispensing knowledge and value to customers in a timely, yet reliable manner.
Essentially, DevOps is a set of practices that dictate how we integrate and have teams collaborate in order to bring value in the most efficient way possible to customers.
My role is to help maintain order through the entire software development lifecycle from beginning to end and make sure everyone is cohesive. We work to make sure that manual tasks are automated to remove human error.
I spend a lot of time programming, as well as talking to people and trying to figure out how to make processes more efficient.
Tell us about your career journey to date.
After high school, I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. The University of Kentucky offered me a scholarship, and I knew that computers were a big thing, so I ended up choosing computer science and finishing my undergrad there.
Honestly, for most of college, I didn’t really like it—until my junior year. That’s when I started doing research in computational chemistry, and I began to have a passion for solving problems through code.
Software development is a lot like riding a bike. It’s difficult at first, but once you get the hang of it, it opens so many possibilities as you see how pieces fit together.
Once I graduated, I did enjoy software engineering and programming, but I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I kept doing research.
I started a PhD program in computer science. After the first semester, I hated it. I didn’t want to be in academia. I ended up taking a job at the university as a Salesforce CRM Admin, helping to manage a database of students the university was recruiting.
Nine months into that job, I got an offer from Planview. A few years earlier, I had gone to a banquet, where I met Beth Weeks, who was the CIO of Planview at the time.
Beth invited me to visit the office in Austin, but there weren’t any openings. Later, she reached out and told me there was an opportunity. While I wasn’t chosen for that position, a few months later, there was another opportunity, and that was when I finally got the job.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as you’ve moved up in your career?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is how important mentorship is. I didn’t come into this role with a lot of DevOps knowledge, but mentorship made a huge difference.
Mentorship is not telling someone, “You need to do x, y, and z.” Rather, true mentorship is teaching someone how to start thinking about a new subject philosophically, beginning with the fundamentals.
My mentors taught me to think about DevOps as a process of incremental improvement.
That helped me build a strong foundation and understand the “why” of what we’re trying to achieve. I would go into one-on-one meetings with my mentors with lists of questions, and they answered them.
In turn, I wanted to be a mentor, and I’ve tried to pass that on to new people in the company. I’m really grateful for the people who have made a massive difference in my life, especially Beth Weeks, Paul Byoun, Aaron Luther, and Cole Arrington, and, of course, my wife, Jodie Nkansah.
They have helped me grow and have really invested in me. I’m grateful for them, and it’s made a huge difference in my time here.
Are there any experiences in your life that you feel contributed to your professional success?
The single biggest personal experience that has supported my career success is figuring out my purpose. One of the biggest things was becoming a Christian. That helped me figure out the kind of person I wanted to be. Then, when it comes to professional success, I want to be excellent and help push others toward excellence.
What type of meetings do you prepare for? Who do you typically collaborate with?
I think I have the best role in the company because I get to meet with so many people.
I’m not just a DevOps engineer; I’m a platform DevOps engineer. That means the things I focus on impact a good majority of the products within the company, so I spend a lot of time meeting with people from different teams and different departments.
I collaborate with technical people across several product lines as well as people who are managing those people, like product managers. They help define the scope and manage timelines. In a lot of meetings, I show diagrams explaining what we’d like to build and share the pros and cons of specific initiatives.
I also meet with my teammates frequently. I have to have a high-level view of what’s going on in the company and pass that on to my team so that we can be aligned when it comes to our goals.
I reiterate to them the vision we have in mind for each project, because I want us all to have the same mindset as we collaborate. However, I still want them to have freedom to work the way they need to and have the proper guidance.
What makes your team so effective?
Communication, and sometimes over-communication, is what makes us effective. That includes not just asking questions about how to complete the work, but also asking questions about whether they agree with it.
Part of communication is providing opportunities for people to dissent and have opinions. These different perspectives bring more innovation and growth.
There may be flaws in the way I’m thinking, and vice versa for the team members, and I need people to catch that – so it’s vital that we challenge each other’s ideas so we can find the best solutions possible.
Tell us about working from home – what are your tips for success?
A well-stocked refrigerator is my number one tip for success. I also think taking breaks and having boundaries are important.
When I’m working from home, the computer is always nearby. I intentionally take breaks to take my dog, Boots, out to a field nearby and play fetch with him for a bit. These breaks actually make me a lot more efficient.
Rather than banging my head against my computer when I’m struggling with a problem, sometimes a break helps me clear my mind and come back with a fresh set of eyes.
How do you manage your work/life balance?
A good indicator of my work/life balance is the quality of my relationships outside of work. People outside of my work life help me regulate my life balance and draw boundaries.
I spend a lot of time investing in people, both at work and outside of work. I spend a lot of time talking to people at my local church congregation and trying to understand them better and know what’s going on in their lives. And, of course, I want to spend time with my wife.
I live in Denver, and there are a lot of cool things to do here, but more than that, there are a lot of cool people here. Regardless of how exciting a place is, it’s the people that make it great.
What motivates you while working?
Growth is a big motivator for me. I moved to Denver last summer, and on the day we moved, my dad died.
I am grateful for the time I got to spend with him. He was a professor of chemistry, and the work he did left an impact on me. He invested a lot in himself and in his personal growth.
My dad’s mindset was that the more he grew, the more he could help others to grow.
Similarly, I want to grow—as a person, as a coworker, as a husband. Life is more fulfilling when we’re growing. I want to grow and constantly share what I’m learning with my team members. That helps the team as a whole grow, and teams help the company grow.
For example, I run DevOps Masterminds. For this, I send out an invite to most of the engineers, and this is an hour every two weeks where we can collaborate on new ideas. We talk about how we can work more effectively together and grow and offer more value to customers.
How is Planview different from other companies you’ve worked for?
Planview is unique because there are so many things going on. In my role, I have a high-level view, and I get to see a lot of cool projects going on.
I like that Planview is big enough that you’ll never get bored because there’s always something going on, but it’s also small enough for one person to make a big impact.
People can grow and influence other people. The company pushes for diversity and innovation, which in turn pushes me to think outside the box.
Planview has a set of five core values. Is there one that really speaks to your experience?
I’m going to go with the value of “We value our differences.”
It’s important for people to be open-minded when they are considering ideas and thinking about how to move projects forward.
At Planview, we value our differences and accept that other people have different points of view. The company provides room for people to disagree with each other while not disrespecting each other.
It’s not helpful for everyone to have the same thoughts. We need to have diversity of thought and have healthy debates about why we’re thinking a certain way for us to achieve the company’s goals.
We can debate and disagree and ultimately find common ground along the way.
For fun, how do you unwind when you are off the clock?
I’m into rollerblading. I rollerblade with my dog, who is very high energy. I’m also learning German. In downtown Denver, there are German clubs where people—including native German speakers—gather and speak German. It’s been a great experience.
Does Planview sound like a good fit for you? Now is a great time to join our team. Check out Planview’s current job openings across the globe.