4 Things Factorio Taught Me about DevOps

What is Factorio?

Factorio is a computer game. You probably ask yourself, in which ways a computer game is related to this blog? Well, not at all – or is it? Let’s find out.

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Basically, in the game you take over the role of a character in 3rd person perspective, whose rocket ship crashed on a foreign planet. You don’t have anything, but a pick axe in the beginning. Your goal is to repair your rocket ship to go home safely. In the course of the game you’ll go from picking resources manually and crafting items manually to building mines, creating items in factories and connecting them using conveyor belts. Later on you even built your own power plants, electric networks and trains. The game is not forcing you to automate everything, but if you didn’t you probably wouldn’t reach your goal in this lifetime. In the game’s “About” section you can find how this goal is supposed to be achieved:

You will be mining resources, researching technologies, building infrastructure, automating production and fighting enemies. Use your imagination to design your factory, combine simple elements into ingenious structures, apply management skills to keep it working and finally protect it from the creatures who don’t really like you.

Does that sound familiar to you? No? – Then read it again and think about it as if it were a very honest job description for an engineering role in a large corporation which just started to “explore” Agile and DevOps methodologies. This is when I started to think about analogies between the game and IT projects.

What the game taught me about IT automation

A lot of those points feel super logical just writing them down, and not even worth mentioning, but then again, why don’t companies start acting on them?

  • You can only succeed if you keep automating processes, automate those processes that save you the most time at the moment and keep automating what you automated and combine automated processes.
  • You can’t completely avoid doing and fixing things manually, nor should you. There’s always the aliens living on the planet* destroying your infrastructure and pipelines. In the beginning before you build repair robots, you need to do a lot of manual repair work. Also, keep in mind to not automate everything. Keep doing things manually that don’t actually justify the time you spend automating processes at that certain point of time. You may want to automate those processes later on, but focus on the important (= most repetitive and time-consuming) ones first.
    *Think about those aliens as an analogy to either software bugs or users or to colleagues who don’t want to move away from waterfall methodology. 😛
  • If you are not the only one working on a project you need to talk to each other and continuously update each other on your (changing) plans. You need to define interfaces and locations where your infrastructure and processes can interact with the infrastructure and processes of your co-workers.
  • You can only succeed if you tear down a working implementation to build something more stable and scalable, even if it means that you will invest lots of resources and time. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have built that piece of infrastructure at all. And it also doesn’t mean that the new piece of infrastructure will be there forever.

I’m not sure myself anymore if I am talking about the game or real-life IT. Thus, it seems to be a working analogy. If you know both the game and real-life DevOps methodologies go ahead and post a comment if you can think about something that is missing in my list above.

This analogy is interesting enough to start checking out more analogies of the game. I’ll create one or two future blog posts on those analogies, such as multi-threading and databases.