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DevOps: A Boy Named Sue


Everyone has an opinion about DevOps. Similar to what has happened to cloud, Agile, Lean and Scrum, this unavoidably leads to cult behavior. Strong beliefs, not only on what it really is but also how it should be integrated with current organizational and technological practices, lead to fierce discussions and multipolar behaviors. But does it really matter to pinpoint the exact definition and scope of DevOps? Johnny Cash has the answer.

In 1969 the inimitable Johnny Cash wrote one of his masterpieces, ‘A Boy Named Sue’. In this vivacious song, Cash describes the struggle of a young man whose father named him Sue, soon after which his father left him. As a child he was mocked and bullied over his peculiar name, and the anger towards his father grew every day. When they accidentally meet in a bar years later, the young man attacks his father, blaming him for his turbulent childhood. Only when the father explains why he deliberately named his son Sue, to encourage his assertiveness in this brutal society, they bury the hatchet.

The name DevOps (coined by Patrick Debois) is in fact a limitation of its true promise. If we read about the Three Ways of DevOps (systems thinking, fast feedback and continuous learning), we recognize the broad applicability and potential benefits of the underlying principles. In all of the recent transformation journeys I am/was involved in, one of the first struggles has always been to highlight the broader context of DevOps. It’s not just about (IT) development and operations. What about the business, or security and compliance, to name a few?

But perhaps this very limitation may just be the reason why DevOps will be around for many years to come. The name provokes immediate debate regarding its true meaning, scope and applicability. If challenged correcty, this will focus the strategic discussions towards the underlying principles.

And that is precisely what will make DevOps sustainable in the end. Not its name, as I’m confident it will evolve in the next few years. But the sheer reason why we needed it in the first place. It’s not about Sue, it’s about resilience.

Video: Johnny Cash – A Boy Named Sue

Song lyrics:
“A Boy Named Sue”

  • My daddy left home when I was three
    And he didn’t leave much to ma and me
    Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze.
    Now, I don’t blame him cause he run and hid
    But the meanest thing that he ever did
    Was before he left, he went and named me “Sue.”Well, he must o’ thought that is quite a joke
    And it got a lot of laughs from a’ lots of folk,
    It seems I had to fight my whole life through.
    Some gal would giggle and I’d get red
    And some guy’d laugh and I’d bust his head,
    I tell ya, life ain’t easy for a boy named “Sue.”Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean,
    My fist got hard and my wits got keen,
    I’d roam from town to town to hide my shame.
    But I made a vow to the moon and stars
    That I’d search the honky-tonks and bars
    And kill that man who gave me that awful name.

    Well, it was Gatlinburg in mid-July
    And I just hit town and my throat was dry,
    I thought I’d stop and have myself a brew.
    At an old saloon on a street of mud,
    There at a table, dealing stud,
    Sat the dirty, mangy dog that named me “Sue.”

    Well, I knew that snake was my own sweet dad
    From a worn-out picture that my mother’d had,
    And I knew that scar on his cheek and his evil eye.
    He was big and bent and gray and old,
    And I looked at him and my blood ran cold
    And I said: “My name is ‘Sue!’ How do you do!
    Now your gonna die!!”

    Well, I hit him hard right between the eyes
    And he went down, but to my surprise,
    He come up with a knife and cut off a piece of my ear.
    But I busted a chair right across his teeth
    And we crashed through the wall and into the street
    Kicking and a’ gouging in the mud and the blood and the beer.

    I tell ya, I’ve fought tougher men
    But I really can’t remember when,
    He kicked like a mule and he bit like a crocodile.
    I heard him laugh and then I heard him cuss,
    He went for his gun and I pulled mine first,
    He stood there lookin’ at me and I saw him smile.

    And he said: “Son, this world is rough
    And if a man’s gonna make it, he’s gotta be tough
    And I knew I wouldn’t be there to help ya along.
    So I give ya that name and I said goodbye
    I knew you’d have to get tough or die
    And it’s the name that helped to make you strong.”

    He said: “Now you just fought one hell of a fight
    And I know you hate me, and you got the right
    To kill me now, and I wouldn’t blame you if you do.
    But ya ought to thank me, before I die,
    For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye
    Cause I’m the son-of-a-bitch that named you “Sue.'”

    I got all choked up and I threw down my gun
    And I called him my pa, and he called me his son,
    And I came away with a different point of view.
    And I think about him, now and then,
    Every time I try and every time I win,
    And if I ever have a son, I think I’m gonna name him
    Bill or George! Anything but Sue! I still hate that name!


About daveherpen

Management consultant in IT, advocating agilty in IT application and service management, with a track record in service and process improvements and organizational change.


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