“Where do I start?”

Navigating the high seas of being on-call engineer and IT incident management is no small feat. This journey, spanning over a decade, has taken me from the front lines of first-line support and triage to the strategic echelons of L3 escalation and incident command. The initial buzz of an incident call invariably sets off a cascade of emotions—anticipation of bad news, the dread of disrupted plans, both personal and professional, and the inevitable stress that follows. The critical question, “Where do I start?” looms large, coupled with concerns about expectations, feedback mechanisms, and the daunting possibility of exacerbating the situation. Reflecting on these experiences, it’s clear that the intensity of these emotions has ebbed and flowed with experience. Yet, they never fully dissipate, serving as constant companions through every alert and alarm.

“Akin to walking blindfolded on an unfamiliar road”

This shared emotional journey is not unique to me. In founding Uptime Labs and engaging with fellow practitioners, I’ve come to realise that this emotional rollercoaster is a common thread among those in our field. For some, the chaos and frenetic pace of incident response are invigorating. Yet, for many, it’s a source of significant stress, with tangible impacts on mental and physical well-being. The root of this stress lies in the inherent uncertainty and ambiguity of incidents. Our brains crave clarity, causality, and a clear path forward. Without these, navigating incidents can feel akin to walking blindfolded on an unfamiliar road—a truly unsettling experience. The crux of the matter lies not in the inevitability of these challenges but in our preparedness to face them. The IT industry, by and large, has not provided structured avenues for acquiring the skills needed to navigate this uncertainty. Thus, many learn through the crucible of experience, often at the expense of customers, employers, and personal well-being. However, there is a silver lining. Observations indicate that those with extensive experience in handling high-severity incidents develop a certain finesse and confidence in their approach. This is not merely a function of time but of exposure to a variety of critical situations.

The takeaway is clear: the skills to manage the uncertainty of incidents can be learned and honed.While it’s impossible to encapsulate the breadth of required skills in a single post, I can share a couple of insights gleaned from the best in the business:

  1. Embrace the Unknown: Recognise that it’s perfectly normal to feel disoriented at the outset of an incident. You’re not alone in this feeling; it’s a universal starting point for incident responders.
  2. Adopt an Iterative Approach: Incident response is not a linear process but an iterative one, involving the development and refinement of working theories. These theories are continuously tested against new information obtained from various sources—colleagues, monitoring systems, change logs—and through active interventions in the system’s state.

For those looking to refine these skills in a supportive environment, Uptime Labs is here to assist. Our foundation stems from a recognition of the unfair expectations placed on incident responders. The industry demands peak performance under extreme stress, often without adequate training or even a clear outline of expected competencies. My own experiences, marked by stress-induced physical discomfort, underline the urgency of addressing this gap. Uptime Labs is our response to this challenge, aiming to ensure that no incident responder feels ill-equipped or unsupported in the face of adversity.

Top Performers’ Secrets: 3 Ways to Excel in Incident Response

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