Building the Future of Monitoring at Monitorama 2014

by David Shackelford May 9, 2014 | 5 min read

The PagerDuty team just got back from Monitorama 2014 in Portland, and we had a great time. This was my first time representing PagerDuty at an event, and come to think of it, my first tech conference ever. If they’re all this good, I’m going to be spending a lot more time on the road.


The word of the week was #hugops. James Dixon opened the conference with some great words on empathy in the devops community, and set the tone for an event focused on smart, passionate people helping each other learn to measure and improve our systems. In the words of @fun_cuddles at Threat Stack:

the best aspect of the conference for me was the overall vibe. It felt like a gathering of smart, friends-of-friends group of people that you want to get to know and bounce ideas off of. It was startlingly diverse (not just a sea of white guys — sorry security conferences). You get to bang heads with industry “thought leaders” and renowned practitioners in a casual, unpretentious way. Monitorama is really about engineers lighting up about problems they like to think about and solve.


I’m a newbie to the monitoring scene, but still felt welcomed and included in all the activities. Everyone was friendly and open, and the talks were technical and useful without being pretentious or dry. I particularly liked the one-track, no-exhibit-hall format, which gave us all a common reference point for breaktime conversation.

All the talks were amazing, but a few in particular stood out to me:

Ashe Dryden – Our Most Wicked Problem

I didn’t actually know what to expect when I saw this on the agenda– I figured it would be something about adjusting your monitoring systems correctly:


Instead, it was a fantastic talk by [ashe dryden]( about diversity and privilege in the tech world:

This talk from @ashedryden is already awesome. #Monitorama

— Pete Cheslock (@petecheslock) May 5, 2014

It was honest and powerful, and I have a lot of respect for the organizers of the conference for making it a first-class citizen at this one-track event, and the attendees for all recognizing that alerting on and responding to culture outages is just as important as technical issues.

My inner sociologist is so happy to see a culturally informed presentation at a tech conference. Thanks, @ashedryden! #monitorama

— Noelle Daley (@elnoelle) May 5, 2014

James Mickens – Computers are a Sadness, I am the Cure

I also loved how they booked James Mickens for a side-splitting talk experience about technology, life, the universe, and everything. His slides aren’t currently up, but for an example of his style, give this a read. He skewered everything from NoSQL to threat models, and my only complaint is that I was laughing so much it made it hard to breathe.

“Let your reads and writes choose their own destiny” (in voice of Bane) #nosql #monitorama — David Shackelford (@dshack) May 5, 2014


Dan Slimmon – Smoke Alarms, Car Alarms, and Monitoring

I was a game theory major in college, so I have a huge passion for bayesian probability– the question of “If I see X, what is the probability Y is true?” Dan illustrated the need for this by starting out with a word problem about student plagiarism that most of us– professionals in an industry built around accurately recognizing exceptions– failed. It was a humbling start to a great talk, and I think we all left with a renewed vigor for catching down false positives as aggressively as we try to catch exceptions.

Product Feedback

The past few days were a gold mine for a product manager. Based on a show of hands during my brief PagerDuty demo, pretty much everybody in attendance was a customer of ours:

By show of hands, I think 99% of the people in the #monitorama crowd are @PagerDuty customers. Impressive. — Joey Parsons (@joeyparsons) May 5, 2014

This made it incredibly easy to get product feedback– I could walk up to anybody I saw, and ask them what they liked and disliked about our product. Often the answer was “just keep doing a great job!” but I also returned with a wealth of information on minor pain points, UX improvements, and other ways for us to improve the PagerDuty experience. I also got a chance for feedback on a few secret projects we’re working on…..stay tuned 🙂 With pretty much everyone familiar with our product, I got to spend our sponsor talk showing off new features we’ve shipped recently, rather than explaining what we do. It was especially fun to tell customers about features that they didn’t know about before, but that solve big issues in their incident workflow:

Looking forward to using @pagerduty‘s new multi-user alerts to help onboard all our new hires @gcsports into the oncall rotation!

— (╯°□°)╯︵ sdoɹəəq (@beerops) May 5, 2014

If you haven’t seen multi-user alerting, SSO, webhooks, or our new mobile app, go check them out!

Closing thoughts

We’re in a golden age of monitoring right now– as much as we like to complain that #monitoringsucks, this week in Portland felt a lot more like #monitoringlove. It was great to see so many companies show up to teach, learn, and build community, all driving toward the same goal of helping our customers increase and maintain uptime. Better monitoring also increases on-call quality of life, getting low-severity alerts to devs and ops during working hours before they become high-severity issues at 3am.

With so many rich monitoring tools out there, PagerDuty’s value as a centralized alerting platform was clear. We’re honored to sponsor such a great event, and have so many of the attendees as our customers and partners.


See you next year!