A Fresh Look at Operational Debt

Wednesday, March 16, 2022 - 4:30 pm4:50 pm

David Owczarek


This session will be an inspirational, structured talk where I converge two perspectives on operational debt into a single model based on process gaps and risk. I define operational debt as, “work required to fix process gaps that present a risk to business operations.” This talk is intended to inspire senior SREs and SRE managers to think more holistically about process problems and related automation opportunities. Weaving risk into the approach provides a mechanism to set priority on a risk/reward basis. Creating a backlog of operational debt is also helpful when collaborating with other engineering managers. We will also re-examine Fowler’s quadrants in the operational debt context, compare and contrast operational debt with other forms of debt (financial and technical), and examine how much debt is also toil.

David Owczarek[node:field-speakers-institution]

Dave Owczarek (he/him), recently ex-Adobe, was the senior reliability manager for Adobe's Document Cloud—one of the largest digital signature platforms on the planet. His latest mission is to use the arts—speaking, writing, and illustrating—to bring clarity to confusing concepts and inspire innovation in how we build and operate services. Dave has operated lots of services at scale over a 30+ year career, from the first versions of Monster board back in the 90s to some of the largest web hosting providers. When not focused on the SRE experience, you will probably find him playing a guitar somewhere, most likely a Fender.

SREcon22 Americas Open Access Sponsored by Blameless

@conference {278118,
author = {David Owczarek},
title = {A Fresh Look at Operational Debt},
year = {2022},
address = {San Francisco, CA},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = mar,

Presentation Video