Far from the Shallows: The Value of Deeper Incident Analysis

Thursday, March 23, 2023 - 9:50 am10:35 am

Courtney Nash, Verica


We begin in the shallow end, where the waves are calm and the familiar sand warms our toes: can Duration tell us anything about our incidents? We test the waters and feel we could linger here a while, but it's somehow…unsatisfying. We wade a bit deeper, gaining comfort and confidence. Could other things tell us more—Severity perhaps? No, it floats away, providing no guidance.

We drift out with the tide and now our toes barely skim the bottom—we're beginning to tread water. Looking out farther, we realize the water becomes murky, the details hard to discern. There's a distinct draw to dive down, where we uncover a whole universe we didn't realize existed. Coordinated schools of vibrantly-colored fish dart by, weaving through intricate mazes of plants and coral, and in the darkest depths lurk surprising and unexpected dangers.

It's here, in the deep end of incidents, that yields the most value if we're willing to dive in. In this talk, I'll show how the shallow data of incidents reveal little, and give examples of incident reports from the VOID (Verica Open Incident Database) that illustrate the value of substantive, qualitative investigation. I examine how this hard work benefits others, our collective messages in bottles feeding back into a safer and more navigable sea for everyone.

Courtney Nash, Verica

Courtney Nash is a researcher focused on system safety and failures in complex sociotechnical systems. An erstwhile cognitive neuroscientist, she has always been fascinated by how people learn, and the ways memory influences how they solve problems. Over the past two decades, she’s held a variety of editorial, program management, research, and management roles at Holloway, Fastly, O’Reilly Media, Microsoft, and Amazon. She lives in the mountains where she skis, rides bikes, and herds dogs and kids.

@conference {287057,
author = {Courtney Nash},
title = {Far from the Shallows: The Value of Deeper Incident Analysis},
year = {2023},
address = {Santa Clara, CA},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = mar,

Presentation Video