Get to Know Beth Fuller, Co-Founder and Head Spark at OpenContext

As Head Spark of OpenContext, Beth Fuller is solving problems for the ultimate problem solvers.

Get to Know Beth Fuller, Co-Founder and Head Spark at OpenContext

The love Beth has for Ops, DevOps, and Security teams runs very deep. However, when it comes to problem solving, those others may have the shiny tools and gadgets, but Beth is the Alfred to their Bat(wo)men. She’s the one who deeply studies their world and is thinking ahead to build solutions that get them out of jam before they know they’re in one.

Beth knows the solution to a problem tends to lie in its origin, and, as Head Spark of OpenContext, she is spearheading a product that will bring this information into the eye-line of as many tech organizations as possible


Co-founder Context Q&A with Beth Fuller, Head Spark

I sat down with Beth to learn more about what it’s been like being a co-founder at OpenContext and what exactly a Head Spark does. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation.

What is your favorite place on Earth?

Donostia–San Sebastián, Spain.

My kid and I really love to travel. It was one of the things that he came up with when he was about eight years old. He was like, “I don't believe in Santa, let's have adventures instead.” San Sebastian in Spain is my favorite place we’ve been.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

It's the most beautiful, magical place. The community is amazing. They are doing a deep revival of the Basque language and culture and history. There are so many places for people to gather and meet.

They've also done some amazing things in terms of taking care of people from all walks of life from their safe walkways and bikeways, and they have plenty of spaces for folks with disabilities or older folks to have communal places. There are so many things about San Sabastian that are just really wonderful but the way they take care of each other is just beautiful.

What is a tool/app you can’t go a day without?

I have a couple of the apps that are for audiobooks. It helps to clear my head. I don't always feel like I have time to sit and read a book, but I can be gardening and listening to a book and it takes me to a different place. It really helps to wind me down at night. And it's no screen time. It's just listening to a talk.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

I'm one of those people that, when things are off visually, it drives me nuts. 

I'm like, “it's not going to bother me, it's not going to bother me.” And, of course, that's because it really bothers me.

For example, if you go to the grocery store, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing all the apples displayed beautifully. But someone will always try to pull one out from the middle. It's like, why? I want to fix it! I will actually move an apple and put it in its spot.

What’s your go-to karaoke song?

I haven't done karaoke for a while but one of my loveliest friends and I would sing Kiss Me Deadly by Lita Ford.

What’s a recent book you’ve read?

The most recent one I read was a series on Celtic history. One of those 20-hour courses on Audible.

I started doing some digging into ancestry during the pandemic. Before that, I did the history of China and I also did the Mesoamerican history.

I think, deep down, I wanted to be a history major in college and I didn't because I wanted to be “responsible.” So, history stuff is my fun thing.

What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?

Well, apparently based on my jokey tweet, it's that I do, in fact, listen to death metal. 

That's what helps me get a lot of my writing done. If I have to do heads-down concentration work, there’s nothing better than noise-canceling headphones with death metal blaring.

They say you can keep pulling people out of the river, but, at a certain point, you have to go upstream to figure out why people are falling in the river. 

Tell me about your background. What were you doing before you started OpenContext?

Most of my career has been as a product manager. I dabbled in doing a couple of other things before that. I started out as a reporting analyst and then the industry opened up product managers as sort of a nice way for women to get involved in tech. And I loved it because I love the problem solving—hearing what people are saying and really understanding the pain points and then coming up with a plan. 

It’s not just like I'm going to solve this one thing, but I'm going to solve one thing AND then we can solve or do these other five things. AND it's going to solve all future problems since we can follow them, so we can fix them. 

That’s where I developed the notion of taking things two steps back.

People tend to tell you about a problem and what it is once there's a distinct pain point. They don't tell you that, actually, it was pretty rough three, four, or five steps before that. Really, it’s those steps before the problem that you need to fix. 

They say you can keep pulling people out of the river, but, at a certain point, you have to go upstream to figure out why people are falling in the river. 

You've got to figure out: 

  • How did you even get here? 
  • Why is this a problem? 
  • Why is this the thing that we're focused on? 
  • And why is it that so many people all of a sudden have this issue, where two years ago, nobody had this problem? 

So, I was following that mindset in different industries—applicant tracking, TV ratings, autonomous vehicles, etc.—and then I landed in the DevOps space, and I loved it!

The people in DevOps are just so creative and lovely. They're these MacGyvers of patching a bunch of stuff together—all of these open source, enterprise random sets of tools—and somehow making something amazing. I was like, “Oh, these are the people that I want to solve problems for."

When I was working at Puppet, that's where that love really kind of took hold. They were some of the most welcoming human beings I've worked with, which I don’t think a lot of people know. They brought me along with them. Instead of sitting with my development team, I sat with the ops team. After all, they were the customers so, as a product manager, that's gold!

It was it was amazing. People would pop off their headphones, and they're like, “we have an incident, you want to track it?” I could sit with them and they would walk me through and they would say out loud all the steps that they were doing.

It was absolutely magical and I felt like it helped me to be a better customer advocate.

What do you find most interesting about being in product?

Identifying and being able to solve problems that people have. It's the reason to do it. You've made somebody's life easier. When I was at puppet, there was this project I was lucky enough to be a product manager for where we delivered a dependency graph.

About five years after I would still get tagged on Twitter or LinkedIn by people sharing that they just used the graph to solve a problem. Those are the things that make it worthwhile.

What does a typical day of work look like for you?

Before starting OpenContext, there was a lot of reviewing backlog and roadmaps and more customer-facing work. I was doing a lot more writing PRDs, JIRA tickets and maintaining the day-to-day workflow for the development team where I worked and ensuring that marketing and sales had the information they needed. I had to be available for customer calls, that kind of a thing. As well as doing some demos of the new features.

Now that I’m 100% focused on OpenContext, it's a lot more talking and thinking, which I guess I wasn't fully prepared for. It didn't occur to me that would be the bulk of my time as a co-founder of a startup. 

I figured it was gonna be a lot more heads down intense tracking of all the things, but, the thing is, we have like this delightful team where they're self-sufficient. Everyone understands the goal and they're driven to get that stuff done. It allows me to think about things like what does the market look like? I can spend more time paying attention to competitors and doing more research in that area. Talking to customers, finding new potential customers.

When I think about what I do now, I decided a better title wasn’t product manager, but Head Spark.

Head Spark: I spark interest, excitement, curiosity, and a drive to solve problems. 

What is your favorite part of being Head Spark at OpenContext?

Part of it is we have such an amazing team. We have folks that have come from all different backgrounds that have lived and experienced the problem that we're solving. And people are here because they're excited about the product.

The other thing is, I love the devs, ops, and security folks and creating a product for them. 

I've seen this problem of understanding who is doing what and people really struggling with how to solve that. Then, once the pandemic came, it was so much bigger and I just feel so passionately that this is a really important problem that is going to catapult the tech industry and other industries into whatever the next big thing is—sort of like automation was years ago.

Why is now the time for OpenContext to exist?

Now is the right time because we're at a tipping point with the level of complexity for companies, for code, and tech within organizations.

We're not going back to the day when you can have a hundred lines of code and have a product. That's not gonna happen. It is complex. It is intricate. We're very clearly, within the tech industry, trying to solve the increasing complexity with a wide range of movements, which as you know, started with the DevOps movement.

…and then it was DevSecOps

…and then people talked about Service Ownership

…then you have Shift Left

Basically, get everybody involved and, if you take a look at what people are trying to solve, it’s the fact that nobody has context for the decisions that are happening and how they impact each other. 

If you take a look again, a few steps back, at that underlying problem, instead of just being a pain killer product, we want to be the pain killer that stops this pain and the vitamin that prevents it from coming up again. We believe this can all be done through shared context.

Just think about all the amazing things that can change from giving these creative, resourceful people the ability to actually be strategic...

How do you see tech (and specifically product teams in tech) changing in the next 5 years?

It's interesting because I don't know!

My hope is context allows systems thinkers and specialists to work side-by-side with more brain space and power because they'll understand how things work without additional effort to distract them. I expect that there will be a whole other batch of new tooling to help architects and systems thinkers be more efficient. 

Just think about all the amazing things that can change from giving these creative, resourceful people the ability to actually be strategic and to do proper planning with the exact information they need. People are gonna have the head space to do a bunch of stuff that they've never had the head space to do. It's going to really unleash some unique ideas. 

In five years, we're going to see a lot of tech is going to have the potential to change in ways that it hasn't in the past because people will have the context somewhere outside of their heads. 

What could shared context mean for your SDLC?

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