Anyone involved in operations or site reliability engineering (and, if you’re doing it right, Dev/Ops) will spend time on-call. The pager is both a boon and a curse, allowing you to see the pain points for your customers and your support teams at the expense of, sometimes, your sanity.

I’ve spent almost twenty years in tech, almost all that time in operations of some kind and carrying a pager. I have developed “Chris’ Laws of On-Call”, most of which will overlap with similar laws created consiously or unconsiously by anyone required to carry the weight of the pager.

This is a living list, and will be updated over time as long as I participate in on-call work.

I also accept suggestions from my Brothers and Sisters of the Pager, members official and unofficial of the Order of the Interrupted Sleep Cycle, and those recovering from Pager Beep Exhaustion.

Chris’ First Law of On-Call

We do not talk about Chris’ First Law of On-Call.

Chris’ Second Law of On-Call

If the person handing over to you from the previous shift has nothing to hand over, you’re gonna have a bad time.

This is like rolling the 1s out of your D&D dice.

If no issues are handed over, then it’s less likely that things are functioning correctly than it is there are pent-up issues waiting to explode your pager.

Chris’ Third Law of On-Call

If you wait to involve others when you get in over your head while on-call, it will require more bailing of the metiphorical waters of alarms for everyone than if you call for help as soon as you are in trouble.

One must not allow the alerts to gain dominance over oneself.

If one is at risk of being dominated by alerts, one must call one’s backup immediately.

Do not fear calling one’s backup for that is why they are there.

If one does not call one’s backup immediately, one and one’s backup will be cleaning up issues for HOURS.

Grow the Laws

Like a Book of Grudges maintained faithfully by Dwarven elders, this is a living list, and may grow over time. If you have suggestions for laws to be added to the list, feel free to submit them.

Photo by John Cafazza on Unsplash