From DevOps Expert to Breathwork Pioneer, JJ Ruescas Possesses a Passion for Human Optimization – Part 1

(Editor’s Note: Part 2 appears on Thursday.)

For JJ Ruescas, DevOps represented an opportunity. His passion for the methodology provided a pathway from his native Bolivia, where he was born and raised, to the United States, where he could pursue any dream that he could imagine.

After moving to the U.S., Ruescas built a great life, becoming a manager of technologists and a passionate speaker on DevOps. But he was getting bored. Ruescas yearned for ways he could apply his expertise in the technology world to the human condition. But he wasn’t sure what his next steps were. Then a decade ago, at a DevOps conference, his course became clear.

“I was presenting about optimization at a conference,” said Ruescas while sipping a coffee in West Austin. “I spoke about managing teams and how bringing the right mental state could impact our success as a team. There were questions afterward. This one guy grabs the mic and says, ‘I never thought that we could use that DevOps principles to optimize the human body.’ The light went off for me. I get chills thinking about it now.”

The comment sparked a journey for Ruescas, who has become one of Austin’s most compelling thought leaders on the science of breathwork and the impact it can have on one’s life. What makes Ruescas’s approach ( so compelling is not that he moved from the technology world to the holistic world, but that he has applied his technology expertise to the human condition, calling his approach the Human Optimal Performance System.

We wanted to learn more from Ruescas, and why this framework is important, specifically, for technologist. The two-part interview (part 2 appears Thursday), follows:

Question: Where were you born and raised?

Answer: I was born and raised in La Paz, Bolivia. La Paz has the highest altitude of any city in South America at almost 12,000 feet.

Q: How did you get your start in technology?

A: When I was 15, I thought I wanted to become a pilot. I remember a friend invited me to his house one day because he had recently bought a flight simulator, which was powered by a computer. From that point forward, I fell completely in love with technology.

Q: You went on to work in technology for a bank. And then you left La Paz. Why?

A: I left when I was around 21 years old. I had recently experienced a crushing breakup. It was fascinating because the way that my mind was working at that time, everywhere that I went in the city reminded me of the relationship. It was draining me emotionally. And one day I received this phone call from one of the biggest outsourcing companies in town, probably even in Latin America at that time. They said, “Hey, we’d like to invite you to be part of this bootcamp. It’s a one-year, no-pay study program where you work for like 10 hours per day.” I said, “When do we start?” I resigned from the bank that day.

Q: You stayed in the technology field after you moved to the states about a decade ago. Why were you so passionate about technology?

A: I saw technology as a way to improve things as quickly as possible. I had this innate curiosity for optimizing things. At that time, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. So, I ended up becoming a developer. And I started becoming curious about this thing called continuous integration and continuous delivery, which is one of the main principles of DevOps. I was really excited about the mindset behind it, which is continuous improvement, and also the mindset of continuous experimentation. It resonates so deeply with me because once I find a problem and it is in front of me, I’m going to experiment until I find a solution for it. That opportunity creates a dopamine hit for me.

The DevOps trend was just getting started, so that was what I did for the next ten years.

I found myself just being carried by this wave of DevOps, and also connected with the top DevOps evangelist here in in Austin, who became one of my mentors – Ernest Mueller.

Q: What led you to leave DevOps and the corporate world?

A: Solving problems for companies was great for a while. But my interest started to fade. I was doing things out of pure routine because I had been doing that for so long. Once the brain starts doing something, it becomes very good at it. But I realized that my strength in the tech world, especially in DevOps, was not that I was a great coder, or that I knew how to use the latest tool. Instead, It was that I knew how to get teams and individuals to perform in a cohesive fashion at a high level.

Also, later in my career, I found myself asking that awkward question that no one wants to ask, which is, “Why are we doing this?” And because of that approach, I made a lot of enemies, especially the managers.

While all this was happening, I became curious and began exploring different techniques to create the same pattern interruption in the mind.

Q: How do you describe what you do now?

A: I optimize human systems. When I was still doing DevOps, I did the same thing, only in technology. Technologists nowadays mostly use agile methodologies, Scrum, Kanban, etc. I started out wondering if those approaches could work on humans, because I thought, “Wait a second, if these things work for business, what about the business of being a human?” And many of them worked very well. Other ones I had to adjust. But I started understanding where I was getting stuck. Where emotions were taking over.

It was at that time that I made a promise to myself, which is never finish one day without learning something new for at least 10 minutes. Every day. Now, that could seem very ambiguous, because I have so many topics of curiosity, right? What I just said is to bound one theme per month, right? And then once I started diving into that over and over again, I started getting deeper and deeper, and not only from the theoretical concept, but from the actual experiential piece, which is a learning immersion, or immersive learning.

For example, here in Austin, there are a lot of runners. I said to myself, “I want to do the same thing, right? So I started with it. First, the serious question was how to run right? And then I started learning about the mechanics. And I started learning about how to train, how to recover, how to breathe. What’s the mindset when you’re crossing the threshold of “Oh, my body’s aching, right?” And how can people get to what’s called “The runner’s high?”  When the mind goes silent and you keep going. This led me to me to meditation, which is also related to breathing. Month by month, I started chopping this huge elephant called knowledge.

Part 2 appears Thursday.