The DevOps World is Evolving: How the Cloud Transformed Today’s Role of DevOps
If you were to ask five people what the role of DevOps is, chances are each one will come up with a different—but equally right—answer. At its simplest, DevOps is a collaborative approach that breaks down the barrier between the development and operations teams in an organization. It’s a methodology, in fact—a set of tools and best practices that allows you to automate processes, implement new application changes and features effectively and on time, and speed up your delivery process.
That description is just the tip of the iceberg, however, and part of the confusion around the term has to do with its ever-changing methodology. As cloud technology continues to shape the way businesses evolve their IT strategy, DevOps has evolved, too. And today, fully understanding the role of DevOps means looking back at where it started—and how the cloud has changed what it takes to deploy a successful DevOps strategy.
From Traditional to Cloud DevOps
A term coined in 2009, DevOps processes were originally confined to one use case: software and application development. While the DevOps methodology did allow developers to launch a new application or release an upgrade much faster than the traditional 12-to-18-month development cycle, typically, they were limited to working on one feature, application or service at a time. This is because changes to traditional, on-premises IT infrastructure required significant planning, time, effort and budget.
However, as more companies started moving their core IT infrastructure, workflows and processes to the cloud, DevOps practices expanded beyond those on-premises constraints, too. As a result, the adoption of DevOps accelerated and transformed in the cloud, which opened a new world of opportunity for the entire IT organization.
Today, the cloud has broadened the use cases for DevOps beyond just development teams. It has slashed long lead times and traditional barriers to change. IT teams can build faster, deploy faster and release change faster—within minutes or hours versus months or years. And last, but certainly not least, Cloud DevOps has become an integral part of helping organizations modernize legacy applications through continuous improvements of their cloud infrastructure.
This DevOps.com article succinctly summarizes the true impact the cloud has had on DevOps, and how closely they’re intertwined: “DevOps, IaaS and PaaS go together like the PC and the keyboard; apps and the iPhone; Windows and Word. Together, DevOps within an IaaS infrastructure enables you to harness faster development and move to continuous delivery.”
Evolution in DevOps Skill Sets
The evolution of Cloud DevOps has not only shifted the way we define and utilize this methodology—it’s also led to a shift in the skills required to be a successful DevOps engineer. In fact, the DevOps expertise required by many companies today looks very different than what was expected 10-to-15 years ago.
When DevOps was limited to on-premises infrastructure, companies often sought DevOps professionals that were highly skilled in one specific area, such as front-end or back-end. Today, however, organizations seek DevOps employees who possess a broader, more diverse technical skillset—like expertise in development, containers, serverless computing, automation, testing, etc. They’re looking for candidates who possess several important soft skills, too. These skills include:
- Growth-focused Mindset. Cloud providers are always innovating and incorporating the latest and greatest technologies as they emerge. Today’s successful DevOps professionals evolve their skillset alongside new cloud innovation by perpetually learning about new tools, services and best practices.
- Flexible. Because of the rapid pace of change in cloud environments, DevOps professionals need to be flexible and open-minded to change and new ways of working. The project you completed last month might need to be revamped this month, for example. Similarly, you may get halfway through a project only to realize you need to pivot strategies (from containers to microservices, for example).
- Business-minded. Today, more than ever, DevOps is about more than IT—it’s about delivering business value. This DZone article summarizes the business benefits of DevOps well: “In short, implementing DevOps best practices and workflows helps the businesses save time and money, increase software lifecycle predictability, build a corporate culture around innovation and keep motivation levels high.” Organizations want to work with DevOps professionals who understand the business use case for DevOps and who use new services, features, and DevOps practices to drive change, innovation and value across the business.
The DevOps Skills Shortage
The shift in the hard and soft skills needed to be a successful DevOps engineer has made it a role that’s increasingly difficult to fill. And, when you do find them, they won’t come cheap. According to this Fortune article, it’s not unusual for experienced DevOps engineers to earn up to $200,000 a year. Combine the limited candidate pool with the fact that most companies want experienced engineers, and it’s no surprise that organizations struggle to find good DevOps engineers. According to a 2020 report by the DevOps Institute, finding and retaining DevOps talent was the biggest challenge for more than 1,000 IT professionals surveyed.
To meet this demand, many organizations are turning to DevOps services—either to help augment internal IT teams or outsource those skills entirely. These services give organizations immediate access to DevOps experts with varying specialized skills, rather than having to rely on the knowledge of one or two individuals. Ultimately, this enables greater adaptability and responsiveness to evolving IT requirements. It’s also a more cost-effective way to get the expertise you need and drive innovation, without having to find, recruit and train DevOps engineers.
Whether you choose to fill those skills internally or outsource, it will be important to first define what it is you’re looking to achieve in the cloud, for example designing and implementing your CI/CD tools and processes. We often recommend starting with a simple process, such as automating repetitive cloud infrastructure tasks. By building your DevOps success in one area, you’ll gain the experience and knowledge to start implementing best practices and evaluate where the gaps may be in your processes and technologies.