There’s a lot of confusion about what DevOps exactly is, and what it takes for enterprises and individuals alike to succeed. Some argue it’s about successfully using collaboration toolsets. It’s not. DevOps is about collaboration between software developers and IT operations teams. DevOps grew from the need for a more agile organization, and to knock down the barriers between development and operations so that applications and IT resources could be delivered more quickly, and improved through steady iteration.
What does all of this mean, specifically, to operations professionals – and the skills they need sharp to thrive? The walls coming down are a bit of a culture clash for most large enterprise operations and development teams. And both developers and operations professionals need to ensure that they have the right skills in place to succeed in this new environment. In this post, we’re focusing on those skills ops members need in the years ahead.
The skills that are important may surprise some. Consider the findings from CA Technologies’ recently commissioned a study, What Smart Businesses Know About DevOps. “The most in-demand skill requirements for success with DevOps were actually soft skills,” says Andi Mann vice president of strategic solutions at CA Technologies. “I expected to see skills like programming or scripting; experience with specific tools for provisioning, configuration management, release automation, or shared monitoring; or even an understanding of Agile or Lean practices. In fact, those skills were much lower,” Mann says.
More on the results from the CA study below, but first we want to share the results of our informal anecdotal survey of a handful of DevOps experts and practitioners, well known here at DevOps.com. Here they are:
First Up: The Soft Skills
Interestingly, it is these soft skills that are both needed and often derided. “Everyone doing DevOps, whether Dev, Ops, security, QA, project management all need [soft skills],” says David Mortman, chief security architect and distinguished engineer at Dell, Enstratius.
1. The ability to communicate clearly and concisely
“Sharing is a key tenet of DevOps and if you can’t share what you know and what you’ve learned, then having that knowledge is effectively useless. You’ve just made yourself a bottleneck,” Mortman says. The other skill Mortman cited along these lines is striving to actually understand the shoes in which your fellow enterprise collaborators stand. “I can’t emphasize enough the value of having empathy for everyone else and what they need to get done. Every role has its challenges and empathy for those challenges goes a long way to a more congenial workplace,” he says.
2. Collaboration techniques
New collaboration techniques are essential, explains Donnie Berkholz
IT industry analyst at RedMonk, and council member and Sr. developer at Gentoo Linux. “Ops will need to learn effective, distributed collaboration techniques such as those used in open-source software development. Leading-edge DevOps organizations make heavy use of online chat and shared tooling to log both communication as well as action. In some pioneers, this even involves so-called “ChatOps” where you can make changes to infrastructure through calls to an automated bot in an online chat. Typically this includes asynchronous communication in preference to phone calls, both long-form (e.g. email) and short-form (e.g. IRC), in an archived and searchable form,” he says.
This enables, Berkholz says, on-call ops during any crises or fires that arise, as well as eases the ability to identify and brainstorm infrastructure changes, where everyone can easily contribute their ideas.
3. A flexible mindset
We’re not necessarily talking about advanced forms of mental Yoga, but certainly the ability to change as knowledge and conditions change, whether those changes are technical or business driven. “The willingness to make changes and to evaluate alternate options is key to DevOps. Things are going to fail, you or a decision you’ve made are going to be the cause of that failure. Or things just won’t work as well as you’d hoped or thought. Be willing to change your mind and look for better options,” says Mortman.
4. Good enough is never enough
It’s about consistently seeking continuous improvement. “This mindset is laser focused on continuous improvement daily,” says BEHR. “It is the ability to unlearn and acquire new more relevant knowledge in light of complexity and emergent information – then disconfirm it with the scientific method and move on to application only where relevant,” says Kevin Behr chief science officer at CXO advisory and board advisory practice Assemblage Pointe, Inc.
Next up: The Technical Skills
Understanding of modern software engineering
5. “To move to a world of “infrastructure as code,” where all systems are maintained using configuration-management tools such as Puppet or Chef, including version control, unit and integration testing, agile software development, as well as continuous delivery and deployment models,” says Berkholz. “Traditional sysadmins may still live in a world of login prompts and manual edits of configuration files, so this will be perhaps the largest hurdle in terms of knowledge,” Berkholz estimates.
“The technical mindset I look for are skills which allow a team to treat servers more like cattle and less like cats,” says Andrew Storms Sr. director DevOps at CloudPassage. “To work effectively at that kind of systems mentality, DevOps engineers need programming and systems architectural skills. Whether that means Ruby or Python or whatever is needed to effectively work with orchestration tools, APIs, and automation. It’s less about needing to know a specific programing language more about understanding programing algorithms and robust systems design,” Storms says.
6. Modern software architecture
This includes cloud deployment and administration as well as distributed systems. “As we move to a cloudy world of software, ops will need to deploy, maintain, monitor, and troubleshoot production problems with this infrastructure. And yet in many cases it’s much more complex than the previous equivalent, although it brings with it significant benefits in agility and uptime if done right. Ops will need to familiarize themselves with cloud instances and services, as well as lower-level software infrastructure such as Linux distributions and databases when deployed in a cloud,” says Berkholz.
That also includes taking a step back from the trees to consistently stay aware of the forest. “Seeing the system and its boundaries rather than just the tasks and their due dates. This understanding of the interactions between the various actors in a system and [understanding] just how those interactions are making value occur is fundamental,” he says. “Without this understanding we will not know when to push harder versus be silent,” he says.
7. Understanding that security incident response are continuous efforts
Security and safety in the new DevOps environment needs to embrace new ways of addressing security and QA. “This requires continually emergent solutions rather than using ‘tried and true best practices.’ The effective team will evolve through relentless self evaluation, study, and application of more relevant and effective methods to work in complex infrastructure environments,” says Behr.
That’s all great advice, and certainly not all inclusive of the ideal skillsets. We also found it interesting that CA Technologies’ survey of 1,300 senior IT decision makers echoed the need for broader business and so-called soft communication skills when it came to DevOps success.
These included: knowledge of business priorities/strategies/metrics (47%), knowledge of current business processes (42%), communication skills (36%), and project management and people skills both scoring 30%. In fact, experience with specific tools was dead last in the survey at 12%.