In theory, DevOps is about bridging the gap between developers and ITOps teams. In practice, however, DevOps often can feel as though its real goal is to turn ITOps engineers into developers, without really requiring developers to dive head-first into ITOps work.
In this article, we’ll explain why DevOps gives more glory to development work than to ITOps, and how that poses a problem to the DevOps world as a whole.
In DevOps, Developers Come First
We live in a world that fetishizes code and the creation of code. Developers fetch among the highest salaries in IT. The work they do is sometimes compared to magic. There are a litany of boot camps designed to teach people to code. From Silicon Valley to The Social Network, coders are depicted in popular media as whiz kids who are building a fantastical world the rest of us can’t even imagine until the coders hand it to us.
By comparison, ITOps engineers—people whose main job is to deploy and manage software, not write it—get much less glory. I’ve yet to hear of an ITOps boot camp. Generally speaking, ITOps employees get paid much less than developers; some ITOps workers, such as those who do help desk work, barely make minimal wage. And no one makes movies where an ITOps engineer saves the world by rebooting a crashed server or applying the latest security patches.
This trend is problematic, of course, because the work performed by ITOps is equally critical as development work for sustaining our digital world. Without ITOps teams, all of the code developers get paid so much to write would be useless because there would be no one to put it into production and keep it running when it’s there.
There are many possible explanations for our tendency to celebrate programmers much more than the people who manage the software programmers build. The most important reason, I think, is we live in a world where creators of all types are generally held in greater esteem than maintainers. That’s true in a variety of fields, from building science (where architects who design structures are held in much higher regard than, say, the roofers and painters who maintain them) to the automotive industry (the white-collared engineers who designed your car are probably paid a lot more than the grit-streaked mechanic who changes your oil). The IT industry is not special in this regard.
DevOps as Euphemism for ‘Everyone Should Program’
The fetishization of programming would probably happen even if DevOps didn’t exist. But sometimes, I think DevOps is exacerbating the tendency to deny ITOps teams their fair share of prestige.
Beneath the surface of many conversations about DevOps culture and continuous delivery is the idea that if only ITOps engineers knew more about how to write code and discuss code with developers, their organizations would be better positioned to deliver software more quickly while also improving quality.
In my experience, it’s much rarer to find DevOps advocates interested in pushing developers to play a more hands-on role in ITOps work. Almost no one goes around saying, “If only developers spent more time provisioning infrastructure, software delivery would be more efficient.” And when they do, they are accused of trying to kill the developer by requiring programmers to participate in maintenance-related tasks below their pay grade.
I’d therefore suggest one of the challenges DevOps faces today is not killing developers, but killing ITOps engineers and further devaluing the work they do. To keep advancing DevOps, we need to pursue greater parity between developers and ITOps teams within DevOps culture.