The full-stack developer is becoming increasingly rare these days. Due to the accelerating complexity of modern software development, programmers often specialize in specific languages, frameworks or levels of the software stack, such as frontend or backend.
These same fractures seem to be occurring within DevOps, too. Nowadays, large companies no longer have one strain of DevOps—there are often many flavors of rapid deployment and various DevOps toolchains used across an organization’s development teams. DevOps now requires specific training in the nuances of each cloud service provider’s platforms, too, requiring specialists trained on individual cloud platforms, like AWS, Azure or GCP. The role is expanding and taking on new forms, with platform engineering and site reliability engineering coming of age.
Therefore, companies should be viewing DevOps not so much as one specific role or a set of tools, but as a culture. I recently met with Sashank Purighalla, CEO and founder of BOS Framework, to gather insights into the evolving role and culture of DevOps. According to Purighalla, “DevOps is a combination of culture, practices, processes and tools.” Below, we’ll identify the challenges that come with introducing DevOps and consider the right blend of technology, human specialists and governance required to get the job done.
The Challenges of Implementing DevOps
One challenge of implementing DevOps is simply defining the position itself. “DevOps is not really a job,” Purighalla explained. Instead, it encompasses many aspects, such as CI/CD, provisioning, maintenance, and compliance, all of which now adopt a plethora of different tools. There is also overlap between CloudOps and DevOps, an ambiguity that makes it tricky to write a job description for a DevOps engineer.
Various roles make up the teams responsible for modern cloud-native operations. In the same way that programmers have particular specialties, DevOps has specialized areas too. This segmentation might be based on the cloud vendor suite or the tools in use, such as familiarity with Jenkins, Docker or Kubernetes. Particular domains, such as DevSecOps or BizDevOps, may require dedicated focus as well. Purighalla shared some example roles that often exist in a modern CloudOps team:
- Cloud architect
- App architect
- Security expert
- Compliance expert
- DevOps engineer for AWS
- DevOps engineer for Azure
- SRE for AWS
- SRE for Azure
Complicating things further, DevOps can transcend cloud-based systems and be applied to on-premises or edge network maintenance. Given the many possibilities, crafting a job description for a DevOps position requires “awareness of and vision for how you want to build the DevOps function in your organization,” said Purighalla. Unfortunately, most people don’t have a clear picture of where to begin, he said. Setting this roadmap will vary from sector to sector and require intimate knowledge of and context about the company and its technological assets.
DevOps Shouldn’t Create Another Wall
DevOps is a mechanism to deliver high-quality code more quickly—this business outcome has been the guiding principle since its origin. To get there, DevOps sought to place development and operations ‘in the same room’ to reduce friction. Yet, in some organizations, DevOps emerged as an entirely new role on an org chart. “In certain cases, it created a wall,” says Purighalla. “Developers can’t think beyond when they hand off code to the infrastructure team.”
If this wall stays in place, it could further divide team motivations. Of course, building a healthy DevOps culture will vary from company to company and will require clarity about the end goal. But creating common incentives could include shifting left some security and provisioning responsibilities so developers have more perspective and can participate in DevOps.
Another reason to embrace a DevOps culture is simply the talent scarcity in this arena. This is a problem facing businesses of all sizes. Startups may not be large enough to hire a DevOps or site reliability engineer, but are beginning to see the necessity of greater focus on reliability and compliance as a core business function, says Purighalla. Enterprises typically have multiple clouds and hybrid environments, which are challenging to find talent to support. Middle-market companies often lose out to the attractiveness of startups and the big bucks of large corporations.
Outsourcing DevOps: Is It Ever a Viable Option?
So, given that it is so challenging to find engineers, is outsourcing DevOps ever a viable option? According to Purighalla, “outsourcing is a good option if your company has pre-built solutions for clouds and if it’s able to give you similar capabilities without requiring ground-up custom work.” A cloud enablement solution could be used to reduce the barrier to entry but is never a replacement for an entire DevOps practice.
The reason is that software programming is a creative engineering process. “I’ve never found an engineer that does the same thing every time.” People continue to experiment with a ‘build and fix’ mindset. This means that, in general, hiring external engineers is tricky as they don’t have intimate knowledge of the system at hand.
Furthermore, a platform that applies a standard way of working with multiple cloud providers must be flexible and open to change, as backend infrastructure is constantly evolving. As such, DevOps must be viewed as something that’s much more continual and requires ongoing maintenance. It’s not something you can outsource once and be done with.
“It’s becoming like accounting—you’ll fail an audit if you don’t do it,” said Purighalla. “Outsourcing needs to be viewed that way. You need to bring in a cloud enablement solution in combination with experts. You can’t have one or the other.”
DevOps: Not Just a Role or Toolset
Many assume that DevOps is just a set of tools. Instead, some experts argue that DevOps is more of a combination of varying roles, tools and processes. “DevOps started as a model—it’s not a tool,” Purighalla reiterated.
In essence, it’s more of a culture than a specific job title. And when viewed this way, organizations can begin to eliminate silos, which DevOps ought to eradicate in the first place. With the right technology and collaborative spirit, a company can create a culture that meets the goals of efficiency that DevOps aims to achieve.