If you’ve scrolled through LinkedIn or companies’ career pages, you’ve probably seen the term “DevOps” used as a part of a job title. DevOps Engineers and DevOps architects are everywhere, and many people are surprised to find that those titles aren’t correct. It sounds innocuous: After all, isn’t DevOps something that you do? If you’re a marketer, hiring manager or non-engineer at your company, it might seem like it.
But nothing could be further from the truth. DevOps is actually a philosophy and a set of practices that guides how your engineering and IT teams work. And using the term improperly can cause problems, even if you’re speaking with somebody who has “DevOps Engineer” on their LinkedIn profile.
To clarify what DevOps is and what it means, it helps to know where the movement came from and why it matters.
Where Did DevOps Come From?
The rise of DevOps is rooted in the Agile Systems Admin and Enterprise Systems Management movements, as well as an effort by businesses to become more responsive to rapidly evolving markets and problems. Enterprise Systems Management attacked this problem by replacing large vendor solutions with faster, smaller and sometimes open-source tools, while at the same time, the Agile Systems Admin movement was gaining popularity in Europe as forward-thinking companies translated lean and agile manufacturing lessons to IT departments.
The combination of these agile movements, the rise of SaaS and 24/7 service delivery, and examples like Flickr of excellence in developer-operations collaboration all helped prime the technical community for a change. After a talk by Flickr at the O’Reilly Velocity conference in 2009, highlighting challenges the company faced in continuous deployment and how they solved those problems with focused collaboration across the development and operations silos, Patrick Debois started organizing the first Devopsdays conference, and the name stuck. DevOps has been growing ever since, with conferences around the world, and has become synonymous with collaborative, agile, teams that ship quickly while maintaining high quality. This a very simplified account, of course— I recommend Richard Rapaport’s “A Short History of DevOps”, or Damon Edward’s video on the topic for a detailed history.
And when you understand that history, it’s easier to understand why engineers bristle at the idea of DevOps as a job title or company role. By referring to and thinking about DevOps properly, you’ll not only make tech talent at your company happier, but will also help internalize DevOps principles within your organization.
So, What Is DevOps, Then?
Definitions vary according to who you ask, but The Agile Admin sums it up well:
DevOps is the practice of operations and development engineers participating together in the entire service lifecycle, from design through the development process to production support.
Put another way by the site, it’s “agile systems administration.” That means DevOps is about software developers and ops engineers working together with shared values, principles, methods, practices and tools to build, maintain and improve systems. “Works on my box, ops’ problem now” has no place in this movement, and the entire technical organization takes responsibility — together — for delivering great quality and service to customers.
Engineering organizations often think about problem-solving in terms of technical constraints: do we have enough server capacity? Enough bandwidth? Enough test coverage? But DevOps is also about engaging with the human side of shipping: do responsible teams have the right communication processes? How do we minimize error, and how do we effectively learn from mistakes without compromising morale? Patrick Dubois characterizes effective DevOps champions as “ambassadors, peace makers, facilitators and communicators,” who build bridges across the organization and rally teams around a common cause.
Why Isn’t DevOps a Job Title?
For many organizations that are moving to a DevOps model, it represents a fundamental culture shift, and the messaging around it is important.
The definition above doesn’t fit on a business card. DevOps is not about software developers taking over the job of ops nor ops taking over the job of developers. And it’s not just about shared tools (though that is part of it). It’s about breaking down organizational silos, scaling and automating processes, and leveraging best practices from both the development and operations world to ship better stuff to customers.
Good DevOps work requires testing, iterating and, even, breaking things. That needs to happen quickly, without friction and, most importantly, without blame. Defining someone as a “DevOps manager”or creating a “DevOps team” could imply that only those individuals are responsible for DevOps, and, should it fail, those failures are due to that individual or team rather than systemic organizational problems.
As Chip Locke writes, software developers and operations engineers are often different types of people, and trying to combine them into a single role won’t always be effective. When devs and ops are forced into a contrived role instead of encouraged to collaborate across their individual teams, competing values and (sometimes) suboptimal results are the outcome. Additionally, implementing DevOps as a third team that sits between the development and operations teams is a recipe for disaster.
You’re not in Kansas anymore
As organizations have to ship faster, more complex software to an increasingly demanding and quickly changing market, the prevalence of devops will only grow— fluency in the movement will help you collaborate with, hire, and retain great engineers, while pigeonholing it can lose you credibility with your technical team that’s hard to get back.
As the outsider, the onus is on you to educate yourself. Watch the presentations that birthed the movement, read some history, talk with those in the movement. To start you off, here are some of my favorite resources.