How has COVID-19 impacted the way DevOps professionals approach their work?
The current, unpredictable economic climate as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a glaring need for organizations to be able to do more with less. They have fewer resources and even less margin of error now to maintain customer relationships, keep up the pace of innovation and stay ahead of competitors. This global crisis has shifted more end users toward digital services, increasing the pressure further on organizations to deliver robust digital services to both their customers and employees. Meeting that need in a short amount of time is, suffice it to say, extremely challenging.
All of this has shaken up norms for DevOps professionals and created an even greater need to accelerate continuous automation, break down silos between teams and cultivate greater cross-team collaboration, to help their organizations continue business as usual—in other words, a greater need for DevOps, period.
Let’s take a look at how today’s new normal has in some ways made DevOps transformations easier and more widely accepted, and in other ways made DevOps more complicated—and what leadership can do about it.
Improved Trust and Collaboration Among IT Teams
Trust and collaboration form the base of true DevOps cultures. Anything an organization can do to make collaborating easier and eliminate unfair advantages between teams makes DevOps easier to facilitate. If half your team is working in the office and half is working remotely, that is not an even playing field; there are advantages to sharing an office and being able to communicate in-person that those who work remotely don’t have.
It’s also a matter of trust. Trust is not always assumed for employees working remotely. People in the office might feel skeptical that those at home just aren’t working as hard as they are. The advantage of everyone having to work remotely for the last several months is that we’re now all on a level playing field; we’ve all been in the same work-from-home boat. That has eliminated unfair advantages and helped boost trust among team members.
The more you trust each other, the easier it is to collaborate and delegate work, which removes some of the typical hurdles for DevOps projects.
Increased Use of Automation
Alongside trust and collaboration, automation is another key pillar of DevOps. In the past, teams may have been skeptical about automating their work, figuring it was just easier to do it themselves.
But, the massive spike in demand for IT services this year put a lot of pressure on traditional IT teams to get services up and running, provision machines and troubleshoot access problems, among other things. The only way to scale up to meet these demands without being overworked was to adopt continuous automation.
Now automation skeptics have seen for themselves the value of automating tasks to make work more manageable during unexpected digital activity peaks.
Growing DevOps Skills Gaps Around Automation, Kubernetes
The good news is, DevOps projects have been excelling in the new normal thanks to these accelerations in collaboration, trust and automation. But the flip side of more automation is a greater need to pick up new skills for making automation work.
Those working remotely without kids to look after might find more free time to spend on leveling up their automation skills, such as learning Python and other new script languages. But those who have to pull double-duty between their own job and other household tasks demanding immediate attention—such as homeschooling and looking after young children—might be less likely to have that opportunity. This could put many people at a long-term disadvantage as skills gaps continue to grow around automation. We may be looking at the possibility of certain demographics of employees (i.e. those who aren’t currently raising families or school-aged children) having more access to skills and educational opportunities than those who do.
This is also an issue with Kubernetes. Enterprise adoption of Kubernetes is growing rapidly as the container platform of choice for managing dynamic multi-cloud environments. But adoption is moving so quickly that even the teams who work with Kubernetes can find themselves behind the curve before they know it. This Kubernetes education gap is getting bigger every day, and the people who may have time now to keep themselves informed about Kubernetes will be at a greater advantage than those who just don’t have the time for after-work training.
The Role for DevOps Leaders in This Moment
For all the instability going on today, DevOps projects seem to generally be in a good spot, thanks to growing trust and collaboration between teams and a greater acceptance of the need for continuous automation. But as we start returning to normalcy and heading back to the office, leaders must not allow their teams to lapse back into old habits.
Leadership will need to come up with new rules of engagement for working in the office to eliminate unfair advantages that used to exist. For example, at my company, we’ve established that once offices are fully reopened, meetings will only be held in-person if everyone invited is present. If one person invited to the meeting is remote, then everyone will join remotely. Organizations should look to adopt similar rules, as the transition from working virtually to in-office is going to be a long and challenging one, with not everyone returning all at once.
In addition, organizations and leadership teams need to dedicate more official work time to training and educating employees on new tech such as automation and Kubernetes to even the playing field, develop more highly skilled teams and close these skills gaps. Team leaders must ensure that everyone is on the same page and that it’s not just those who had the most free time while quarantining who are coming out ahead.
The behaviors we’ve picked up during social distancing—new opportunities for continuous learning, wider adoption of automation, elimination of unfair advantages for remote workers—are making DevOps better. But these are practices we have to continue carrying forward in the new normal and beyond.