Human skills, among others, have always been important; now more than ever. Empathy, diversity, creativity, personal commitment have been put to the test. The increase in remote work tends to challenge individuals in unique ways, and these human skills are becoming critical.
Top 5 Skill Domains for 2021
This year, 69% of respondents to the Upskilling 2021: Enterprise DevOps Skills Report told DevOps Institute they consider human skills a “must-have or very important” skill for the DevOps human, among other priorities, around skill domains as seen below:
It is no surprise that challenges around the DevOps journey continue around people, process and technology with all respondents giving them equal weight (33%).
To continue thriving within DevOps or to initiate a DevOps journey, individuals, leaders and organizations should take action in developing skills across these areas. Right?
Why, then, are only 39% of respondents reporting they have a formal upskilling program? What is the challenge for the other 61%? Recognizing the importance of these skill domains is one thing – doing something about it seems quite another. Why is so little done about upskilling?
Can these skills be taught? Well, maybe, or maybe not.
Research has shown that knowledge and skills can be developed by most people, while abilities, personal capabilities and characteristics are rather innate. Furthermore, existing human capabilities are constructs that facilitate individual learning, adaptability and development and maintain their value even when drastic environmental changes occur.
When we asked how organizations are prioritizing human skills during our research, we found that the human capability or domain is among the top five must-have skill domains. We also found that organizations have adopted both the concept of the learning organization and safety culture as two important constructs for DevOps.
3 Things to Understand about Human or “Soft” Skills
- The human skill or domain is fundamentally different. While technical skills – such as container orchestration, CI/CD automation technologies and cloud infrastructures – can be developed through training (and these skills can be certified), the human skill domain is somewhat different. First, some human skills are shaped through experience and practice in both our personal and work life. For example, collaboration and communication skills are shaped during projects and can be adjusted according to the culture of the organization. Other skills, such as curiosity, might have been developed during early life stages or are somewhat innate.
- Take inventory of your top human skills. Our survey respondents offered great insight on the top must-have human skills within DevOps. Every situation, however, is different, but take a look at these and do a self-check on your human skills.
- Human skill development requires coaching and continuous feedback. No matter what methodologies organizations leverage, one key aspect is that individuals and leaders alike should have a coach or mentor who provides guidance and support. And, just as important is continuous feedback around an individual’s personal development. Today’s human resources teams might be able to assist. If not, network with others which might already model the skills needed and that can provide support and guidance.
Must-Have Human Skills According to the C-Suite
The graph below shows executives, management and individual contributors all have similar priorities when it comes to human skills. (Blue is executives and management, and orange are individual contributors)
There are some differences in opinion when it comes to multitasking, customer skills, thought leadership, business understanding, creativity, diversity and inclusion, empathy, personal value, communication, interpersonal skills, sharing and knowledge transfer.
How does one identify an individual’s potential for soft skills and other skill development? Unfortunately, this is not an exact science. One possibility is to understand what DevOps capabilities are needed, first, and then perform a skills inventory check. Then, the question becomes, how can you encourage individuals to develop their skills?
The Skill Journey Toward a Learning Organization
A learning organization is composed of individuals and leaders all interested in increasing their capabilities and improving their skills to achieve results they care about. Learning how to do something is extremely rewarding, and, at the same time, achieves specific organizational goals if the learning is aligned to the needed capabilities.
First, assessing what DevOps capabilities are missing, paired with a skill path for the DevOps team members, is a win-win.
5 Tips for Your DevOps Journey
- Make continuous learning part of the DevOps journey. Continuous learning and education must be a fundamental best practice within your DevOps journey. A first step is always education, providing learning resources and allowing engineers and individuals to participate with and learn from others in the community.
- Don’t hide the experts. Another critical step is determining if subject matter experts are being sheltered or siloed away. Instead, learn how to embed those people within teams, so they can spread their subject matter expertise by osmosis to others on the team.
- Growth of skills requires time and budget. According to Jayne Groll, “Enterprises should take intentional steps to support the growth of their DevOps humans.” Some may assume that engineers learn organically, but in truth, engineers need time and budgeted resources to develop new skills, hone existing skills, experiment and improve their capabilities. This could be in the form of time to attend a virtual conference, go to a training class, practice in a sandbox and/or doing peer-to-peer mentoring. Just take a look at site reliability engineers, for example, which are tasked with spending half of their time “making tomorrow better than today” by reducing toil through automation. DevOps engineers should be allotted a similar amount of time to do the same.
- Adopt a buddy system. The adoption of a coach or buddy system to further aid individual learning and growth is an excellent idea; pair less-skilled DevOps humans and engineers with highly skilled and experienced ones, and watch growth happen. This helps growth on both sides – both for the experienced buddy and the less-experienced person, in learning and teaching.
- Equip your leaders. Leaders are expected to know how to do things, right? To have all the answers? Well, not really. Some research has shown that the largest group of leaders today are “accidental leaders,” and 60% of frontline leaders say they have never received any training for their new role. Leaders need to learn and upskill, as well.
The challenges of the past year showcased the importance of human skills in transformational efforts. Without the spirit, willingness, collaboration, cooperation and competencies of IT professionals around the world, many enterprises would not have been able to adapt to rapidly changing business models in a pandemic-fueled economy. As we continue into this next decade, organizations should plan to invest in upskilling their humans as much (or even more) than their technology.