DevOps Culture

How to Transition to Become a DevOps Engineer

You’ve either heard the buzzword or you’ve seen the extensive list of rewarding aspects that come with being a DevOps engineer. Whatever the reason you’re here, this guide should help with taking the right steps toward becoming a DevOps engineer, whether this is your first job after graduating or an opportunity to reskill leveraging your prior industry experience.

Immerse Yourself

Learn the fundamentals, practices and methodologies. Understand the why behind DevOps before jumping into the tools. I believe the key goal of any DevOps engineer is to increase speed and maintain or improve quality across the entire software development life cycle, in order to provide maximum business value. Read articles, watch some YouTube videos and go to one of your local Meetup groups or conferences–it’s useful to become a part of the welcoming DevOps community where you’ll learn from the mistakes and successes of those that have been here before you.

Your Background

There are likely two key times where you’ll be transitioning into the role of DevOps engineer; either reskilling during your career or as your first job after graduating. You may have prior experience in technology, such as working as a software developer, systems engineer, systems administrator, network operations engineer or database administrator, all of which will bring broad insights and useful experience for your future role as a DevOps engineer. If you’re starting your career, maybe you’ve finished your degree in computer science or any other STEM field which will give you some of the basic stepping stones you’ll need in this transition.

I think it’s important to breakdown the broad spectrum of what DevOps engineer roles entail. Most enterprise companies today will use DevOps engineers in three different positions.

  • DevOps Engineers, with a Dev Bias: Work in a software development role, building software applications. The key point is they leverage CI/CD, shared repositories, cloud and containers as part of their everyday work, but they are not necessarily responsible for building or implementing tooling. They will understand infrastructure and in a mature environment, will be able to push their own code into production.
  • DevOps Engineers, with an Ops Bias: Could be compared to systems engineers or systems administrators. They understand software development but do not spend the core parts of their day building software applications. Instead, they are more likely to be supporting software development teams to automate manual processes and increase efficiencies across the human and technology systems. This could mean breaking down legacy code and using less cumbersome automation scripts to run the same commands or it could mean installing, configuring or maintaining infrastructure and tooling. They ensure the right tools are installed and available for any teams that need them. They enable teams with learning how to leverage CI/CD and other DevOps practices.
  • SREs (Site Reliability Engineers): Think of site reliability engineering as having software engineers solving operations and infrastructure problems. SREs focus on creating scalable, highly available and reliable software systems.

In the ideal world, DevOps engineers will understand all the above, which is the norm at some mature technology companies. However, if you knock on the door of top tier banks or many Fortune 500 companies you’ll realize oftentimes these roles do usually have biases towards dev or ops.

Operating Systems

Whichever background you’re coming from, you should start with the fundamental technologies you’ll need to use and understand as a DevOps engineer. Linux is most likely the operating system you’ll be using daily, although some of you might be using Windows. This is where everything runs, and fundamental knowledge is important. You can install Linux at home where you’ll be able to break as much as you want and continue learning along the way.

Scripting

Next up you’ll need to pick a scripting language. There are many to choose from, such as Python, Go, Java, Bash, PowerShell, Ruby and C/C++. I suggest starting with Python, it’s one of the most popular for a reason, it’s easy to learn and interpret. Python follows the fundamentals of object-oriented programming and can be used for web development, software development, creating desktop GUI apps and even business applications.

Cloud

After Linux and Python, my next pick would be cloud, where you could choose from Amazon Web Services, Azure or Google Cloud Platform. I’d start with AWS, as they have an extensive collection of free learning tools available to  take you down any track from learning about AWS as a developer to operations and even the business facing components. In fact, you might even be overwhelmed by how much is on offer when you first get setup with AWS. Maybe start with EC2, S3 and VPC and see where you want to go from there.

Programming languages

For those of you with a passion for software development. You should keep on improving your programming skills. Some good languages commonly used in this role include Python, Go, Java, Bash, PowerShell, Ruby and C/C++. You should also become familiar with tools such as Jenkins and Git/GitHub which you’ll be using frequently as part of the CI/CD process. Infrastructure is no longer left to the operations guys so you’ll need to have some exposure to a cloud platform such as AWS, Azure or GCP.

Containers

Finally, start learning about containerizing code using tools such as Docker and orchestration platforms such as Kubernetes. All the above have extensive online learning resources for free and most cities will have local Meetup groups where you can turn up and learn from experienced people in a friendly environment.

For those of you with less experience in development, you can still get involved using your passion for automation, increasing efficiency, collaborating with others and a never-ending desire to improve on your own work. I would still suggest learning the tooling outlined above, but with less emphasis on the coding/scripting languages. It will be useful to learn about Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, cloud platforms and Linux. You will likely be setting up the tools and learning how to build systems that are resilient and fault-tolerant while writing your own code.

Reskilling

If you’re transitioning into a DevOps role during your career, you should start within your company to explore opportunities. Can you reskill by working with an existing team? There might be an option for you to shadow other team members, ask for advice and reskill without even leaving your current job. This might not always be possible and some of you will need to move into another company.

If you can learn some of the practices, tools and technologies listed above, you’ll be in a good position to demonstrate relevant knowledge during interviews. The key is to be honest and to not set yourself up for failure. Most hiring managers understand you don’t know all the answers but if you can show what you’ve been learning and explain you’re open to learning more, you should be in with a good chance.

Starting Your Career

You can apply to direct open opportunities at companies who are hiring junior DevOps engineers. You will often find these companies say they’re looking for more experience and you should apply back in future when you’ve gained some commercial experience. It’s the typical, frustrating scenario of “we want more experience” but nobody is willing to give you the first chance.

It’s not all gloomy though, there are a few companies focused on training and upskilling graduates directly out of the university. MThree, where I currently work, delivers exactly that. We hire fresh graduates and train them for eight weeks in our Alumni Academy. Training covers everything from theory through to hands-on projects with Python, Jenkins, Git, Ansible, Docker, Kubernetes and AWS. By the end of the training you’ll have some solid exposure to the entire software development life cycle and a good understanding of how this applies in a Fortune 500 environment. The best part is once qualified, our teams then leverage their extensive list of clients to provide job opportunities for junior DevOps engineers. MThree pays these associates on a full-time salary with benefits for the first 18-24 months before they join the client as direct employees at the end of the agreement. This is a great way to bridge the gap from university into your technology career.

In summary, there are many ways to transition to become a DevOps engineer. This is a very rewarding career route which will likely keep you engaged and challenged as well as increasing your earning potential.

Conor Delanbanque

Conor Delanbanque

Conor Delanbanque has been building & scaling teams in the DevOps space for some time now. As well as supporting the growth of some of the most innovative DevOps & SRE organizations in the US and Europe, Conor also founded the Future of DevOps Thought Leaders Debate. He Co-Organizes DevOpsNYC and sponsors DockerNYC Meetup on a regular basis. He was a keynote speaker at DevOpsDays Cuba, 2017 and has contributed to a number of online publications and podcasts. You can tweet him at @ConorDevOps, find him on LinkedIn or at various tech events across the Americas.

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