As the IT job market heats up following a long lull, enterprises will increasingly need to cope with the difficulty of maintaining operational continuity in the face of personnel churn. Whether the revolving door agitates the employee pool for developers or operations staff, the length of time necessary to off-board departing IT staffers and on-board new ones can particularly endanger the fast-paced routine of continuous delivery and DevOps practices.
Fortunately, the documentation and automation principles inherent to DevOps could actually also prove to be the very answer to a problem that threatens DevOps sustainability as job churn increases.
“DevOps is not just a tools play, it’s a human play–how people eventually work has a very big impact on how well DevOps is put into place,” says Aater Suleman, CEO of Flux7 Labs and a professor in computer systems design and architecture at the University of Texas. “We have an immense shortage of talent in the market, and as engineers come and go it is almost unrealistic to expect that everyone who is there today is going to be there through the end of a project. You have to build business continuity around that and DevOps can play a key role in that.”
Suleman says he’s recently seen customers struggle with this problem first hand. In one particularly dramatic example, a smaller firm his company works with has been seeing its 10 person developer team ravaged with a churn rate of one employee turning over per month.
Recent industry numbers show that this kind of turnover may not be the result of organizational problems, but due to broader trends. Earlier this month, the Department of Labor reported that May capped off four months of dramatic job growth in the IT sector. Whereas in 2013, the DOL reported an average of 10,700 IT jobs gained per month, in May that number hit above 15,000.
“We’re now getting back on that track after some horrible months for tech professionals,” says David Foote, chief analyst at Foote Partners which has been tracking and reporting on IT labor trends since 1997.
Meanwhile, Robert Half International reports that IT salaries will rise by 5.6 percent this year. And a survey out this month from Computer Economics shows that 52 percent of hiring managers plan to increase the number of full-time IT staffers they hire this year, the highest this figure has been in three year. These statistics show how industry trends will spur on more movement between firms as skilled staffers look for greener pastures. This is particularly true for jobs seeking staffers experienced in DevOps, particularly as those DevOps vets exhibit a cross-pollenization of ops, dev and people management skill sets.
“There still remains a lot of volatility even in the IT employment marketplace which for some time been expanding mostly in the IT services industries according to these federal jobs reports. What they’re not reporting is all the new IT-business hybrid jobs that have been created and for which employers are feverishly mounting recruiting efforts,” Foote says. “They cannot find and hire them fast enough. There are probably ten or fifteen open positions for every one suitable candidate and that person is almost always already employed. They cannot find and hire them fast enough.”
So how can DevOps principles help to solve the continuity issue as employees play musical chairs? According to Suleman, most important is documenting and automating as much of the deprovisioning and provisioning process as possible. In particular, organizations should be seeking to iterate in order to speed up their on-boarding process in much the same fashion as they have for release schedules. In his example, the 10-person shop he pointed to as an example was getting killed by a two-day on-boarding process that didn’t scale well with the amount of turnover it was experiencing. One of the big reasons is that the company had no documentation standardizing the process.
“If you broke it down, a big chunk of that time was spent in just familiarizing the employee in what technologies the company used, with a lot of that shared through human interaction,” Suleman says. “That was often not a good use of time because they still needed to be relearned over the next few weeks as the engineer really deep dove into the code to figure things out on their own.”
Additionally, though, there was the issue of having no automatic way to share all of software, libraries and so on necessary to set up the new employee’s system so he or she could get started learning the environment.
“There are a lot of external dependencies as a part of that process. You may have an instruction saying go ahead and install the latest database version, but the version I’ll download today will be different from one you downloaded last month and something that will work on your computer won’t on mine,” Suleman says. “What ends up happening is those two days are spent figuring out all those discrepancies.”
In this case, a document may be helpful but even more helpful would be to find a way to automate the creation of up-to-date images of different roles’ environments so that all it takes is one simple install to get a new employee running from day one. This is exactly what Suleman says his company helped the customer do, creating a single, pre-packaged USB stick to go along with newly created documentation so that a two-day process was slimmed down to 30 minutes.