The Skills a DevOps Engineer Must Have

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All those who enter the IT industry dream of securing a well-paid job, and charting a career path that will bring security and prosperity. One of the plum jobs in the IT industry is that of a DevOps engineer, whose skills are very much in demand. This article spells out what a DevOps engineer does and what it takes to become one.

DevOps is a software development strategy that works as a bridge between the coders and other IT staff in a company. This strategy helps organisations to speed up the release of small features in new software, and implement the feedback and changes quickly. It also helps in reducing the chances of software failures, and shortens the time spent fixing bugs within the development cycle. This strategy is called DevOps because it fuses DEVelopment and OPerations. Purists insist that DevOps is not a role, but a culture. According to them, DevOps is the method of delivering software with distributed pain and responsibility. This view is correct, to some extent, as DevOps is a process of shared responsibilities. The DevOps approach to developing software is very popular today, and has been adopted by established software houses.

DevOps engineers are expected to have complete knowledge of the software development life cycle as well as deep expertise in various automation tools and processes, in order to resolve all types of operational challenges. They need to have the capabilities to develop digital pipelines. These engineers collaborate with developers and IT teams to plan code releases. Most of them are developers who have an interest in operations and deployment, or are admins who have a deep knowledge of coding and the SDLC (software development life cycle) and move towards the development side. Their major role is to improve and speed up the testing and deployment process.

A DevOps engineer needs to be an excellent communicator. The role is very similar to that of an IT project manager. In a team, these engineers work with other professional experts and manage different pieces of the infrastructure puzzle. Project managers and DevOps engineers could be considered as two sides of the same coin, each with a slightly different perspective. DevOps engineers are also considered mentors of software developers and architecture teams inside an organisation, guiding them in the creation of software. Their job also requires collaboration between the IT and security teams, to ensure the release of quality products.

Figure 1: A pictorial overview of DevOps

Required experience
It is an accepted fact that there is no such thing as a ‘junior’ DevOps engineer. (This is a very popular topic on Reddit and StackOverflow.) This implies that to become a DevOps engineer, you need to have many years of experience and an in-depth understanding of related tools. You must have experience in integration technology, automation and cloud coding languages. The career path for learning all this is through project management, systems management and database administration. After gaining about two to three years of experience in these domains, a person could be eligible to serve as a DevOps engineer.

These engineers are specialists in writing scripts to make changes in existing cloud setups instead of creating new ones. That is why organisations that hire DevOps engineers are able to deploy code within less time and with more accuracy than their competitors. This implies that whoever wishes to choose this career path must have excellent skills in open source technologies, and a vast knowledge of the tools and technologies used by their senior engineers.

Required skills
Some major skills required for a DevOps engineer’s job include:

  • Agile project management
  • Cloud technology
  • Container concepts
  • Continuous integration
  • Deployment automation and orchestration
  • Infrastructure automation
  • Open source OSs
  • Orchestration
  • Source control

Along with expertise in all the above areas, it is mandatory to have a four-year degree in IT. Apart from the technical aspects, the following are some generic skills essential for DevOps engineers:

  • Coding or scripting
  • Process re-engineering
  • Communication and collaboration skills

Basically, a DevOps engineer is someone who will take on the hard work and responsibility of developing and deploying a software project, and earn the profits from consumers. This role could be played by a single person or a team, but the major focus is to get the work done.

Salaries of DevOps engineers
DevOps engineers are currently paid very well around the world, though the amount could vary depending upon different factors like the size of the company, years of experience, skills, the country they work in, etc. But they are counted among the highly paid staff in an organisation.

Figure 2: The future of DevOps

The future of DevOps
What every engineer needs to understand is that software technology is progressing every day, and coding and scripting skills are also changing with time. Technology is growing very rapidly, and DevOps engineers need to adapt to new trends to retain their place in the market.

Hiring DevOps professionals has had a positive impact on IT organisations in terms of team management, meeting deadlines and development frequency. Companies that responded early by converting to the DevOps method have benefited.

This new career path has a huge impact on a company’s culture, as well. It has become more than an IT function. For many organisations, it is becoming a philosophy, and instead of hiring a single person, these companies are building DevOps teams.

Many organisations may prefer using their own senior resources for this role instead of hiring new staff. As mentioned above, the experience is the main requirement for this job and hiring external resources could be risky. Also, external resources take time to settle into the organisation’s culture and understand its working style. That is the reason why companies promote their own experienced staff as DevOps engineers.

Who is the right person for this job?
The right person for this job would be someone who has very well-polished deployment, automation and infrastructure automation skills. These skills are not learned in college but while working in the field, performing diverse IT roles and, in time, acquiring a balanced knowledge of software development and project management. Along with all the technical knowledge, skills and expertise, a DevOps engineer should have the following soft skills:

  • Excellent management skills
  • Be a team player and team manager
  • Good communication skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Be adaptable to changes
  • Have a passion for learning the latest in technology

DevOps jobs are considered to be high paying and long term. While moving towards this career path, a person should know that more than a role, it is a culture that needs to be nurtured within the development team of a software company. This department is more about increasing the deployment of microservices. The future of DevOps also relies on providing serverless computing and determining which use case is appropriate for a certain diverse environment. By acquiring these skills, DevOps teams can lead their companies when decision-making strategies have to be made.

Figure 3: The DevOps process

The DevOps engineers’ primary focus is on customer satisfaction. They are committed to delivering quality products to their customers. They need to have a broad vision and a clear understanding of the client’s requirements, as well as of the technologies and resources required for a particular project. As there is no training or course that people can take prior to becoming DevOps engineers (most of them have a software development background), they often lack some basic management and planning skills.

There is a huge difference between a developer and a DevOps engineer. The former’s only job is to code and create software while DevOps engineers should have the ability to see the bigger picture, which is essential to satisfy the customer. For this purpose, whenever developers decide to switch to DevOps, they should learn a few project management skills, as both these roles are very similar.

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