Overcoming the Evolving DevOps Skills Gap

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The skills needed for DevOps are changing rapidly. Companies must recognise this fact, train their teams, and arm them with the tools and techniques they need to enhance their skills.

In 2019, the DevOps Institute’s Annual Upskilling Report stated that automation process, cloud analytics and soft skills were the most important. Just one year later, according to the 2020 report, governance, risk and compliance (GRC), process, and knowledge skills increased in importance.

For organisations attempting to bridge the IT skills gap—the areas in which employers have difficulty filling vacancies—this rapid shift in the importance of skills in just 12 months means that their goal is moving.

The current pandemic has exacerbated this gap. Now, a wider array of skills is necessary for organisations that must shift to remote work and distributed IT environments. For example, a year-over-year uptick in GitHub merge pull requests may signify a heightened need for collaboration or integration skills, as distributed teams make use of different tools and make more frequent changes to code bases.

Companies that do successfully close the IT skills gap can improve the speed of transformation for both organisations and individuals, and enable more resilience in the face of future disruptions. To close the gap, organisations should understand why certain skills are in demand, select the right tools to help their developers, and instill a culture of collaboration and learning.

Why these skills?

Understanding the cause behind the requirements for these skillsets is the first step to equipping DevOps teams with the approaches, tools, and mindset necessary to bridge the skills gap.

That the need for GRC skills is rising is no surprise. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA), and a myriad of other privacy regulations mean the privacy landscape is always evolving. To ensure organisations can comply with these directives, as well as any future regulations, developers must engrain risk controls and privacy into the software they develop from the ground up. DevOps teams may not need a hard set of skills for governance and compliance but must adhere to privacy-centric development philosophies.

An increasing need for process and knowledge skills may coincide with the rise of site reliability engineering (SRE) practices. SRE teams typically help make life easier for IT. Learning about alert monitoring and building escalation processes are ways individuals can round out their skillsets with an eye on process-related techniques.

By identifying the reasons for changes in skill requirements and understanding which skills may persist, companies will be able to implement more effective upskill-related strategies.

The right tools make everyone’s life easier

It’s clear that in-demand skills don’t always remain in vogue for very long. To help limit the variability in expertise needed from year to year, companies should invest in tools that don’t constantly require learning new techniques to operate and that can automate tasks whenever possible.

For example, a growing number of companies work with multiple cloud providers to ensure their applications and services are always available. While a multi-cloud strategy offers benefits, it also means running different projects on different providers’ clouds. To limit the amount of skills needed, companies can select container tools that deploy easily to multiple cloud environments without significantly affecting application topology.

Furthermore, tools that automate repetitive processes can help your company reconcile a skills gap. Leveraging solutions that automate processes tied to risk, compliance and governance can help people focus on their core responsibilities and objectives, rather than conducting manual data analyses or attempting to learn data privacy law.

A culture of learning will keep skills fresh

Thoughtfully employing technology can also help close skill gaps. With everyone now working remotely, there are fewer opportunities for in-person training and mentoring. Still, companies must train employees and promote a culture of learning. Leaders who are proactive in helping employees complete training classes, attend online virtual conferences, and otherwise invest in their skillsets are more likely to have a workforce that remains current on the latest technologies and techniques.

An additional way to promote a culture of learning is by creating events and processes structured around learning, such as:

  • Hackathons, a popular way to promote agile cultures; and,
  • Communication, which will also remain important as companies move forward in challenging economic environments. Constantly inspecting processes and analysing their efficacy will help reinforce the skills people are learning, and drive the idea of an agile mindset.

A careful focus on people, processes and technology is crucial to the success

Companies will continue to scale up, and paradigms such as multi-cloud and edge computing will continue to experience rapid adoption. Leaders who take the steps now to address the skills gap in a sustainable way will emerge with a more adaptable organisation. But, simply asking developers to learn new skills without understanding why these are necessary or for how long they’ll remain crucial is a short-sighted approach. Instead, companies must understand the root causes of changes in skills requirements, and equip their teams with the techniques and tools they need to not only bridge the current skills gap but also to ensure ongoing success in the face of future changes.

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