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Disruption and DevOps upskilling: How to fill out your tool belt

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David Weldon Freelance Writer and Research Analyst
 

This wouldn't seem to be a time when upskilling would be top of mind for DevOps professionals, as well as those trying to pursue a DevOps career. But, in fact, there is no better time to take stock of your professional assets, expand your technology skills, improve your soft skills, and learn new business processes. ​​​​​​

By doing so, you can better help your organization support newly remote workers and restart any projects stalled by the workplace disruption, even down the road. There was already a skills and talent gap in the DevOps ranks heading into 2020, and life in the COVID-19 era is making key DevOps roles more vital than ever.

The DevOps Institute recently released Upskilling 2020: Enterprise DevOps Skills Report, which looks at the role of DevOps pros in the era of digital transformation, the challenge that organizations face in finding enough skilled DevOps professionals, and the need for DevOps pros to bring a balance of people, process, and technology skills to the role.

Here's what you can learn from the report—and how to be a standout in the DevOps field. 

It' a great time to learn

The opportunity to learn something has never been greater,  said Jayne Groll, co-founder and CEO at the DevOps Institute.

"While organizations are transforming toward digital operating models, challenges of speed and scale of technological advances, IT budgets, and a huge skill gap are causing a slowdown of this fourth Industrial Revolution."
Jayne Groll

The result is that many organizations are encouraging staff to take this time to learn.

The Upskilling 2020 report is based on a survey of 1,260 individuals on what skills they consider to be critical to DevOps and digital transformation. At the heart of the data is what the DevOps Institute calls "the DevOps human"—someone who combines people, process, and technology skills.

The IT talent-acquisition strategy within enterprises today depends on many factors, such as the business model and the culture and philosophy of its leaders, Groll said.

DevOps has different maturity states within organizations, because the pace by which technology causes talent strategies to shift away from specific narrow roles, competencies and skills to a broader hybrid model of human and hybrid skills.

"[Upskilling and retraining] must be high on every organization's agenda."
—Jayne Groll

Demand for DevOps pros still growing

The COVID-19 pandemic has not dampened the need for DevOps professionals, said Christian Mendiola, a recruitment consultant for Huxley, the finance and banking division of SThree. Mendiola works in the hard-hit city of New York, recruiting within the markets of cloud computing, DevOps, and site reliability engineering (SRE) technologies, primarily for financial services companies.

"Companies still need DevOps engineers in this climate. It is one of the few markets, we've found, that has been less impacted by the decrease in hiring due to the pandemic."
Christian Mendiola

It might even be the case that the current situation has emphasized how important it is to have a DevOps team, now that communication is more challenging in the virtual world that so many are working within.

Finance, healthcare, and ad tech currently have pressing needs for DevOps workers, Mendiola said, and industry experience is less important than technology and communication skills.

The candidate who is most appealing is one "who has helped build a DevOps methodology in a company where it previously didn't exist or was in its nascent stages. It shows a true understanding of the theory and practical applications of DevOps," Mendiola said.

It also denotes that the candidate isn't simply an individual contributor and is very actively involved with improving the company’s development.

Mendiola agreed with Groll that top-notch communication skills are critical for DevOps professionals. DevOps professionals can't rely on a business analyst to communicate ideas between parties, Mendiola said. Likewise, someone who has little technology knowledge should be able to clearly understand what DevOps pros are doing, what their projects are, and their teams' goals.

The greatest need is for the highest skilled

Jim Mercer, research director for DevOps at IDC, said the demand for highly skilled DevOps professionals is rising fast.

"Prior to COVID-19, DevOps professionals were in strong demand. In the midst of the crisis, DevOps professionals are still in strong demand, but the demand for effective remote working and coding, automation, and SRE skills is higher given the 'new normal.'"
Jim Mercer

For DevOps pros who want to acquire new technical skills, Mercer recommends getting experience with agile software development techniques, developer-driven testing, and highly automated test environments.

Other desirable technology skills include familiarity with CI/CD, automation, provision infrastructure, configuration management, monitoring and alerting, logging, code review and coverage, software testing, Docker, containers, and Kubernetes.

And it's equally important to develop or fine-tune verbal and written communication skills, team-building skills, and the ability to lead and partner across disciplines to achieve high-impact results, Mercer said.

Don't neglect your soft skills

To many, the idea of mastering these softer skills may seem contrary to the traditional role of the DevOps professional. But DevOps is undergoing tremendous change, said Eveline Oehrlich, independent research director at the DevOps Institute and co-author of the report.

"The human skills are finally being recognized as important across all roles and regions. "[Human skills] must be mentioned over and over again."
Eveline Oehrlich

In the DevOps context, human skills are important because of the need to understand the importance of empathy, interpersonal skills, communication, collaboration, creativity, problem solving, and others.

Upskilling or retraining programs don't exist in many organizations, Oehrlich said. As a result, the skills gap among DevOps professionals is widening. That is bad news for organizations, but great news for highly skilled DevOps pros, or pros that take the initiative now to seek out new training for themselves.

"The future of DevOps sits atop of a hybrid individual," she said. This is someone who can work across a variety of functional subject areas, leveraging experts and incorporating key topics of automation and process or framework methodologies to deliver value at speed and quality for the customer.

The DevOps pros in highest demand, who can command top salaries, are collaborative, flexible, creative, problem solvers, and results-oriented. 

"Their human skills should be shining through the past experience, expertise, exploration, and execution. A person who only wants to show how smart they are is not going to be successful in DevOps, but a person who is smart and shares his or her smarts is great."
—Eveline Oehrlich

Lessons learned: How to stand out 

So what are the lessons here for DevOps job candidates on how to distinguish themselves from the competition? Ultimately, Oehrlich said, it depends on the state of the company's DevOps journey.

A hiring manager must know what the current goals of the team are, where they stand in terms of their capabilities, what type of culture exists and what they desire. "That is what they must hire for," she said.

But, she added, there are certain skills that separate top DevOps pros from the rest. The most important are the four E's: experience, expertise, exploration, and execution.

"For a more advanced DevOps team these E's become very important."
—Eveline Oehrlich

DevOps pros should focus on four strengths, IDC's Mercer said:

  • Proven experience working and successfully driving DevOps adoption.
  • Top people skills, including the ability to work as a good teammate, lifting the capabilities of the team over self.
  • Demonstrated capability to lead and partner across disciplines to achieve high-impact results.
  • General analysis and problem-solving skills, and the ability to develop creative solutions.

Finally, avoid being a generalist. "As in any profession, the key to standing out is to specialize," Huxley's Mendiola said. 

"When companies are hiring, the strategy is, more often than not, to recruit for a subject-matter expert in each field. DevOps is a team-oriented philosophy, and the propensity to want to do it all is antithetical to its core."
—Christian Mendiola

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