What Makes a Good DevOps Engineer?
According to our most recent Coder Academy Industry Consultation Survey, the number one skills gap within IT businesses is DevOps.
The goal of DevOps is to build, test, and release software faster and more reliably. DevOps engineers develop, code, design, and test. They manage servers and handle the scale, bandwidth, security, and backups. For all of this, they need a thorough understanding of coding, cloud technologies, and cyber security.
DevOps engineers are in high demand, and SEEK has projected job growth at 30 per cent over the next five years.
So, what skills or qualities does a DevOps engineer need in order to be good at their job?
DevOps Engineers Need to Appreciate Automation
Bill Holder is a DevOps specialist for a Sydney startup. He specialises in cyber security and his career in DevOps has taken him all over the world since he first made a start working with physical infrastructure, “running cables for Telstra all those years ago”.
Bill stresses that a large part of his love for DevOps, is an affinity with the possibilities of automation.
“DevOps is the lazy person’s way of doing IT. You never do the same thing twice. You automate everything ‘cause you don’t want to do it again,” Bill says.
It’s hard to reconcile the idea of a hardworking DevOps engineer with someone who is lazy. But it’s really all about working smarter, not harder. If you’re the sort of person who looks at clunky processes or repetitive tasks and thinks, there must be a better way, then perhaps DevOps is something you should consider.
DevOps Engineers are Adaptable Generalists Who Enjoy Variety
“Being a DevOps engineer, you have to have a really good core set of skills, and then you have to deploy them without fear or favour to new technology,” Bill says. “We don’t get much time to specialise in anything, but we have to be good at everything.”
“If you want to get into DevOps, you’ve got to be able to think on your feet, you’ve got to be able to learn really fast, apply it, and not be scared to make mistakes. Fail fast, fail often, and fail forward.”
Bill isn’t the only one who believes in the importance of having good general knowledge and the ability to adapt to new situations. Paul Kukiel is a senior solutions architect at AWS Enterprise. He also believes that everyone who wants a career in DevOps should start out learning the basics, and to continue learning and adapting in each new role they take on.
“You could specialise and say, ‘That’s what I’m going to do,’ but you’re probably going to limit some of the role opportunities that you’re going to go to,” Paul says. “So, you have to have a good general idea, then you take the role, and, ok, sure, I need to learn Terraform at this role, or I need to learn CDK, or something, then you go ahead and you learn that.”
DevOps Engineers Need to See the Whole Picture
Paul believes that good DevOps engineers are people willing to see a project through from concept to completion.
“You’re combining the skills that are required as a developer, as a programmer, with what’s required to be able to host and run and operate that service, combining those two things together is DevOps,” Paul says. “You develop it, and then you operationalise it and look after it.”
“You don’t just chuck it to someone and say, ‘Well there you go.’ Your role is then to decide how do we go ahead and deploy it to production? Do I need to build a pipeline? What are the steps in that pipeline?”
Bill points out that this doesn’t mean you have to know everything, or that you have to do it all on your own.
“The confidence and experience to be able to say, ‘I don’t know,’ is incredibly important,” Bill says. “Too many people try to bluff their way through it.”
“On the flip side, you can’t just say, ‘I don’t know,’ and walk away and hope someone else fixes it. You’ve gotta say, ‘I don’t know, but here is my thinking, and I will go check here, here, and here, what do you think?’”
DevOps Engineers Need to Communicate Well with People Who Don’t Understand DevOps
Effective communication will be essential for anyone working within DevOps. Not only communication within a team, but communication with other stakeholders who don’t necessarily understand the DevOps’ role.
“You’re selling yourself to people who don’t really know what they want to buy,” Bill says. “They need a car, but you’ve gotta tell them they need four wheels, doors, windows, things like that, and that you can provide them all. Otherwise, they’re going to get four people that lift them up and carry them on a chair, and they don’t know any different.”
DevOps Engineers are Passionate and Creative, and They’re Not Necessarily Good at Maths
When asked whether DevOps engineers need to be good at maths, Bill says he believes passion and perseverance are far more important than academic markers of success.
“I failed HSC… I think if you have a passion for it, and you know you have some deficiencies, like you’re not very good at maths or something, you have to build up a basic skill set,” Bill says. “But then, we all carry phones, and they’ve all got calculators in them now.”
“So you build on your strengths and weaknesses, but you can’t just sit back and say, well, I can’t do maths so I’m never going to use a computer. It’s like, no, what am I lacking? What do I need? If I really want that job, I’m going to build myself up and take it.”
“The deficiency can be fixed, but the passion can never be injected. Don’t ever let anything hold you back.”
Cintia Del Rio is a lead site reliability engineer, which she explains as, “just a flavour of DevOps.” She also challenged the idea of DevOps engineers as purely left-brain thinkers who are good at maths but lacking in a creative side.
“Not creative? You have no idea how many workarounds we come up with! The hacks we go through. We are very creative. We might not be artsy, but creative, we are.
“And we don’t need maths skills.”
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