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Software development skills in demand, spurring channel business

With DevOps and Agile software development skills in demand, channel companies are responding with assessment, training and even staffing services for their clients.

DevOps and Agile methodology projects are among the top software development initiatives for IT service providers, according to a recent TechTarget survey.

The 2018 IT Priorities Survey points to Agile development methods, APIs, microservices, application lifecycle management and DevOps as the main software priorities for channel partners this year. The feedback on software development skills was derived from a broader survey of more than 1,000 North American corporate IT personnel and service providers.

The results underscore the growing importance of application development as software becomes the key underpinning of digital businesses. IT service providers from infrastructure specialists to cloud consultancies report growing interest in DevOps, Agile and related fields.

"Software is permeating every enterprise," said Marc Hornbeek, principal consultant of DevOps at Trace3, an integrated IT and consulting firm in Irvine, Calif.

Jeff Aden, founder and executive vice president of marketing and business development at 2nd WatchJeff Aden

Trace3 has worked in the DevOps field for a few years, but decided to build a stand-alone DevOps practice about a year ago. At the time, the company had a handful of clients, including a major anchor client for its DevOps professional services. Today, Trace3 has nearly 70 active DevOps clients, Hornbeek said, adding that almost all of the company's customers have some interest in DevOps.

Software development "is top of mind to [clients], which is why they are moving to DevOps or Agile ops -- they want to iterate more, change faster," said Jeff Aden, founder and executive vice president of marketing and business development at 2nd Watch, a managed cloud services provider based in Seattle.

Software development skills in demand

IT service providers report offering a range of services under broad categories such as DevOps and Agile. Those include assessment, tool selection and training. Helping customers find the right tools to automate their initiatives is particularly important in fields such as DevOps, where the demand for expertise surpasses the supply of talent.

There is a big gap between skilled DevOps people and demand. Providing good tools ... makes up for the fact that it is hard to get enough trained DevOps people to throw at a problem.
Marc Hornbeekprincipal consultant of DevOps, Trace3

"There is a dearth of skilled labor in the market," Hornbeek said of the software development skills gap. "There is a big gap between skilled DevOps people and demand. Providing good tools ... makes up for the fact that it is hard to get enough trained DevOps people to throw at a problem."

Hornbeek, who is also partner manager for DevOps, said Trace3's DevOps practice maintains relationships with 10 partners. In one partnership example, Trace3 in October 2017 announced an alliance with Perforce Software, a Minneapolis, Minn., company that provides developer collaboration and Agile project management tools. Hornbeek said Perforce offers one of few products available that can handle software version management at scale.

Aden at 2nd Watch, meanwhile, uses tools such as HashiCorp's Terraform, infrastructure-as-code software for managing cloud-based resources. Infrastructure as code is considered a DevOps building block. He said Terraform is similar to Amazon Web Services' CloudFormation Templates, but can be used across different clouds.

Chart showing top software development initiatives
IT services providers are developing practices to pursue DevOps, Agile and other software development initiatives

Building your own DevOps talent

Faced with the software development skills gap, some channel firms have decided to develop talent in-house. Nebulaworks, a DevOps consultancy based in Irvine, Calif., has taken that route.

Chris Ciborowski, CEO of Nebulaworks, said the company was founded in 2014 with a focus on supporting cloud adoption. "We really felt that the world was shifting to the cloud," he said. "At the time, we made the assumption that most organizations were mature enough from a process perspective to be able to make shifts to adopt the cloud."

Chris Ciborowski, CEO at NebulaworksChris Ciborowski

The firm, however, quickly found out that wasn't the case, especially for enterprise customers, he said. Enterprises, "while they may have tried to adopt Agile on the development side of the house ... were not equipped to see success with adopting the cloud."

This discovery led Nebulaworks to turn its attention to helping enterprises adopt DevOps principles and methods organizationwide, he said.

Nebulaworks has 12 people on staff that for the most part are all focused on three main objectives, which are to assist enterprises with upskilling through training and workshops; doing process optimization work; and integrating modern toolchains.

Ciborowski said his career in engineering prior to starting Nebulaworks gave him a strong DevOps background. "The skills were there. It's how I honed and ran my shop and my teams," he said. This background allowed Nebulaworks to educate new hires internally rather than hunt the job market for the elusive DevOps software development skills in demand.

"We ended up building our own [staff]: mentoring, training and teaching them things that I had learned along the way and then moving them very quickly through the paces, from shadowing to actually doing engineering work to leading consulting engagements," Ciborowski said.

Supporting Agile transformations

Channel firms have found unique approaches to address the DevOps and Agile software development skills in demand Eliassen Group, based in Reading, Mass., entered the Agile consulting arena in 2009 with an extensive history as an IT staffing company firm. Since then, Eliassen has built out its Agile consulting practice with a full suite of services that include advisory, training, coaching and staffing services.

Customers can either contract Eliassen for help with a certain aspect of an Agile transition, such as training or staffing, or for a full Agile transformation package, said Scott Cordeiro, executive vice president of professional services at Eliassen.

For a customer looking to do a companywide Agile transition, Eliassen will generally begin by working with the organization at the advisory stage. Eliassen starts with "discovery session," which involves working with the organization to understand its current processes and goals. The discovery session includes interviews with key stakeholders and observing the customer's "major functions or rituals," he noted. Eliassen will then produce a recommendations report that identifies what the organization is doing well, where there are gaps and how they are going to get their desired end state.

The next step in Eliassen's approach is to provide training services informed by the discovery session and resulting recommendation report. Training generally starts at the organization's leadership level, Cordeiro said, before encompassing every employee involved in the transition. Educational activities include workshops and role-based training.

Training then leads to "pilot-based coaching," Cordeiro explained. He said Eliassen's coaching services are "more of an art and a science combination," presenting critical guidance and support the customer needs to adopt and improve Agile methods and practices.

The final step is to staffing. As an IT staffing company, Eliassen can tap into its staffing engine to help customers find the additional human resources the customer requires for the Agile transition, he said. Eliassen has access to a talent database of more than 9,500 Agile practitioners, according to the company.

Cordeiro said that Eliassen's combination of its staffing engine and consulting services has put the company in a unique competitive position, allowing it to compete against small or boutique consultancies, large consulting shops, as well as classic staffing firms.

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