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Is a career in DevOps right for you? Top 7 considerations

As DevOps becomes increasingly popular within tech organizations, job candidates should know which skills are preferred when considering a career as a DevOps practitioner.

Organizations are moving to DevOps because it can help them streamline software development and stay ahead of the competition. However, this trend brings with it an increased demand for qualified professionals with the skills necessary to make DevOps work.

For this reason, many technology workers are considering a career in DevOps -- in part because they see it as a lucrative career path, but also because they recognize the increasing importance of DevOps in application delivery and want to be on the frontlines of this movement.

Before embarking on a career in DevOps, however, candidates should ask themselves several important questions about becoming a DevOps practitioner.

Is DevOps a good career in 2021?

More organizations than ever are recognizing the benefits that DevOps can bring to their development efforts, and this has led to a growing need for qualified individuals who have the skills and commitment necessary to put DevOps theories into practice. But it can be difficult to find DevOps professionals to fill the gap. In all likelihood, this will continue to be the case in the foreseeable future. According to a recent Allied Market Research report, the DevOps market is projected to reach $9.4 billion by 2023, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 18.7% from 2017 to 2023.

Based on this projected growth, there should be plenty of DevOps jobs to go around in the next few years, with opportunities in a variety of roles -- whether as developer, tester, release manager, DevOps engineer or other positions. The bigger question might be whether a candidate is a good fit for DevOps, not only in terms of technical skills, but also soft skills. These include communication, collaboration, empathy and willingness to learn -- all of which are essential to successfully participating in a DevOps effort. For anyone with the right qualifications, however, the field is wide open.

What to consider before starting a career in DevOps

A career in DevOps is not for the faint of heart. It's a demanding undertaking that requires skilled professionals who know how to solve problems and work in a team setting. DevOps practitioners must be able to adapt to changing circumstances, collaborate with colleagues and empathize with customers and other stakeholders. Before deciding on a career in DevOps, candidates should have a clear sense of the DevOps job market and what it takes to be a DevOps professional. The following seven questions can help them get started with this process.

1. What is DevOps?

This might seem like a trick question, but DevOps means different things to different people, so candidates should have a clear understanding of what DevOps means -- and what it doesn't mean -- before proceeding any further with their career ambitions.

  • DevOps is a mindset and cultural shift toward a more collaborative approach to software development. It emphasizes communication between development and IT operations teams, with the goal of building trust and cohesion between them and with other stakeholders.
  • DevOps isn't an individual, role, title or specific technology. It isn't about renaming teams or changing organizational charts, nor does it mandate a specific set of tools or products.
  • Although DevOps isn't a technology, it typically incorporates common methodologies such as continuous integration, continuous delivery, task automation and infrastructure as code (IaC).

2. Why is DevOps important?

When candidates understand why DevOps is important to an organization, they can better prepare for a DevOps career by aligning themselves with common goals. This begins with understanding the problems that DevOps is trying to solve, including:

  • customer expectations not being met;
  • slow application delivery and updates;
  • siloes between development, operations and other stakeholders;
  • problems discovered too late in the development lifecycle;
  • applications not running correctly in all environments;
  • complex incident management and problem resolution; and
  • too many repetitive, manual tasks.

DevOps helps address these issues by improving operations throughout the application development lifecycle. Applications are delivered faster and more efficiently. Problems are easier to resolve because operations are broken into smaller steps and all team members have a stake in application delivery. By understanding what DevOps can do for an organization, candidates can better target their skill sets and adjust their mindsets toward a DevOps way of thinking.

3. What is the demand for DevOps talent?

Candidates who are considering a career in DevOps undoubtedly want to know whether there's a demand for DevOps practitioners. As the following data suggests, there will likely be a continued need for DevOps talent in the foreseeable future.

  • A 2020 report sponsored by the Linux Foundation and EdX stated DevOps professionals are now the most sought-after job role, according to the IT leaders surveyed in the study, with 65% of companies planning to hire more DevOps personnel, up from 59% in 2018.
  • A 2021 developer survey from CodinGame stated DevOps practitioners are the most in-demand developers for 2021.
  • According to Indeed, DevOps is currently in the top 20 of in-demand IT jobs, with an average salary of over $125,000 per year.
  • According to Edureka, DevOps is one of the top 10 highest paying jobs for 2021, with salaries averaging around $114,000 per year.
  • Glassdoor indicates that a wide range of companies are currently looking for DevOps talent, including Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Autodesk, Capital One, Cisco Systems, IBM, Intuit, Salesforce, SAP, VMware, Walt Disney Co. and many others.
DevOps job hiring
A wide variety of job titles and skills can be found under the DevOps umbrella.

4. Why choose a career in DevOps?

Organizations clearly believe they can benefit from DevOps, as evidenced by the growing demand for DevOps professionals. But that doesn't mean technology workers should necessarily choose a career in DevOps. That said, there are several good reasons why a DevOps career is worth serious consideration, including:

  • Qualified DevOps professionals can earn higher-than-average salaries compared to other IT positions. However, the salary will depend on the candidate's experience and the DevOps role. Release engineers, for example, are likely to earn more than quality assurance (QA) engineers.
  • DevOps offers candidates opportunities for job growth and for expanding their knowledge of technologies and system architectures. The development team learns about IT operations. The operations team learns about development. And both teams learn to communicate and collaborate more effectively.
  • People who move into DevOps become more well-rounded technology workers, which can expand career pathways and open doors for other opportunities.
  • DevOps professionals often get to work with cutting-edge technologies, which can make a job more interesting and help improve their resumes.
  • DevOps team members become active participants in the entire application development and delivery process. An operations professional, for example, can provide earlier input into the development effort, resulting in a product that can be deployed and maintained more easily.
  • DevOps team members can deliver higher quality software while having the ability to effect meaningful change throughout the delivery process.

5. What are common DevOps roles?

A DevOps team is made up of skilled professionals who work closely together but carry out different roles or are cross-trained to perform multiple roles. The roles might vary from one team to the next, or they might go by different names, but they can all play an important part in the DevOps effort. Some of the more common DevOps roles include the following:

  • DevOps engineer. Oversees DevOps operations and the software development lifecycle, while fostering a collaborative environment and cross-team communication.
  • Release manager. Oversees the continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline, as well as other operations associated with building and deploying applications.
  • Automation engineer. Responsible for planning and delivering automation solutions that eliminate manual, repetitive tasks and support the CI/CD pipeline.
  • Software developer. Writes and updates application code, along with unit tests and IaC instruction sets, where applicable.
  • Software tester. Ensures products meet defined QA standards and can be safely released to customers.
  • Security engineer. Focuses on application and infrastructure security, with an eye toward data integrity and compliance.
  • DevOps evangelist. Promotes an organization's DevOps initiatives and articulates its benefits, relying heavily on interpersonal communication.
  • User experience (UX) engineer. Ensures products meet UX expectations and UX goals align with test and release goals.
DevOps role comparison
Several roles are involved in the structure of a successful DevOps team.

6. What skills do I need for a career in DevOps?

A DevOps professional must be willing to break away from a traditional siloed mindset and become a generalist who embraces a broader skill set. Although each DevOps role is unique, there are several general DevOps skills that every candidate should possess, including:

  • The technical skills necessary to carry out their own roles, such as developing, testing or managing security. They should also have a broad technical understanding of the entire DevOps operation and their colleagues' roles.
  • An understanding of how DevOps technologies work and how they fit into the larger DevOps framework. This is especially important when it comes to cloud computing, virtualization, containerization, IaC and DevOps automation. They should also be familiar with multiple programming and scripting languages, as appropriate to their job roles.
  • Familiarity with the most popular DevOps tools and hands-on experience with at least some of them. They should also have intimate knowledge of any tooling and practices specific to their job roles.
  • The soft skills necessary to communicate and collaborate effectively with other stakeholders. They should be able to listen to what stakeholders have to say and empathize with their situations. In addition, DevOps practitioners should be good at problem-solving, breaking down silos and encouraging a sense of shared ownership across the DevOps team.
  • Actual hands-on experience in a technology field. Usually, the more years of experience, the better. However, there are no hard-and-fast rules about how many years or which fields. That said, DevOps positions are typically not suitable to entry-level technology workers; although, there are always exceptions.
  • Cross-training in multiple disciplines -- such as a software developer with infrastructure management experience -- typically have an advantage over other technology workers. Because DevOps is such a broad discipline, candidates might come from a variety of backgrounds, whether software development, system engineering, network operations, database administration or similar fields.
  • Willingness to learn. They must also be flexible enough to accommodate change and adopt new ways of working, and they should be willing to cross-train, if necessary, to fulfill multiple roles.

7. How do I get started in a DevOps career?

There's no single formula for how candidates get started in DevOps careers, but here are a few guidelines to help get the process started.

  • Learn as much as possible about anything DevOps-related. Candidates should read books, take courses, learn programming languages, work with containers, run virtual machines, set up test CI/CD pipelines, experiment with Cloud services, try out DevOps tools and pursue any other learning opportunities that come their way.
  • Consider getting certified in products and technologies related to DevOps whenever possible. These might include certifications from cloud providers such as AWS or Microsoft Azure or product-specific certifications such as those available for Kubernetes, Docker, Puppet, Chef and others.
  • Take advantage of current situations to develop skills to create more qualified DevOps candidates. For example, a developer might take advantage of an opportunity to learn IaC, or a QA professional might study the programming language used for the applications being tested. In addition, all candidates should look for opportunities to hone their communication and collaboration skills.
  • Review example questions for DevOps job interviews on the internet. These questions can be a good source of information for candidates trying to define their learning strategies. They can also help candidates better prepare for DevOps job interviews when they're ready to apply.
  • Actively participate in DevOps-related communities and events wherever possible. For example, candidates might join online forums, attend industry events or write guest blogs on DevOps-related technologies. Community involvement can expose candidates to the types of issues and concerns common to DevOps teams, and it can help them develop their soft skills. It might also lead to job opportunities.

DevOps is all about building cross-discipline teams, moving beyond comfort zones and prioritizing communication and collaboration over siloed thinking and behavior, which are skills that can benefit any technology worker. DevOps professionals must be open to new ideas and willing to continuously learn and improve how they approach application development and delivery. The DevOps methodology is still relatively young and continues to evolve and mature. There are no formal career paths to becoming a DevOps professional, but there are plenty of opportunities for those willing to make the necessary commitment.

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