Explained in its simplest form, devops puts development and operations under one umbrella in an effort to stop confusion from raining down on everyone in the company. Or, to put it another way, the “devop” movement is a concentrated, purposeful effort to fuse the historical disconnection between the two departments: development and operations.
For smaller companies, the umbrella is far smaller and infinitely more intimate.
“I run a startup. Our developers are our operations personnel, too,” explains Michael Kaiser-Nyman, CEO and founder of Impact Dialing, an on-demand dialing service for outbound call centers and political campaigns.
While blending the two roles makes sense in many smaller companies, it’s not quite as simple in large enterprises. Bigger businesses encourage specialization among job roles, although at least some cross-training happens there too.
“We see many ramifications for IT in the DevOps transformation,” says Anders Wallgren, CTO of Electric Cloud, a development and test cloud company. “Some of them include that Sys Admins will be expected to better understand applications and components, and IT will be expected to better collaborate with developers.”
“It will no longer be okay for Dev and IT to be independent silos,” he adds. “IT staffing will be more closely correlated to development projects, since IT will be expected to become experts in the applications that they deliver.”
Small View of the Big Picture
One of the best ways to understand what devops means from a business and staffing perspective is to watch how it sculpts smaller businesses.
“When we face scaling and efficiency challenges, our developers look at the tradeoff between solving them with more hardware (operations) or with more efficient code (development),” explains Kaiser-Nyman. “In general, we look at the most efficient way to solve a problem at any given time: code, hardware, or people. All take part in the decision about how to solve each problem in both the immediate term and the long term.”
This is, of course, exactly what larger businesses are trying to do now that the cloud has entered the picture. Indeed, cloud services have changed everything for all businesses, big and small.
“Our computing and telephone infrastructure are provided as virtualized services by Amazon and Twilio, respectively, so for us, hardware is software and is managed by our developers,” says Kaiser-Nyman. “We use Agile development and continuous deployment, so our developers need to know how to deploy code, provision resources, and recover from failures.”
For large enterprises, the paradigm shift is eerily similar.
“Devops adds Agile qualifications to positions outside software development,” explains Duncan Johnston-Watt, CEO of Cloudsoft Corporation, a venture-backed software company headquartered in the UK. “Devops implies systems administration functions are also business driven and require short looped iterations. Accomplishing this implies more collaboration.”
Collaboration may be implied and even required. However, it is not a natural state in developer and administrator relations, which is why the devops approach was needed to begin with. To make that particular people mashup happen, some assembly is required – beginning with the rewriting of time honored job descriptions.
Besides the obvious need for blended developer and IT skill sets in new hires, the roles must also be refocused and so the new hires are mentally comfortable with breaking old job norms.
“From a IT/Sys-admin perspective, DevOps means that IT is expected to be more consultative and less execution/operational focused,” says Wallgren.
Human resources needs to recognize the change in roles and not simply recommend people for hire based on previous job history alone. Adaptability now ranks high on the “most wanted” abilities list. Generally speaking, developers have an edge since historically they view bringing change as their purpose. Conversely, operations people historically view their purpose as bringing stability, which means they tend to resist change. With devops, HR needs to look for new hires who mentally balance the drive for change with the need for stability.
Staffers who want to see more opportunity to advance or to move on to greener pastures in another organization will do well to get some devop experience as quickly as possible.
“It's an approach that can lead to faster delivery of better applications, so people with experience and skills in the devops paradigm should be attractive to CIOs and IT managers,” says Raj Sabhlok, president of ManageEngine, a provider of enterprise IT management solutions for desktop, network, server, and applications.
Job Changes Across the Staffing Spectrum
But changes brought about by devops do not stop at the door of the IT department. Instead, they affect nearly every role in the enterprise to some degree, which entails hiring highly adaptable people for other positions as well.
“IT will see less risk in deploying applications and operations itself becomes more iterative, where IT will deliver many smaller changes instead of few larger and more risky changes,” explains Wallgren. “End users will see faster application delivery: smaller changes delivered quickly and with higher quality than before.”
Faster delivery of change means a greater need for change management and an entire employee roster of people adept at handling rapid and continuous changes.
Indeed, continuous deployments adoption is a critical aspect to the success of devop efforts. “We are seeing customers increasingly develop and deploy software on a continuous basis. This is primarily driven by the adoption of Agile and the need to push out production software faster,” says Wallgren.
“We also see customers demand more support for resource automation. Every application release requires provisioning and de-provisioning of resources.
Increased adoption of cloud means more resources are being used in the dev/operations process,” he adds.
Even devops tools and processes are subject to condensing, constant change, and continuous deployments. One example is Ubuntu’s recent release of 11.10 which has been dubbed “Devops Distilled.”
Bottom line: devop adoption is all about condensing job functions and roles. Its natural side effect is to condense specialties rather than to narrow them. The more versatile and Agile employee will profit in the end, regardless of the job title she holds.