When your company embraces a DevOps methodology, it means change is coming, and engineers are caught in the middle. Every development strategy demands an additional set of skills specific to its environment.
Let’s walk through the essential skills required of a quality DevOps engineer.
What skills are required of a DevOps engineer?
In DevOps, the top priority is to deliver high-value features in short periods of time through cross-team collaboration. As a result, a DevOps engineer needs specific interpersonal, tooling and technical skills in order to be successful. In other words, a DevOps engineer requires a mix of “soft” and “hard” skills.
If you already possess some of these, you’re in great shape. If not, this should provide a framework to help you improve and refine your existing skill set.
Communication and Collaboration Skills
DevOps brings a collaborative approach to software development, testing and deployment. It puts small teams with varying objectives together to work toward more efficient and high-quality code releases. There cannot be any barriers between the different personas, making communication skills (both verbal and written) a necessity for a successful DevOps engineer.
Engineers need to speak regularly with internal management teams involved in the DevOps process and stay familiar with the objectives, roadmap, blocking issues and other project areas. In addition, they need to effectively communicate with customers around support issues.
Communication is critical, but so too is the ability to collaborate. DevOps engineers should be team players and support their colleagues throughout sprints or software iterations. This is about more than just being a good teammate — you should also have the skills to mentor and advise team members on the best ways to deliver code, what tools to use when coding and how to test the latest features.
Familiarity and Understanding of the DevOps Tool Chain
In addition to collaboration and communication, a DevOps engineer must know how to use an assortment of complex tools that work together to support software delivery objectives.
DevOps engineers need to know how to use and understand the roles of the following types of tools:
- Version control
- Continuous Integration servers
- Configuration management
- Deployment automation
- Infrastructure Orchestration
- Monitoring and analytics
- Testing and Cloud Quality tools
- Network protocols
It is your responsibility to ensure everything plays nicely together during pre- and post-production stages. Every tool serves a purpose in the pipeline, so knowing how and when each contributes, as well as which dependencies to consider, is key to a flawless delivery chain.
Specific Programming Skills with Mature Coding Standards
DevOps engineers should apply these coding skills to either orchestrate a stable and efficient pipeline that’s automated as much as possible, or build new tools that can automate stages in the pipeline to optimize activities for the team.
More importantly, a DevOps engineer must be sound in the test automation practice. You need to first write clean code in multiple languages, and then ensure that your code perfectly integrates with the code developed by other teams — often created in different environments.
In addition, since DevOps is all about CI/CD, you must confidently manage complex automated delivery pipeline phases through Jenkins and/or other servers. This requires discipline, attention to detail and an end-to-end understanding as you automate processes or enter code changes into the pipeline.
Syncing with QA Teams
With the above in mind, DevOps engineers must be in sync with QA teams at all times. All testing activities, including automated and manual, must be known and visible to DevOps engineers to ensure the organization meets sprint goals for release dates and outcomes. The DevOps engineer should:
- Understand the testing activities that happen
- Know the history of testing throughout the CI/CD cycle
- Understand frameworks/environments that are led by QA
With this knowledge, the DevOps engineer can determine relevant steps toward deployment and optimizations, and determine if there are QA activities, tools and frameworks that can be reused for other tasks within DevOps, such as reproducing production issues, working with specific test environments and accessing platforms that are used by QA.
As mentioned earlier, DevOps engineers should know their way around test automation, which can enable them to move faster with daily deliverables, such as product monitoring and testing. For organizations that are moving toward DevOps, we recommend that the DevOps engineer collaborate closely with QA and determine what existing test automation frameworks can be leveraged elsewhere in the DevOps framework.
Moving toward DevOps does not mean a DevOps engineer should just declare ‘Automate everything!’ Manual testing will always have a role to play, even in a fast-moving CI/CD environment.
Like any other automation task, there is no possible way to automate and maintain 100% of testing activities. Hence, the DevOps engineer must leave room and have an open mind for manual and guided exploratory testing. Test automation excels at following the happy path, but exploratory testing is necessary to:
- Explore the alternative paths that customers will take
- Test scenarios that are too complex to automate
- Test scenarios that do not have sufficient ROI over time to automate
Manual testing — such as what Applause specializes in, powered by testing teams sourced from its global community — provides great added value from an exploratory view, and allows for creativity, alternate and changing flows, unexpected yet reasonable inputs and outputs, and many other factors that are more closely aligned with how a real user will interact with your product. DevOps engineers that can find the right balance between what they should automate vs. what is left for manual testing will put the products that they support in the best position for success in an increasingly demanding atmosphere.
With that in mind, it should be noted that such balance will and must evolve together with changes that are happening to the systems under tests, and the tests themselves.
Non-functional DevOps skills
Beyond “soft” skills, DevOps engineers also need to be proficient in monitoring production environments and performance measurements, as well as security and cloud administration. This helps ensure that new builds run properly in production. In many organizations, building Infrastructure as Code (IaC) enables velocity and automation. Thus, a DevOps engineer should know such technologies (or, at a larger organization that includes multiple DevOps engineers, each one must have at least passable knowledge on all areas and the ability to collaborate with those who have more complete expertise in specific areas).
Finally, DevSecOps — which integrates security practices into DevOps processes — is becoming an essential pillar within the pipeline. Since DevOps requires that code ships quickly in small chunks, DevOps engineers should take an active role in ensuring security of the delivered code continuously.
Technical Support and Maintenance Skills
Good DevOps engineers do not simply execute on the development side, but support and maintain a seamless process that includes IT operations. A DevOps engineer owns and operates the fundamental tools and environments that the entire DevOps team uses, sometimes including customer-facing capabilities. This means that a DevOps engineer should feel comfortable supporting both internal and external clients, as well as troubleshoot issues when they arise.
Additionally, a DevOps engineer show know how to ensure production systems’ uptime and availability. This means that DevOps engineers ought to have the ability to:
- Monitor the products in real time
- Get proper alerts when something is wrong or unavailable
- Help resolve problems either through online support or technical troubleshooting
Having the solution up and running 24/7 is mandatory for DevOps management, and the DevOps engineers are central to this.
DevOps relies on individuals across functions working together toward the same objective — rapid, continuous delivery of high-quality code. To succeed in this endeavor, DevOps engineers are the engine that makes the team go. They are the ones who enable practitioners through automated tools, testing, orchestration techniques and communication to efficiently satisfy their customers.
As the market continues to evolve, it is only natural for the role of the DevOps engineer to grow and absorb more responsibilities — especially from the non-functional bucket, such as security and monitoring analytics. Start by focusing on the skills and responsibilities laid out here and you will find yourself in high demand.