20 years ago, the term “DevOps engineer” was unheard of.
Today, DevOps engineers are the glue that keeps IT departments together — enabling them to deliver projects more quickly and more efficiently.
That growth shows in the money. While the DevOps market was only valued at $4 billion in 2019, it’s expected to grow to $17 billion by 2026. Naturally, the demand for DevOps engineers is increasing quickly worldwide.
If you’ve ever wanted to know what a DevOps engineer does, this is the article for you.
Read on, and you’ll learn everything you need to know to become a DevOps engineer, including what skills you need, your responsibilities as a DevOps engineer, and what you can expect to earn in your new role.
Let’s dive in!
What Is DevOps?
DevOps is a collection of practices, tools, and approaches to managing software development and IT projects.
The term “DevOps” comes from the words “development” and “operations.” Patrick Debois initially named DevOps for the 2009 conference DevOps Days. At DevOps Days, Debois presented DevOps as an alternative approach that helped developer’s deliver projects faster through careful management and continuous delivery.
Following the conference, DevOps started to grow in popularity worldwide. In 2013, DevOps was featured in ‘The Phoenix Project‘ (written by George Spafford, Kevin Behr, and Gene Kim). IT manager Bill uses DevOps to complete a major project in 90 days in the book.
What Is a DevOps Engineer?
A DevOps engineer is an IT professional who works with software developers, IT operations personnel, system users, and management to optimize the rollout of new updates and programs.
DevOps engineers are essentially the backbone of their IT departments — creating integrated, user-friendly systems quickly.
Benefits of Hiring a DevOps Engineer
There are many benefits to hiring a DevOps expert as they can:
- Help a business integrate its IT systems better, making it more user-friendly
- Help developers release system projects quicker by streamlining the development process
- Implement DevOps tools that help developers improve the quality of their work
- Automate repetitive internal processes
- Help design cyber-secure systems
- Implement DevOps practices like Continuous Integration / Continuous Delivery (CI/CD)
Research from Atlassian’s 2020 DevOps Trends report also shows that:
- 61% of surveyed businesses that implemented DevOps believe it helped produce “higher-quality deliverables”
- 49% of surveyed firms that implemented DevOps believe it improved deployment frequency
- 99% of surveyed companies believe DevOps “had a positive impact on their organization”
What Does a DevOps Engineer do?
To understand what a DevOps engineer does, you need to understand the Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC).
The SDLC includes six phases of development, including:
- Planning: When developers outline the project’s scope and requirements
- Analysis: When developers research and analyze the requirements to implement them into the system
- Design: When developers design the architecture of the project
- Implementation: When developers build the system
- Testing: When developers test the system’s code and resolve errors
- Deployment and maintenance: When developers release the system and perform maintenance to keep it running smoothly
There are several approaches to the SDLC, including the Waterfall and Agile methodologies. In the Waterfall methodology, people work through the SDLC from planning to deployment and maintenance sequentially. In the Agile method, people work through the SDLC continuously.
The Waterfall and Agile approaches look like this:
DevOps is partially built on the Agile approach to development. Specifically, DevOps engineers implement a version of the SDLC known as the DevOps Life Cycle. Like the Agile approach, the DevOps LifeCycle loops around and repeats itself continuously through these stages:
- Continuous feedback
- Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment
The DevOps LifeCycle looks like this:
DevOps Engineers also operate on Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) principles.
Continuous Integration is the practice of continuously adding code changes into your code repository (essentially compiling code as you write it). Continuous Delivery is the practice of automatically and consistently preparing code changes for deployment (pushing new features, bug fixes, and updates to users continuously, rather than in one big update).
What Are the Responsibilities of a DevOps Engineer?
The day-to-day work life of every DevOps engineer is different, as each developer works on unique projects for companies with varied DevOps approaches. However, there are some key responsibilities that most DevOps engineers share. These include:
DevOps engineers often oversee and manage multiple IT projects simultaneously. In practice, this means they schedule and run meetings, set deadlines, check in with team members, delegate work, assess work, coach teammates, and advise on project decisions.
DevOps engineers also liaise with users, management, and developers when designing a system.
Managing System Security
DevOps engineers optimize their business’s IT infrastructure’s security by designing cyber-secure systems, updates, and practices. While all DevOps engineers consider security in their daily work, some DevOps engineers (called SecDevOps engineers) focus on system security full-time.
Improving IT Infrastructure
DevOps engineers look for weak spots in IT infrastructure and work to improve them. Specifically, they create solutions to help developers work quicker, spot program flaws, or design updates around user feedback.
As DevOps engineers focus on a CI/CD approach, they consistently make minor improvements to IT infrastructure.
Automating Repetitive Tasks
DevOps engineers reduce the repetitive tasks needed to bring a new system or update to life. For example, a DevOps engineer may design a software plugin to help developers code faster and with fewer mistakes.
It’s important to note that DevOps engineers aren’t trying to automate developers out of a job. They are simply working to improve the developer’s efficiency by implementing easier and faster development solutions.
Performance Benchmarking and Testing
DevOps engineers track the day-to-day running of IT infrastructure through benchmark testing. Benchmark testing helps them identify areas of inefficiency in the system and mitigate potential issues before they arise.
The benchmark tests each DevOps engineer uses are organization and project-dependent, though they usually use tests that adhere to the seven benchmarking principles.
Optimizing Release Cycles
DevOps engineers optimize the system release cycle by reducing the time and resources needed for projects or updates. There are many ways DevOps engineers improve the release cycle, including removing time drains, prioritizing critical components of each release, or introducing new software and tools.
Monitoring and Reporting Errors
Finally, DevOps engineers constantly track software and systems to help resolve system errors quickly. DevOps engineers are specifically concerned with reducing the length of time between when the error is detected (i.e., the Time to Detect or TTD) and fixed (i.e., the Time to Minimize or TTM). While some DevOps engineers resolve system errors manually, others leave this to the full-stack developers.
What Skills Do You Need to Be a DevOps Engineer?
As DevOps engineers have diverse responsibilities at work, you’ll need many different skills to become one. This section will outline some of these critical skills.
Experience With Automation Tools
First, you’ll need to know how to use automation tools. Automation tools allow you to outsource repetitive functions to automation programs. Two of these automation programs include:
Atlassian Bamboo is an integration and CI tool that allows developers to automate the building and deployment process. It is an open-source program that works with all programming languages, offering pre-builds, code testing, reporting tools, and deployment tools. This tool also integrates with other programs like Jira, BitBucket, and Git (among others). Atlassian is available in free and paid versions depending on your team size and requirements.
Jenkins is a free automation server that helps developers automate system building deploying through plugins. Jenkins offers over 1,800 community-contributed plugins and is open-source (so you can develop and use your custom plugins). Jenkins also integrates with tools like Git.
Experience With Version Control Systems
As a DevOps engineer, you’ll also need to become familiar with Version Control Systems (VCS). These tools help developers, and DevOps engineers track updates to their source code repository. They also resolve conflicts when multiple people add code at once.
If you come from a software developer background, you’ll already know how to use popular VCS tools like Git. Git is a free and open-source tool that integrates with repository hosting tools like GitHub and BitBucket.
Experience With Repository Hosting Tools
As part of the development team, you’ll know how to use repository hosting tools as a DevOps engineer. As the name suggests, repository hosting tools host code securely in the cloud. These tools also give developers access to pre-written code to speed up the software development process.
You’ll need to be familiar with three crucial hosting tools as a DevOps engineer. These include:
GitHub is a cloud-based hosting service used by 65+ million developers, 3+ million organizations, and 72% of the world’s Fortune 500 companies. GitHub has been around since 2008 and offers free and paid versions. Microsoft currently owns GitHub.
GitLab is a GitHub alternative with DevOps features like continuous integration, security, and project management tools. GitLab offers both free and paid plans and integrates with Git. Despite their similar names, there’s no affiliation between GitLab and GitHub.
BitBucket is a hosting service designed specifically for development teams. It integrates with Git and project management tools like Jira and Trello. If you have five users or fewer, you can use BitBucket through its free plan.
Experience With Configuration Management Tools
As a DevOps engineer, you’ll also need to be familiar with configuration management tools. These tools help IT professionals consistently configure the different system or network elements. They also help developers reduce the time to deploy a new system.
There are two popular configuration management tools DevOps engineers use. These include:
Puppet pre-dates DevOps as Puppet Labs Limited first released it in 2005. Despite its age, Puppet is still one of the best configuration management tools today, as it allows developers to set the desired state for their system. Puppet then configures the system into the state automatically.
Chef is another open-source configuration management tool. Chef is built around the “Chef Server,” which acts as its operations center. The Chef Server oversees and manages the Chef Workstations and Chef Nodes on the network. Like Puppet, Chef allows developers to set the desired state for their system in the form of a “Cookbook.” Facebook, IBM, and Rakuten all use Chef.
Experience With Monitoring Software
As monitoring is a crucial component of a DevOps engineer’s job, DevOps engineers need to be familiar with monitoring software. Monitoring software allows you to watch infrastructure for any potential issues.
While every organization has its approach to monitoring, you may use monitoring tools like:
Nagios is an older, open-source DevOps tool released in 2002. Nagios watches your infrastructure in the background and alerts you if it suspects there’s an issue. Over 9,000 customers currently use Nagios for server and application monitoring.
Raygun is a real-time monitoring service for web and mobile apps. Raygun tracks deployments, customer experience, errors and crashes, and how users interact with the system. Brands like Coca-Cola, Target, Microsoft, and Avis all use Raygun.
As DevOps engineers are a crucial part of the development process, you’ll need to be familiar with some of the most common scripting and programming languages to succeed in your role.
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A programming language uses a compiler to convert code into machine code. Two of the most popular programming languages are C++ and C.
Expertise in Containerization Tools
DevOps engineers in many organizations work with containerization tools. Containerization tools help developers package code and deploy it in small containers. Deploying code with containerization allows systems to run faster and more effectively between different environments.
To become a successful DevOps engineer, you should learn the basics of containerization tools like:
Docker is a Platform-as-a-service tool that allows developers to build, package and deploy code via containers. Docker integrates with GitHub and powers DevKinsta.
Kubernetes (also known as ‘K8s’) is an open-source system for deployment and management that uses containerization. Kubernetes offers automatic rollouts, configuration management, automated container packing, batch execution, and load balancing (among other features).
Experience With Project Management Tools
As DevOps engineers manage and oversee development projects, you need to know project development tools before becoming a DevOps engineer. Project management tools help people track projects using Gantt charts, checklists, and card-based filing systems.
Three of the most popular project management tools for DevOps include:
- Trello: Trello is a board-based project management tool. With Trello, you can create boards with a series of lists. Then, you move cards between these lists. Trello is a collaborative tool, meaning multiple people can edit each board. People often compare Trello to Asana.
- Atlassian Jira: Jira is a project management tool designed specifically for IT teams using an Agile or DevOps approach. Jira allows you to track each task required with cards and boards for the project. Jira is also a collaboration tool that hosts multiple users simultaneously.
- Atlassian Confluence: Atlassian Confluence is a workspace tool that allows small teams to share work and manage projects through a calendar or timeline. Some teams use Jira and Confluence together.
Experience With Public Cloud Services
As DevOps engineers frequently work with cloud-based projects, you’ll need to be familiar with cloud-based services to succeed in your new role. Public cloud services are computing services that allow organizations to share networks, storage, and hardware. When organizations use public cloud services, they access their infrastructure through the internet.
Three of the most popular public cloud services include:
- Microsoft Azure
- Google Cloud
- Amazon Web Services (AWS)
As DevOps developers need to work with system users, you’ll need strong customer service skills to succeed in DevOps. Specifically, you’ll need excellent active listening skills, good communication skills, conflict resolution skills, and a knack for understanding users’ needs.
Collaborative Management Skills
As DevOps engineers often work in small teams, you’ll need strong teamwork skills. Specifically, you’ll need to be great at giving constructive feedback, accepting feedback, brainstorming in a group, and working towards a common goal.
WordPress Development Skills
As WordPress powers 40% of all websites, you may need strong WordPress development skills to be part of a WordPress DevOps team. Specifically, you’ll need to learn how WordPress works and use hosting tools like DevKinsta.
DevKinsta is a free development tool people use to create, develop, and test WordPress websites. DevKinsta offers database management, in-built email testing, WordPress error logging, and simple deployment. Over 10,000 professionals currently use DevKinsta.
DevOps Engineer Salary
Although DevOps engineering is still developing, most DevOps engineers earn an excellent salary.
As of June 28, 2021, the average DevOps engineer salary in the United States was $118,872. This means that most full-time DevOps engineers earn between $107,023 and $132,217. The variation in this range accounts for education, professional experience, skills, responsibilities, location, and the company. If your employer pays you overtime, bonuses, or benefits, your salary might be outside this range.
As DevOps is still new, it’s worth noting that the average DevOps salary is different on some websites. For example, Indeed reports that the average DevOps salary is $121,035 in the U.S. (as of July 13, 2021).
What to Look For When Hiring a DevOps Engineer
So far, this article has focused on people who want to become DevOps engineers. But what about employers? If you’re going to hire a DevOps engineer, some essential skills and attributes set great DevOps engineers apart.
These include the following.
- Knowledge in scripting and programming languages
- An understanding of the Agile methodology and the SDLC
- An understanding of concepts like containerization and automation
- Expertise in cybersecurity
- Experience with version control systems, repository hosting tools, configuration management tools, containerization tools, and automation tools
- Experience monitoring, planning, and designing development projects
If a potential developer has experience with the following tools, they may also have the skills to be a great DevOps engineer:
- Atlassian Jira
- Atlassian Confluence
- Experience managing a project, including running meetings, setting deadlines, and delegating work
- Excellent teamwork and collaboration skills
- Good creative problem-solving skills
- The ability to accept feedback and adjust work accordingly
- Great active listening skills
- Experience working with users and in diverse teams where people have vastly different skill-sets
Backgrounds Suited to DevOps Jobs
As DevOps is a new field, many DevOps engineers transition into DevOps from other roles. If the person you are considering has a background in software development, hardware management, general IT management, or system administration, they’ll have transferable skills suitable for a DevOps engineering job.
A candidate may also make a great DevOps engineer if they have a bachelor’s degree or higher in one of these fields:
- Computer Science
- Information Technology
- Information Systems
- Software Engineering
- Systems Engineering
While DevOps is still developing, DevOps engineers are becoming increasingly important in businesses with extensive (yet critical) IT systems.
A successful DevOps engineer is worth their weight in gold, as they can oversee IT projects, optimize the performance of other teams, and speed up the development lifecycle.
Suppose you want to become an excellent DevOps professional. In that case, you should build your DevOps knowledge and familiarize yourself with popular public cloud services, virtualization technologies, project management tools, configuration management tools, automation tools, and coding-adjacent tools. You’ll also need to develop strong collaboration, listening, and project management skills.
What do you think of the DevOps approach? Tell us in the comments below.
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