What’s in a name: The etymology of DevOps

Oftentimes the words we use every day have a very different meaning from the origin of the word.

That device most of us carry around in our pocket or purse all the time is still called a “phone.” Phone, of course is evolved from telephone, which combines the prefix “tele-“—meaning over long distance—with “phone”, which means voice or sounds.

Yes, your phone can still transmit voice or sound over long distances—but that’s no longer the device’s primary function. In fact, conversations make up only 22% of the time spent on our phones today.

If the smartphone arrived on the scene fully evolved, without any predecessors, we may use different a term for it.

Which brings us to the term DevOps. The name DevOps is essentially a contraction of the terms development and operations, and the only reason we needed a word for this to begin with is the fact that traditionally these organizations did not work well together, as the “classic” DevOps meme below pokes fun at.

worked fine in dev, ops problem now

What if development and operations teams had worked in sync since the dawn of software? Would we need the term DevOps? A recent article argued a similar idea, but from the opposite perspective:

“…if the DevOps culture is embraced, then doesn’t each engineer take more individual responsibility for the integration, test and deployment of the code that they themselves are working on?

Doesn’t this, arguably, theoretically, lead to the death of DevOps?

In essence, once DevOps is fully implemented, it stops being something we need a name for; it just becomes the way good software is developed, tested, released and operated.

To draw a parallel, in automobile racing successful teams rely on constant communication and collaboration between the driver (that word again!) and the mechanics and pit crew. The drivers—and now the cars themselves—provide a barrage of data in real time to the pit crew, who can then make adjustments to everything from tire pressure to the car’s aerodynamics.

This constant feedback loop and subsequent improvements sounds a lot like the ideal DevOps implementation. However, (as far as I know) there was a never a term like RaceMech or DriverPit to describe this—it’s just how successful teams evolved.

Whether the term DevOps is here to stay or not, I think we can all agree its fundamental objectives are something that we should all strive for: establishing constant feedback loops between dev and ops so that software can be delivered faster, and at higher quality—with lower costs. And if you want to get started, a good place to start would be the book DevOps for Digital Leaders, available as a free download.


Brendan is director of solutions marketing at CA and is responsible for advocating topics such…

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