Practitioners say DevOps is all about collaboration and communication, so we asked several experts to give us a step-by-step plan for ushering in the “Age of DevOps” across an organization. Here’s what they recommend:
Step 1: Create a Collaborative Culture First
A development method that prioritizes collaboration requires an organization that values collaboration in the first place. Sound obvious? Not so for many companies, says Dave Zwieback, vice president of engineering at music analytics company Next Big Sound and author of the eBook “DevOps Hiring.” He points to the example of a chief technology officer at a global bank who approached him a few years ago about a DevOps leadership role. The CTO showed Zwieback the company’s organizational structure: all silos. Zwieback asked the CTO, hypothetically, what would happen if the company tried to merge even two of the separate groups. The executive reacted defensively.
Zwieback knew that the DevOps title would be pointless if there was no interest in shaking up the org chart to encourage sharing across departments. He turned down the job. “There has to be willingness to try things differently," he says.
Compare that with the healthcare company cited by analyst Stephen Elliot of the market research firm IDC. Before bringing in a new software development method, managers evaluated the company culture to determine what would and wouldn’t be compatible with DevOps. The non-compatible elements—like a hyper-competitive environment—were changed in a process that included input from employees. The result? Fewer error rates when deploying new code and higher satisfaction metrics from customer reports, according to Elliot.
Step 2: Hire Smart
Once the company culture is on track, the next step is to bring on the talent. But in a hot IT job market, you don’t simply post a classified on a career board calling for DevOps experience. Instead, look for a technology generalist. “DevOps people can work in a particular group, but they aren’t super specialists,” Zwieback says. In fact, he says, some of the best DevOps people have non-linear career paths that arm them with a multitude of skills like system administration, project management and coding experience.
Rona Borre, CEO of recruiting firm Instant Alliance, often suggests to her clients to look internally to fill DevOps roles. “Internal talent is great for retention and it’s a better overall investment," says Borre. She says to look for a manager with a quality assurance (QA) background or Java Suite experience, someone who can understand both the technological and human sides of DevOps. In fact, says Borre, soft skills like empathy and communication may actually be more important than technical experience because DevOps’ focus is on collaboration.
If you take the internal hiring approach, don’t do what (yet another) bank did according to Elliot and re-interview your entire IT department looking for potential DevOps talent. The bank employees thought their current jobs were being threatened and left the department in droves. Those who stayed on reported higher job dissatisfaction.
Step 3: Start Small, Think Big
Though one of the goals of DevOps is a speedier development process, companies shouldn’t rush into implementation until they’re good and ready. And when they are, small steps can reap big results.
Elliot says one auto company began its transition by focusing solely on its testing team. The goal: move from manual to automated testing of its software platforms using DevOps-approved strategies. It wasn’t an easy task. The group had to rethink most of its communication protocols, says Elliot, and deal with internal politics galore.
But in the end, it was worth it: the team increased the speed of its testing process and significantly reduced the frequency with which errors appeared in code. The company is now implementing DevOps across other groups and projects, says Elliot, and asking the testing team to share its best practices.
Zwieback says companies must understand that there’s no finish line with DevOps, just as there’s no perfect line of code. “It’s a continuum, a process that takes many years,” he says. But Zwieback says it’s worth it: The primary competitive advantage of DevOps isn’t new software tools, but rather a synergistic culture that can foster innovation far into the future.