Why leading DevOps may get you a promotion

Being part of the movement to DevOps will help elevate your standing in the organization.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Is leading or engaging in DevOps a career booster?

Photo: HubSpot

Gene Kim, author of The Phoenix Project and leading DevOps proponent, seems to think so. In a recent interview with TechBeacon's Mike Perrow, Kim notes that of "the nearly 100 speakers at DevOps Enterprise Summits over the last two years, about one in three have been promoted."

Kim suggests that the reason these individuals have been promoted is because they "have created something of incredible value" to their organizations, and this has been noticed. There's an acknowledgement that this value extends well beyond the confines of IT departments. Business leaders may be saying to DevOps practitioners: "We want you to make a bigger contribution, not just work on your area, but help elevate the entire organization."

DevOps is the process of keeping developers, with their creativity and chaotic schedules, in sync with the operations teams that need to keep a regular and predictable cadence of software releases.

The ultimate goal of enterprise DevOps efforts is to function and deliver software just as quickly as the big Web companies -- the Googles, Amazons, or Netflixes, Kim states. These high-performing enterprises deliver technology solutions 200 times faster than the norm, moving solutions into production environments "it in minutes or hours" -- not the weeks, months or quarters typically required by large corporations.

There is a recognition, in terms of financial compensation, that DevOps makes a positive difference. A salary survey conducted last year for Puppet finds the typical DevOps leader or engineer in North America makes in the range of $75,000 to $125,000 a year. DevOps salaries are only surpassed by those of architects, the Puppet survey also finds.

So how does one go about shifting his or her career in the DevOps direction? It should be noted that DevOps is not easy or for the faint of heart. It requires fine-tuned management skills in combination with technical know-how. Most practitioners are referred to as DevOps "engineers," indicating there's a precision-mindedness required in this area.

Still, there aren't many formal programs or career tracks for DevOps leaders -- most have learned by the seat of their pants. Developers learn by mingling with members of operations teams, and vice-versa.

For starters, it helps to get a sense of where your organization stands in terms of DevOps. It is forward-looking in this regard? In a Quora post, Jonathan Fenocchi, DevOps engineer at Bazaarvoice, suggests that a good place to start is to simply let your manager know you want to move in this direction, or be part of the team building DevOps processes. If the manager seems nonplussed, or stonewalls or obfuscates, then you may not be working a culture that is ready for DevOps. Fenocchi advises looking elsewhere, noting that the job-search and interviewing process itself will provide an education in what is sought by DevOps-savvy companies.

Learning open-source platforms also goes a long way in developing DevOps knowledge. "Look at any of the open source projects Netflix has written for examples/ideas," Fenocchi advises. "Learn OpenStack. You can do this on your own time and budget. It's not important whether OpenStack sucks compared to Rackspace Cloud. What's important is that you understand all of the various components and why they are important."

Philip Reynolds, director of engineering at Workday, suggests diving in and simply working with various target platforms. Developers should "start learning how to install and administer Linux boxes," he advises. "Pick your favorite distribution. Set up your own web servers, DNS servers, email servers and run them on the internet." Get your hands dirty in networking, monitoring, package management, and database management systems as well, he advises. Operations managers need to various languages, he adds.

If it sounds like a lot of learning required, it is. There is a common thread evident in the advice of these DevOps proponents: DevOps managers, practitioners or engineers are essentially renaissance technologists, understanding and making something new out of the span of skills in today's organizations. DevOps requires a new way of thinking. And considerable commitment and desire to make this the new course of your career.

"Make it your passion. Build your craft," says Reynolds. By building your renaissance technologist portfolio, he adds, "you have more of a foundation of knowledge than 90 percent of the folks out there practicing DevOps and you have a fantastic base to build from."

(Disclosure: I have performed work in the past 12 months for Workday, mentioned in this post.)

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