6 DevOps Salary Negotiation Tips

DevOps pros, take note. Interop speaker Dustin Whittle explains how to position yourself as indispensable.

Lorna Garey, Content Director, InformationWeek Reports

September 24, 2014

7 Min Read

IT Dress Code: 10 Cardinal Sins

IT Dress Code: 10 Cardinal Sins

IT Dress Code: 10 Cardinal Sins (Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

InformationWeek's new Skills Crunch Survey shows smaller companies aren't yet heavily in the hunt for people with DevOps cred, but enterprises are starting to worry. Among respondents at organizations with fewer than 1,000 employees, 52% say they haven't looked for DevOps pros. Of those who are looking, 22% say these skills are either not out there at any price (4%) or are moderately difficult to find (18%). Just 11% say the hiring is easy.

At companies with more than 1,000 employees, the outlook changes dramatically. Just 38% have not sought DevOps expertise, and 12% -- about as many respondents as in smaller shops -- say hiring is easy. Forty percent say these skills are either not out there at any price (6%) or are moderately difficult to find (34%).

That spells opportunity for those comfortable with DevOps processes. So how can you position yourself as an expert, sell the business on DevOps, and negotiate a rock star salary?

Dustin Whittle, developer evangelist at AppDynamics, will dig into the question of quantifying DevOps value in his session at Interop New York on October 2. (To join him, use the registration discount code at the end of this column.) Whittle estimates that, in a reactive model, a business could spend close to $70,000 annually just on false alarms, and that's a conservative assessment. What that translates to in lost revenue is anyone's guess.

There are your first two negotiating points:

  1. The data shows the DevOps skillset is not easy to find, and since DevOps is a cultural change, someone who already knows the internal IT and business culture is worth paying to keep.

  2. Not embracing DevOps will eventually cost the business money.

Speaking of culture, just because DevOps is not a standalone function but, ideally, part of every IT pro's day-to-day job, that doesn't mean there are not hot related techs and a growing need for people with the hard and soft skills to lead the change movement.

Andi Mann, VP, office of the CTO at CA Technologies, and Rajat Bhargava, co-founder and CEO of JumpCloud, recently debated whether companies should hire DevOps engineers or focus on baking the DevOps ethos into all operations and app dev roles, in an InformationWeek Radio show. The discussion is well worth a listen if you're looking to justify putting "DevOps Engineer" as a formal title on your résumé.

Mann offers some additional steps in getting DevOps formalized as a company goal, and yourself viewed as an asset worth paying a premium to keep:

  • Don't just preach to the DevOps choir: app dev and operations leads. Convince influential peers, your direct managers, line-of-business execs, and operational leadership including the CFO and VP of HR. Maybe even the COO or CEO. "Drop the silly in-jokes of the DevOps movement -- goats, silos, sheep, llamas, whatever," says Mann. Think about how DevOps can aid strategic IT goals like multi-platform deployment, faster app release for staff and customers, and a better end-user and customer experience. "Tailor your pitch to the scope of control that your boss -- or whomever you are trying to convince -- has, and especially show how DevOps can achieve the specific benefits that this person cares about," he says. "They have roadblocks, politics, and barriers to deal with; they also have KPIs and MBOs to meet. Help them be a hero, and you are in with a shot."

  • Don't speak IT; speak the language of business. A number of Skills Crunch survey respondents cite soft skills, including the ability to communicate and an understanding of the business, as difficult to find. Laying out a realistic plan shows you have that covered and are worth retaining. Don't talk about speeds and feeds, bug counts, commit rates, or sprint times. "And don't talk about 'fluffy' outcomes like productivity," says Mann. The CEO has heard that song and dance before. Instead, work to pull together measurable results and associated hard-dollar savings or revenue increases that justify a pay raise. For more on this topic, click over to the Specialists vs. Generalists LinkedIn group, where the likes of a senior manager at Sears Holdings Corp. and a director of engineering with Wal-Mart discuss DevOps skills.

  • Have a plan for risk mitigation, or at least acknowledge the potential downfalls of what may be a fundamental cultural shift. "The key here is not to paint a rosy picture of fluffy clouds, unicorns, and rainbows, but rather to be realistic about costs, training, staffing, lead times, organization resistance, executive mandates, politics," Mann says. This shows you're a realist and are looking out for the business, not just IT, both valuable traits.

  • Know what tools you will need and have a plan, including realistic budget numbers, to acquire these systems and learn how to use them. Otherwise, you're setting yourself up for failure. "Yes, DevOps is possible without tools -- but the right tools make it much easier to be successful, and for some organizations you will not be able to effect impactful change without them," says Mann. Respondents to the Skills Crunch survey facing a talent shortage want to retrain current employees in new skills -- it's the No. 1 coping mechanism. So don't feel you must acquire that training on your own. Make the case for educating yourself and peers; it shows initiative.

From a skills perspective, Mann says research involving 1,300 IT pros shows the most important elements of DevOps for executives and managers -- the people hiring and setting pay ranges for DevOps programs -- are IT automation, Agile development, and the ability to assemble a collaborative team, so experience in these areas would be a great start. "Learn tools like Chef, Puppet, or CA LISA, for example," he says, "Learn the craft and process of Agile programming and related efforts like Kanban, and learn how to foster and act on collaboration through process and technologies like shared monitoring or shared project planning."

It's worth reiterating DevOps' emphasis on soft skills. "Again, from our research, top skills sought out by these hiring managers are understanding of business strategy and priorities, knowledge of business processes, and communication skills," Mann says. "So, especially for internal candidates but equally for external candidates, look at the company's SEC filings, annual report, corporate presentations, and other strategy content." Determine how all that aligns with specific business processes, and figure out how DevOps could make those processes better.

"Of course, all this is very specific, mechanistic, and prescriptive, where DevOps is normally none of these things," says Mann. Still, to justify a raise, the business leaders holding the purse strings need you to tie the DevOps tao to marketable skills that drive up your value. Hiring managers want objective and measurable criteria.

Whittle boils it all down to a simple value statement: DevOps teams spend more time improving things and less time fixing things. DevOps teams recover from failures faster, and they release apps more than twice as fast. Speed, agility, and continuous improvements? Priceless.

In its ninth year, Interop New York (Sept. 29 to Oct. 3) is the premier event for the Northeast IT market. Strongly represented vertical industries include financial services, government, and education. Join more than 5,000 attendees to learn about IT leadership, cloud, collaboration, infrastructure, mobility, risk management and security, and SDN, as well as explore 125 exhibitors' offerings. Register with Discount Code MPIWK to save $200 off Total Access & Conference Passes.

About the Author(s)

Lorna Garey

Content Director, InformationWeek Reports

Lorna Garey is content director of InformationWeek digital media.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights