Automation and web-scale operations will flourish with home-grown DevOps talent. Here’s how to nurture your organization’s expertise.

Nathen Harvey, Vice President of Community Development, Chef

September 26, 2014

3 Min Read

Businesses exist in a world of instant customer feedback on applications and services. Responding quickly to that feedback with fixes or features requires new levels of internal collaboration and automation.

Enhanced collaboration and automation means faster deployment, which makes it easier for companies to innovate, test new ideas, and better serve customers. But this requires a new kind of talent: DevOps ambassadors who can carry the banner for and apply these changes internally.

When seeking new talent, companies often hire consultants to help transform their enterprises and save the day. Businesses expect these consultants to work magic and assume their internal staffs will be able to roll out and subsequently manage changes after the high-cost, short-term consulting engagement ends.

But when it comes to DevOps, this consultant model is flawed. Consulting can actually do companies a disservice, because those who are forced to work on projects after experts depart are left holding a bag of new tools, but they may not understand the best ways to use them, or how to integrate them into the way the organization gets things done.

Even worse, with a consultant gone, there may be no one in-house with the leverage or will to implement new processes.

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Hiring DevOps talent is an option, but it may be harder than it sounds. Businesses are searching high and low for DevOps experts -- for instance, a recent LinkedIn search yields more than 1,600 DevOps positions open in the US. This scarcity means potential employees will be hard to find and expensive. Businesses are losing time, money, and enthusiasm as days pass and roles aren't filled.

The most productive, self-sustaining approach is to grow talent internally. DevOps is an iterative process of evolution and a cultural shift. Stakeholders must be in the trenches from the start -- learning, tuning, and feeling invested in building the movement from within.

These stakeholders will serve as ambassadors for the movement, sharing successes early on to pull other stakeholders across the DevOps chasm.

Sowing DevOps seeds
Organizations must be selective about whom they put on the front line of the DevOps movement. First, team members should have some experience with operations. They should be familiar with the tasks, tools, and workflows that support applications and services. This will allow them to identify areas that are ripe for automation.

Team members should also be natural department straddlers -- those people who can communicate with IT and developer communities as well as with lines of business. They should be experienced collaborators with a track record of working across traditional IT silos.

Zeroing in on these folks is important, because it also brings other departments along the DevOps journey.

Team members should also be prepared to specialize in automation. Automation is the only way businesses will realize web-scale objectives, so team members should understand they will build their roles and responsibilities internally around this function.

While collaboration and automation are the primary requirements, these team members will also require an appetite for continuous learning and improvement. No IT professional can be comfortable that her current skill set will suffice for the remainder of her career.

And there's always room for improvement in the building, delivery, and operations of any application.

Aside from the talent issue, embracing DevOps also means changing the way the organization thinks about IT. It requires a shift away from IT as a firefighting team to one that delivers value to the business and its customers.

To jumpstart a DevOps program, you'll need to pull a cross-functional team of DevOps ambassadors away from fighting fires and give them a special project: the company's first automation project.

Internal support for automation and an appetite for a web-scale IT infrastructure should grow as this team demonstrates early successes and shares these outcomes with the organization as a whole.

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About the Author(s)

Nathen Harvey

Vice President of Community Development, Chef

As Vice President of Community Development at Chef, Nathen helps the community whip up an awesome ecosystem built around the Chef framework. He also spends much of his time helping people learn about the practices, processes, and technologies that support DevOps, Continuous Delivery, and web-scale IT. Prior to joining Chef, Nathen spent a number of years managing operations and infrastructure for a number of web applications. He is a co-host of the Food Fight Show, a podcast about Chef and DevOps. Working with, and as a part of, the Chef community, he has been spreading the word about DevOps for quite a while.

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