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IT Leadership // Team Building & Staffing
Commentary
9/26/2014
03:30 PM
Nathen Harvey
Nathen Harvey
Commentary
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DevOps Talent: Grow It Internally

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

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.

[Ready for DevOps? Don't miss the workshop Achieving Operational Excellence Through DevOps at Interop New York.]

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.

Register now for Interop New York. Interact with peers, see new products and technology on the Expo floor, and dive into hands-on workshops and educational sessions taught by independent experts.

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 ... View Full Bio
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jagibbons
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jagibbons,
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9/29/2014 | 7:52:59 AM
Re: DevOps Talent
DevOps is a philosophy and a framework. It entails a significant change to business as usual inside of IT. Anything that fundamentally transforms the operation is going to require staff to grow and adapt. A consultant can provide in coming along side an internally staffed transformation team to help them navigate the waters of change. In the end, however, the internal team must own, champion and influence for the change.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
9/27/2014 | 7:49:19 AM
Re: DevOps Talent
I think you're right on the money, Nathen. After all, DevOps is not like putting in new infrastructure or new systems... the whole idea is that it's a different way of thinking, a restructuring of your processes and how your people get their jobs done. If you look at it that way, it seems almost silly that anyone would think they could buy their way into it. That being said, I like kstaron's point that that in itself doesn't necessarily mean contractors have no place in the process.

Step one is sitting down and deciding whether DevOps is right for your business and what it will mean for you. You mention automation and large-scale projects a lot, Nathen. You're right to do so - but if those don't sound like things your company needs, then maybe DevOps is not for you after all. Likewise, there's no hard rules here (in fact, that's kind of the point) - don't force your people to adopt a model that's not right for them. DevOps is foremost about lessening friction in the Dev process. Don't make the mistake of increasing it instead.
kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
9/26/2014 | 7:01:26 PM
Becoming the DevOps guy
Very good post in what to look for in bringing up a DevOps person within the organization. Although one would hope that traits like continous learning would be rampant in the IT department. If you choose to grow one internally the consulting may still a good option to get the seed of DevOp growing as fast as possible. With the severe shortage of DevOp people do you have any tips for people looking to place themselves in a position to become a DevOp guy?
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