10 devops tips for IT pros: How to have a successful career in devops

Computerworld UK reveals top devops tips for IT professionals


Devops is often regarded as a cultural shift within an organisation, rather than relating to a specific of tools or hard skills. For a more detailed definition see: What is devops?

But as the methodology becomes more widely accepted, there is growing interest in how IT professionals can adapt to the trend.

So, how do you start building your knowledge expertise around devops practices? Computerworld UK has compiled a list of devops tips for IT pros from a range of industry experts.

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10 devops tips for IT pros: Incorporate devops thinking into your current role

Being in an established IT profession shouldn't stop you from starting a career in devops, or at least incorporating it into your working life. 

"If you're already an IT professional, I think it doesn't necessarily have to be a giant career change like 'I'm no longer going to be this part of IT'. I think it's something you can get into more and more because devops allows so many different aspects of IT to go smoother," says open-source and devops expert at CBT Nuggets, Shawn Powers.

"If you're a programmer, it means that you can more easily deploy applications. If you're a system administrator, maybe you can manage configuration files easier. I think if you're trying to get into devops and you're already an IT professional, the thing to do is to start using devops. It can be in whatever position you're in. You can probably find a way to take advantage of devops in your job."

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10 devops tips for IT pros: Keep up with new technologies

While devops shouldn’t focus purely on the technical side, it’s important to keep on top of upcoming languages and software to future-proof your IT team.

"Be willing to change. It's really important to keep up on new technologies." says CBT Nuggets' Shawn Powers.

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10 devops tips for IT pros: Gain experience with configuration management tools such as Puppet, Chef or equivalent

Puppet and Chef are perhaps the mostly widely deployed configuration management tools, while Ansible and Bcfg2 are still in use by many.

Puppet is an open source management tool that runs on multi-user operating systems and uses a declarative language (a type of building components of computer programmes).

President at Dice.com Shravan Goli said that interest in Puppet skills is booming: "In the last two years, we have seen a threefold increase in demand for Puppet professionals," Goli said.

A new version of Puppet is now available (version four) so keeping up-to-date with the latest technology is important.

"Puppet itself recently went from version three to version four and a lot of things changed. A lot of program locations and terminology changed, and that was one of the reasons that doing it now, Puppet's been around for a long time, made a lot of sense because it can be confusing starting out. Most of the online instructions tend to be for older versions of Puppet which are close to correct but not quite correct," says Shawn Powers.

Chef (also open source), while similar, runs Ruby - a programming language that scripts object-orientated (OOP) and reflective code.

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10 devops tips for IT pros: Automation is key

Automation brings about consistency and this is an integral part of a successful devops strategy.

"Automation is a key aspect of a number of devops practices," says Liam Kelly, Microsoft UK. "There are a number of tools such as PowerShell that can be used to enable consistency; IT pros need to refine their skills to enable them to adopt key devops practices such as infrastructure as code, automated testing and continuous delivery."

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10 devops tips for IT pros: Gain experience with cloud and virtualisation

Experience with cloud and virtualisation companies such as VMware is also important.

"I would recommend making the most of virtualised environments to ensure development teams are working in an environment that is aligned with the production environment." says general manager, developer experience, Microsoft UK Liam Kelly.

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10 devops tips for IT pros: Understand the Linux operating system

The use of open source tools across many organisations means that a knowledge of Linux in particular is often vital in a devops environment.

"If you're an operations person (system administrator), you should have skills that pertain to that specialty (Linux, Windows, networking)," says Shawn Powers.

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10 devops tips for IT pros: Keep coding

On the development side of devops, coding skills and proficiency in one or more languages will put you in good stead for a successful devops career.

"For anyone interested in devops, I’d recommend, first and foremost, to keep coding (or start learning how to), as some level, for as long as possible." says VP of EMEA for Chef Software, Joe Pynadath.

The ability to script in Bash, Perl, Python or Ruby will be advantageous for devops along with database management languages such as SQL and MySQL.

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10 devops tips for IT pros: Communication is very important

However, IT pros shouldn't just focus on the technical skills required. A huge part - and for some the most important part - of a successful devops strategy is collaborative, project management skills.

"If there's a skillset specific to a successful devops implementation, it would honestly be one that's not IT specific at all. Namely, communication. Soft skills are crucial for any IT team, especially one blurring the responsibility roles by utilising devops tools," says CBT Nuggets' Shawn Powers.

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10 devops tips for IT pros: Be clear on the devops role you want

Like any career, there will be parts you're naturally better at and areas you'll ultimately lead towards. As devops is encapsulates a working environment and culture, creating the role you want from devops is key.

"You also need to be clear on what sort of role you’d like, and why. For example, do you want to code, or are you keen on management? What is it that gets you excited?," says Joe Pynadath VP EMEA at Chef Software.

"Is it deep technical discussions, architecture, and thinking about and then solving tough problems? Then perhaps you should look for more technical role. Or do you prefer empowering others to grow and learn, in which case the management side might be best."

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10 devops tips for IT pros: Start small

Implementing devops doesn't have to be a huge transition, the devops culture can be added bit by bit so there is room to learn its best practices slowly.

"One of the great things about devops is, though, you can implement it in a small way and it doesn't make everything else in your environment worthless," says CBT Nuggets' Shawn Powers. 

"You can just take little bites off of your traditional manual management system with devops tools like puppet as you get more familiar with it a little bit more, and eventually a lot of your systems will be automated, but it doesn't have to be, and I would it shouldn't be, an all at once process." 

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