5 DevOps Skills for IT Operations Pros

IT and development roles have been in a continual state of flux over the past several years. CIOs and IT managers must immerse themselves in the business while staying on top of the latest cloud and software architectures, all to gain a marketplace and cost advantage. DevOps principles have taken a stronghold in IT organizations, as following them is the best way to develop reliable, innovative, and flexible applications and customer experiences. Developers need to release code much faster and work closely with testers and business analysts.

So where does that leave IT operations? Too often, these trends are bypassing them. In large companies, when a major issue happens, we still have war rooms of IT administrators and security engineers scanning endless dashboards and metrics to determine how to get an application or website back up and running. But that takes too long and isn’t a great use of anyone’s time.

So IT operations people need to evolve, as well. CIOs are expecting new skills from them, with DevOps a major theme. In a recent survey by OpsRamp, 64 percent of IT leaders said they value DevOps skills in IT operations. When looking for the next role, consider the following truths:

  • Many companies are now software companies as much as they are product or service companies.
  • Customers and employees expect world-class functionality and performance from business applications, like they get from consumer applications.
  • Waiting a few months for the next patch or high-demand update is no longer acceptable. These delays affect productivity and present unnecessary risks to revenue and customer loyalty.

This is why IT operations professionals can learn a lot from DevOps when considering how to update their skillsets for the next job or promotion.

DevOps Skills and Qualities to Help You Succeed:

Fanatical Customer Focus

Traditionally, the development team has been the customer of the IT organization. Developers request a server with certain specs to deploy their app, and IT has responded by saying that the requirements are too lofty. Eventually, the two parties meet somewhere in-between to design the application environment. Modern DevOps requires a fundamental shift in thinking, with user experience at the heart of everything.

Instead of worrying about provisioning servers and production environments, everybody needs to up-level their thinking and always work toward the required customer experience. That means understanding who these customers are, what motivates them, and their challenges. IT ops will have to get out of the back rooms and meet with business people to attain that view.

Bigger Business Context

Think bigger. IT metrics now need to align with business services such as marketing campaigns. IT operations needs to understand the top priorities in each business function, which are the related business services, and how IT infrastructure supports those activities. Then, when problems go wrong, they can prioritize what’s most important to the business at that moment. These are conversations that IT should have with the CXO suite regularly.

Furthermore, having those operational-business connections mapped out, with a firm grasp on operational data analytics, means that it’s easier to find the source of the business/user problem faster. Business service visibility is the name of the game. IT operations people should take time to understand the new analytics and how to measure and manage the environment at this higher level.

Expanded Monitoring to the CI/CD Toolset

Monitoring in DevOps fulfills a different purpose than that in traditional IT. Instead of just monitoring the performance of underlying servers and network infrastructure, DevOps teams focus on the services that their end-users are consuming. More importantly, within a CI/CD toolchain, this monitoring data serves as a critical feedback loop to inform the DevOps team about errors that are occurring while they are coding and deploying applications and services.

Operations professionals should be looking at this data and get familiar with the different tools that encompass code repository and management, deployment, testing, release management, change management, and application monitoring. Many IT organizations are integrating DevOps tools with IT infrastructure monitoring tools to gain a holistic view of performance and reliability at every stage.

Embracing Risk

By nature, IT operations professionals (along with security engineers) are risk-averse people on the job. Their primary task is to keep things up and running, safe, and performing according to required SLA’s.

But there’s an element of “fail fast” that now applies to operations teams. Chaos engineering is an emerging practice to help IT stress-test their environments for a potential breach or outage. Experimenting with new methods to solve problems, and new technologies such as artificial intelligence, is imperative to arrive at a new best practice amid the constantly changing technology landscape. Taking on a bit more risk on the job can be done safely from a business perspective, with a deeper understanding of system tolerances, goals and outcomes.

Continuous Improvement

To embrace DevOps thinking and skillsets, continuous learning is part and parcel of the mindset. New tools appear regularly, such as open-source technologies for optimizing containers and cloud storage. Using the best possible collaboration tools, such as Slack, is also critical. IT operations professionals should regularly analyze current processes and look for how they can improve. If you’ve got an interest, learn how to code. Progressive companies such as Google look for people with IT administration expertise who also have some level of coding ability. IT operations teams may not need the coding skills every day, but having basic programming knowledge brings a better understanding of user experience and why and where things go wrong.

IT operations is becoming more fundamental to business performance every day, as companies outsource more of their assets to the cloud and expand application and data footprints. Operations pros will need to invest time (and a dose of patience) to learn the new skills and viewpoints necessary to meet these changing needs.

Michael Fisher is a Product Manager with OpsRamp.