Overcoming the Evolving DevOps Skills Gap

In 2019, the DevOps Institute’s annual Upskilling Report stated that automation process, cloud analytics and soft skills (such as communication and empathy) were the most important skills. Just one year later, according to its 2020 report, governance, risk and compliance (GRC), process, and knowledge skills increased in importance. For organizations attempting to bridge the IT skills gap (the areas in which employers have difficulty filling vacancies), this rapid shift in just 12 months means that their goal of keeping employees up-to-date is a moving target. 

The current pandemic has exacerbated this gap. Now, a wider array of skills is likely necessary for organizations that must shift to remote work and distributed IT environments. For example, a year-over-year uptick in GitHub merge pull requests may signify a heightened need for collaboration or integration skills, as distributed teams make use of different tools and make more frequent changes to code bases. 

Companies that do successfully close the IT skills gap can improve the speed of transformation for both organizations and individuals and enable more resiliency in the face of future disruptions. To close the gap, organizations should understand why certain skills are in demand, select the right tools to help their developers, and instill a culture of collaboration and learning.

Why These Skills?

Understanding the cause behind requirements for these skill sets is the first step to equipping DevOps teams with the approaches, tools, and mindset necessary to bridge the skills gap.

That GRC skills are rising requirements is no surprise. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA), and a myriad of other privacy regulations mean the privacy landscape is always evolving. To ensure organizations can comply with these directives, as well as any future regulations, developers must engrain risk controls and privacy into the software they develop from the ground up. DevOps teams may not need a hard set of skills for governance and compliance so much as an adherence to privacy-centric development philosophies.

An increasing need for process and knowledge skills may coincide with the rise of site reliability engineering (SRE) practices. SRE teams typically help make life easier for IT. Learning about alert monitoring and building escalation processes are ways individuals can round out their skills with an eye on process-related techniques. 

By identifying the reasons for changes in skill requirements and understanding which skills may persist, companies will be able to implement more effective upskill-related strategies.

The Right Tools Make Everyone’s Life Easier

It’s clear that in-demand skills don’t always remain in vogue for very long. To help limit the variability in expertise needed from year to year, companies should invest in tools that don’t constantly require learning new techniques to operate and that can automate tasks whenever possible.

For example, a growing number of companies work with multiple cloud providers to ensure their applications and services are always available. While a multi-cloud strategy offers benefits, it also likely means running different projects on different providers’ clouds. To limit the amount of skills needed, companies can select container tools that deploy easily to multiple cloud environments without significantly affecting application topology. 

Furthermore, tools that automate repetitive processes can help your company reconcile a skills gap. Leveraging solutions that automate processes tied to risk, compliance, and governance can help people focus on their core responsibilities and objectives rather than conducting manual data analyses or attempting to learn data-privacy law. 

A Culture of Learning Will Keep Skills Fresh

Thoughtfully employing technology can also help close skill gaps. With everyone now working remotely, there are fewer opportunities for in-person training and mentoring. Still, companies must train employees and promote a culture of learning. Leaders who are proactive in helping employees complete training classes, attend online virtual conferences, and otherwise invest in their skillsets are more likely to have a workforce that remains current on the latest technologies and techniques. 

An additional way to promote a culture of learning is by creating events and processes structured around learning, such as:

  • Hackathons, a popular way to promote agile cultures.
  • Communication, which will also remain important as companies move forward in challenging economic environments: Constantly inspecting processes and analyzing their efficacy will help reinforce the skills people are learning and drive the idea of an Agile mindset. 

A Careful Focus on People, Processes, and Technology is Crucial to Success

Companies will continue to scale up, and paradigms such as multi-cloud and edge computing will continue to experience rapid adoption. Organizational leaders who take the steps now to address the skills gap in a sustainable way will emerge with a more adaptable organization. But simply asking developers to learn new skills without understanding why those skills are necessary or for how long they’ll remain crucial is a short-sighted approach. Instead, companies must understand the root causes of changes in skills requirements and equip their teams with the techniques and tools they need to not only bridge the current skills gap, but also ensure ongoing success in the face of future changes. 

Stephen Chin is Senior Director, Developer Relations at JFrog.