Top DevOps Skills for 2021 Go Beyond the Technical

The growth of software-defined services has pushed Development Operations (DevOps) jobs into the tech-hiring spotlight. As a combination of cultural philosophies, practices, and tools related to development and operations, DevOps allows companies to gain a competitive advantage by enabling teams to adapt to changing markets, innovate faster, and become more efficient in achieving their business goals.

Demand for DevOps (and DevOps professionals) is driven by the need for lower costs, flexibility, and faster delivery. “DevOps not only improves the way that software is delivered, but it also has an impact on the culture of the teams involved in the software development process,” explained Erin Lovern, director of talent acquisition with continuous delivery software services specialist CloudBees. “When the development and operations teams come together, you have teams that are focused on producing better software faster, through collaboration. This leads to much happier and more productive teams.”

While DevOps engineers must have a solid grasp of technology concepts, “soft skills” such as empathy and communication are often just as important, as a big part of the job is conveying ideas and plans to other teams and executives in a way that everyone (even non-technical folks) can grasp.

The technical skills that DevOps professions must have range from Linux fundamentals and scripting knowledge to hands-on knowledge of various development, testing and deployment technologies (i.e., DevOps tools such as Jenkins, Kubernetes, Git, Docker, Chef or Puppet). Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, says the following specialized skills pop up most frequently in DevOps-related job postings:

In addition, Lovern said, it’s good to have experience in developing CI/CD pipelines, as well as a solid understanding of concepts like Infrastructure as Code. Given companies’ wholesale migration to the cloud, any DevOps professional must have working knowledge of cloud vendors such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, and/or Microsoft Azure.

Many employers want DevOps professionals who work with those cloud providers to have the associated DevOps certifications, which include:

“The great thing about DevOps is you can build upon your experience as a developer or operations professional as DevOps covers a broad spectrum of responsibilities,” Lovern noted. “Take every opportunity to build the skills in the job you have for the job you want. Shadowing on the job and asking for a mentor is a great way to pick up the skills that you may be looking for.” 

DevOps Fundamentals and Methodologies

If you are interested in moving into a career in DevOps and not really sure where to start, it’s important to learn the fundamentals and methodologies of DevOps.

Casey Rosenthal, CEO and founder of Verica.io, said careers in DevOps are a safe bet because the need for efficient software development will increase. Companies want applications and services brought online at high speed. 

He sees skills such as chaos engineering (a discipline within DevOps where you experiment on systems to figure out if there are any security or availability vulnerabilities) as being particularly valuable going forward. 

“There is still lots of room for observability specialists, as well as CI/CV specialists, and one of the new growth areas is continuous verification (CV),” he said. “Now that CI/CV approaches have us developing faster, CV helps us continually make sure the business requirements are being met—how do we not break things while we’re moving so quickly?”

Being proficient in concepts such as observability or chaos engineering means you’ll have skill sets that are scalable, making you an attractive hire. “Any person could specialize in any one of these things and launch into a DevOps career,” Rosenthal said. “The demand for these skills is all growing in the shadow of moving towards complex software systems.” 

One of the other common skill sets required for DevOps work, he added, is improving the reversibility of software development, making it easier to walk back a design decision: “Shortening the feedback loop and being able to pivot is one of the underlying themes of these technologies and skill sets, things like feature flags, automated canaries, blue-green deploys–all of these things in the DevOps arena improve the reversibility of architectures.” 

When it comes to soft skills, communications, teamwork and collaboration are going to be helpful. However, it’s important to note that the majority of major tech companies are still clinging to a hierarchical model of management antithetical to current DevOps philosophies. 

“If you consider software engineering knowledge work, you want to flip that concept on its head, and the people doing the work are enabled to decide how to solve that problem in alignment with the business goals,” Rosenthal said. “Communication and strong alignment are the only ways to move quickly as a high-performing team. We certainly would project the companies that treat software engineers like knowledge workers are going to survive.”