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Look to the DevOps evangelist for the true DevOps skill set

It's hard to define DevOps engineer beyond, 'You'll know it when you see it.' That's because the DevOps skill set is a mix of holistic views and principles with technical skills.

There's no shortage of boxes to check off in making the shift to DevOps, so be careful not to check off one of the most obvious: defining DevOps engineer. It's easy to miss, mostly because there isn't a hard and fast definition or criteria. But there are some high-level principles worth keeping in mind, wrapped around a DevOps skill set. Ultimately, a DevOps evangelist, that is, someone who believes in DevOps principles and goals, makes for a great candidate.

The path to becoming a DevOps engineer is murky, given that many are employees who have crossed over, like a developer who has more than a passing interest in the operations side of things, or perhaps a sysadmin who's a big fan of coding. But the commonality is a holistic view of the organization, rather than a siloed one.

As such, the best candidates demonstrate an aptitude for a DevOps skill set -- skills on both sides of the wall. Coding and scripting skills are obviously necessary, as is experience with automation and familiarity with aspects of the Agile framework, like incremental testing and deployment.

It's often veterans who make the best candidates.

This DevOps skill set also takes years of experience to develop as people become familiar with both sides of the coin, so it's often veterans who make the best candidates. Arguably one of the most important things to look for in a DevOps engineer, however, is strong soft skills: The ideal DevOps engineer is able to communicate well and focuses on collaboration with other members of the organization, no matter what team they're on.

This kind of ability to reach across borders is exactly what makes DevOps engineers so essential. In fact, in an interview with ACM Queue, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels was quoted addressing this particular point. Amazon's developers, he said, are responsible for the day-to-day operation of their software, which subsequently puts them in day-to-day contact with the customer.

"The customer feedback loop is essential for improving the quality of the service."

And that's the goal, right? Organizations want to improve their deliverables and the quality of the service they're providing to their customers, and that's why it's so important to have team members who are capable of following their code all the way through operations -- rather than just tossing it over the wall and forgetting it.

DevOps skills transform sysadmins into SREs

If they want a future in DevOps, IT ops pros need to know how to write and script code. Sysadmins who've yet to adapt to DevOps face extinction. Those who've made the jump from sysadmin to SRE have some advice for you. 

It may take more time, as DevOps continues to mature, before the terms "DevOps engineer" and "DevOps skill set" are more concretely defined. And in many cases, those definitions will overlap with the same definition for DevOps evangelist. Many of the soft skills necessary must be embraced by the individual, not forced upon them. No DevOps engineer worthy of the title rejects the need for communication, collaboration, openness and empathy.

The endgame is clear enough that it shouldn't stop -- and hasn't stopped -- organizations from seeking those with skills for DevOps, as long as certain key tenets are kept in mind.

Next Steps

It's easier to build DevOps skills than to hire them

Desire to learn: An essential DevOps skill

Certification vs. degree: DevOps doesn't require a pricey degree

This was last published in November 2017

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