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Building DevOps engineering skills means admitting what you don't know

Truly innovative DevOps teams must be open to growth. And that means DevOps engineers must have the confidence to say "I don't know," and the management to encourage it.

Enterprises and startups alike are increasingly looking to DevOps as a means of accelerating their software development and testing cycles, as well as their responsiveness to the ever-changing demands and expectations of their customers. What differentiates DevOps environments from traditional engineering groups is that they require engineers to possess more than just an engineering or development background; they must also respond to the needs of enterprise business teams.

The best DevOps processes within the most innovative companies embrace a strong partnership between engineering and business skills. These employees are a rare breed and need to be encouraged to develop both sides of these skill sets. Management should focus on mentoring them, providing them with opportunities to branch out. In the case of a startup, engineers involved with DevOps who get the support they need can continue to develop DevOps engineer skills and grow with the company.

However, many engineers feel pressured to prove themselves by showing how much they know -- and even pretending to know things they don't -- to appease managers and maintain job security. But leaders need to understand that this atmosphere of one-upmanship can be harmful in a DevOps organization. It can result in silos where some team members hoard DevOps engineer skills knowledge and hold it over the heads of those who don't have the same level of education or experience. Instead, managers should look at a lack of knowledge as an opportunity for growth -- both for the employee and for the business.

DevOps catches corporate eyes

Learn more about the relationship between DevOps and business teams. At Microsoft Inspire, experts called for commitments to continuous integration and deeper partnership across silos to fulfil DevOps transformations in legacy organizations.

My approach to retaining engineers is to create an environment in which people feel comfortable admitting when they don't know things. DevOps team members, especially in a startup environment, are constantly running into situations where they have to learn something new -- and fast. Instead of talking down to that employee, managers should realize that it's actually a positive when engineers encounter something they don't know. It's a sign of actual innovation.

A successful leader creates a work culture in which engineers have the freedom to speak out about what they don't know, and then have the time and space to learn new DevOps engineer skills and tackle new challenges. This approach to managing development teams moves both the company and the engineer forward in their collective goals and results in higher job satisfaction.

This was last published in July 2017

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