The DevOps engineer: fulfilling the software development life cycle

DevOps is now essential in the enterprise and so is the DevOps engineer.

What is a DevOps engineer?

A DevOps engineer is there to fulfil or improve the software development life cycle in an organisation.

Until quite recently, a developer’s job was to write code. But, there needed to be a process in place that gets that code and moves it from their laptop into the public domain. There’s a lot of process around that, in terms of building and deploying, and getting it into some form of infrastructure.

“In my opinion that’s where the DevOps engineer fits in,” says Mark Quinn, director of engineering at Mojo Mortgages.

The role is not just about making sure this code transfer can happen, but making sure that the process is as streamlined as possible.

The DevOps engineer needs to make sure that developers have the DevOps tools available to get code out as fast as possible, without compromising on quality

How to become a DevOps engineer?

Speaking to TechBeacon, Jonathan Fenocchi who works as a DevOps engineer at Bazaarvoice, said it is essential that individuals look at applying experience from their previous role (as a developer, for example) to their new position.

He said: “Obtain practical experience by using your skills as a software engineer to build tools rather than software. Look at any of the open-source projects Netflix has written for examples.”

He also suggested that any developers looking at DevOps positions should actively pursue any work their team is doing with operations. And, “if your team doesn’t do any of that, go over to the operations team and sit in on a few deployments”.

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How much does a DevOps engineer make?

There are many motivations for embracing DevOps. The most important is that the practice is becoming vital for driving speedy innovation within organisations — and that it champions collaboration.

But, the financial incentive is also appealing.

According to PayScale, the average salary for a development operations engineer in the UK is £40,268 with the highest salaries peaking around £70,000.

In the US, however, the average salary ranges between $120,000 and $160,000 (£92,000 to £122,000), “or sometimes higher,” according to Ryan Sutton, district president at staffing and recruiting firm Robert Half Technology.

Positions are not in short supply either and in 2018 there were 74,834 open positions on LinkedIn for the role of DevOps engineer.

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What a DevOps engineer should know

This massively differs across companies. But, essentially, it’s an understanding of how that company builds and deploys software.

For example, if an organisation is bringing in a DevOps engineer as a new role, then that “person should come in and add structure to process by automating it,” continues Quinn.

The DevOps space is constantly changing and so a good DevOps engineer should keep their ear to the ground.

“You need to be constantly reading tech articles, constantly looking at releases and updates for the likes of AWS. You really need to be kept up to date with what’s going on, because there are new tools coming out every day. If you don’t know about them, you’re not going to use them and you’re not going to deliver the best DevOps process for your company,” Quinn explains.

They need to be up-to-date 100% of the time. And in this instance, organisations need to take the impetus and encourage their employees to take the latest certifications in different disciplines.

“Getting architect certification is useful, because it provides good exposure to the latest services,” says Quinn.

As AWS, Microsoft or Google release new services, that becomes part of the actual test for these individuals. It’s very much a case of learning as they go along.

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What skills does a DevOps engineer need?

“A good understanding of scripting languages, such as Bash and PowerShell, are always a bonus,” says Quinn.

These skills are becoming increasingly rare, but when starting continuous integration (CI) these engineers will have to write a lot of scripts to automate manual processes.

Having a good understanding of infrastructure in general, be that AWS, Azure or Google, is also important.

“The components of this is all essentially the same; understanding how networking works, understanding how bridging works, knowing about IP ranges and DNS records is all useful information,” continues Quinn.

The other side of what a DevOps engineer should know concerns data. They have to have a good understanding of a few different types of databases.

For example, there is SQL servers which is like a structured relational database, but then there’s also MongoDB, which is essentially a document store.

Knowing what the difference between those two and how you would scale one of them as opposed to the other is a very important skill to possess.

One could argue you’re venturing into the world of the data architect there, but Quinn suggests “a lot of your job is going to be managing deployment pipelines for data-related things.”

The difference between an engineer and a DevOps architect — rather than being responsible for the day-to-day runnings of DevOps, and architect is someone who puts the building blocks in place for those companies adopting DevOps as part of their development life cycle

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DevOps engineers: the challenges

The biggest difficulty for DevOps engineers is them not being given the power to make change.

This is especially true in large organisations. “Once people are comfortable with the process, no matter how good or bad it is, they don’t really want to change it because it’s costly and it’s risky,” says Quinn.

As this is such an evolving space, with new releases coming out almost-daily, selling that near-constant change is a challenge.

The other hurdle concerns staying up-to-date with the latest information, because there is so much out there and often it will be in your own time.

Quinn believes that’s a “challenge for everyone, no matter what space you’re in technically.”

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is the editor for Information Age. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and cyber security.