📢 Webinar Alert! Live Call Routing with Squadcast: Helping Teams Achieve Faster Resolutions | Register here
Chapter 3:

DevOps Engineer Skills

April 5, 2024
10 min

Ever since the term was publicly introduced in the late 2000s, DevOps has been the methodology that enables effective cooperation between the IT development and operational teams. Defined as a set of practices, collaborative cultural mindset, and tools that help automate and integrate the processes between these two distinct teams, DevOps has gained significant traction in the past decade. Currently, DevOps and related practices are prevalent methodologies used in engineering organizations.

While still based on the core values of the CALMS (Culture, Automation, Lean, Measurement, Sharing) framework, over the years, DevOps has evolved, and so have the IT specialist roles attributed to DevOps practices. The applicability of DevOps practices became broader than just streamlining the software release process.

Besides just “DevOps Engineers,” currently trending roles, such as “Platform Engineers,” “Infrastructure Developers,” and “Site Reliability Engineers” (SRE), all include at least some of the key practices and processes and share common tooling that is embedded in the core DevOps philosophy, marking its significance in modern day IT development and engineering.

Regardless of the label placed on the role, these technical professionals are a vital part of modern software delivery. This article will explore the seven essential DevOps engineer skills that help these professionals succeed.

What is a modern-day DevOps engineer?

Those who have worked in the IT industry for a few years know that change is the only constant in this field. And this does include the evolution of job profiles. The job ads sometimes have vastly different descriptions for a “DevOps Engineer.” Some of these roles might have a better-suited name (like the ones mentioned in the introduction), but before diving into the most important skills for a modern-day DevOps Engineer, it is beneficial to look at the roles of what one might call a “typical” DevOps Engineer role.

In "traditional" environments, software development teams would work on some new feature, build it, test it, and hand it over to the other department - operations - to deploy and maintain in production. This siloed approach often leads to conflicts and issues that slow down value delivery. For example, builds might work in development but not production.

DevOps converges the development and operations accountabilities and helps solve this problem. The role of a DevOps-minded person would require breaking this essential boundary that separates two groups working under different mantras and (on a team scale) wanting opposing things: the ability to come up with new code improvements quickly and the operational stability of the entire platform on the other.

An ideal person to assume this role is someone who has had experience on both teams. However, more commonly, the experience in both areas will not be equal. Developers typically bring a lot of coding and automation knowledge but might have less experience in the domains of infrastructure and running production-grade environments. Hence, the perspectives and approaches towards the same problems might be different. This is perfectly fine, as long as the person is keen on understanding the different perspectives and acquiring additional skills and knowledge, especially since they will be universally beneficial in other roles like Site Reliability Engineering or Platform Engineering, even where there might not be direct interactions with software developers.

Summary of the seven key skills for DevOps engineers

We have condensed the wide range of skills a DevOps engineer might need into 7 essential DevOps engineer skills, which are outlined below and will be discussed in more detail in the following sections.

Skill Description
Coding DevOps engineers are not typical software developers. However, their daily tasks will require scripting or infrastructure manifest writing knowledge, which is still based on the same logical foundations.
Automation mindset DevOps engineers often act as the glue in making the software transition from development to a product used by end users. Observing inefficient manual tasks and automating them greatly contributes to the faster and more reliable releases of your company’s new products.
Modern-day tooling and methodology knowledge Whether the industry is adopting a new working methodology or new CI/CD tooling is gaining traction, keeping up with the latest trends and following how best practices are evolving should be one of the key activities of a DevOps engineer.
Cloud platform expertise Public clouds are the norm for modern infrastructure. A DevOps engineer is typically expected to know the services of at least one public cloud provider well to efficiently provision and host the applications.
Core infrastructure knowledge While the public cloud providers have made it very convenient to consume their services and the vastness of their IaaS and PaaS services requires a semester of study alone, knowledge going beyond the cloud provider’s abstraction layers will bring significant advantages when building and running complex solutions.
Security mindset Security is not just the responsibility of the IT security department. With access to both software development and operations, the role of a DevOps engineer puts them in the ideal position to ensure best security practices are being followed.
Collaboration, communication, and knowledge sharing Soft skills are critical, especially for DevOps persons handling incidents and conducting infrastructure maintenance that can affect an entire organization.

Coding

There’s no way around it, coding is one of the essential DevOps engineer skills. Being able to code makes automating periodic tasks, integrating multiple systems, and developer work easier. But does that mean that your goal should become gaining a few years of software development experience before diving into DevOps? Not at all.

While knowing the languages the developers are using in the project will not hurt, the typical tasks might require fairly high-level and easy-to-start-with coding or scripting languages like Python, Bash, or Powershell, which have a relatively easy learning curve.

A DevOps engineer might have to interact with third-party tools via web-based APIs, build CI/CD pipelines, or write code that deploys infrastructure on a cloud provider. Most of these tasks are achieved with declarative code that uses YAML, JSON, or other similar structures.

Recommendations for developing this DevOps engineer skill

  • Start learning classical (functional) and declarative scripting with the most useful languages for DevOps activities (Bash, Python, Terraform, etc.). Platforms like LeetCode or Codewars can greatly help with finding tasks to perform.
  • Search GitHub for solutions to problems that you are trying to solve.
  • Leverage GenAI tools like ChatGPT and Gemini to increase your learning pace.

Automation mindset

As we have covered, knowing how to code is essential. However, it is just as important to try to find opportunities to improve existing processes. Is there something in the current software release flow that is manual, not because a person needs to look at it but because a tool needs to integrate better into the current flow? Can that tool be swapped for something else? Or should the automation approach be changed?

The modern-day software development pipeline is an automated set of tasks that are triggered automatically as soon as the code is committed to a repository. These tasks typically include some automated tests, sometimes changes to the infrastructure, and then deployment in one of the pre production environments. Depending on the process, after manual reviews, these changes are then further pushed into environments that more closely resemble the production environment, where some additional testing is performed, and, finally, the change is released to the production environment. If some additional steps are required and they demand additional tools, they should integrate seamlessly into this flow.

Recommendations for developing this DevOps engineer skill

  • Think of a set of activities that are currently being implemented as part of the same process or procedure, and think about what steps can be automated and what the transitions between different automated steps should look like.
  • Collect feedback from colleagues about their daily activities to think of ways they could be improved.

{{banner-2="/design/banners"}}

Modern-day tooling and methodology knowledge

Code repositories (typically Git-based), the CI/CD (continuous integration / continuous deployment) platform, and infrastructure provisioning and management tools are typically the most important tools for a DevOps engineer. While there are many implementations of these tools a DevOps engineer could use, it is important to understand their place and purpose.

Alongside tooling, the processes and frameworks used in software development are another crucial item to understand. DevOps allows for small and easily shippable changes that are less likely to cause any problems to the running system. Agile frameworks like Scrum are typically used to organize the daily work in such environments.

The other thing to remember is that the tooling landscape is constantly evolving. If a new tool comes out and is claimed to be marginally better than the one you are currently using, and it might be worth understanding its future potential, this might not require immediate action.

However, some changes, like Hashicorp’s change of the Terraform licensing model and the resulting introduction of OpenTofu, might require input and potential actions from the team that automates the infrastructure provisioning.

Recommendations for developing this DevOps engineer skill

  • Get to know Agile software development practices and the Scrum framework.
  • Understand and start using Git for any code storing and versioning. Familiarize yourself with at least one modern-day tool (e.g. GitHub, GitLab, Azure DevOps) that can be used as a free code repository.
  • Look for the tooling stack listed in the job advertisements that you find interesting to understand which tools you should dive into in particular.

Cloud platform expertise

Public cloud providers are now the de facto infrastructure providers for companies of any size, making cloud platform expertise a crucial skill to learn. With on-premise infrastructure and lower abstraction layers in place, multiple dedicated teams took care of infrastructure tasks like computing, storage, and networking. A DevOps engineer is often expected to know these services well enough for a given cloud provider to help build that infrastructure and sometimes even be the SME for cloud services.

Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform are the three public cloud providers with the largest market share. While all of them offer comparable services, some foundations might be different. Thus, it is better to start familiarizing oneself with one provider at a time and understand their identity and access management (IAM) approach, the primary compute services (virtual servers, containers, functions), network services (virtual networks), and storage accounts.

Recommendations for developing this DevOps engineer skill

  • Start exploring the cloud platform of your choice. All leading providers offer either a free service tier or some “allowance” to burn through.
  • Get familiar with the well-architected framework to learn about the industry's good practices.
  • Start provisioning and controlling the infrastructure not via the web portal but via APIs, using scripts or declarative scripting with tools like Terraform.

Core infrastructure knowledge

Many seasoned infrastructure specialists have spent decades working on classical infrastructure or taking care of operating systems but are hesitant to transition to DevOps engineering. This transition requires additional upskilling, especially on the software development lifecycle. Knowledge about core infrastructure knowledge can be a big advantage and one of the more useful DevOps engineer skills.

Yes, the cloud is the prevailing type of infrastructure that the modern-day engineer must understand. However, the public cloud is built on physical infrastructure nonetheless. Understanding what lies beneath the abstraction layers is beneficial in designing a robust cloud environment or solving unexpected problems. This is also a significant contributor to the automation mindset skill.

Recommendations for developing this DevOps engineer skill

  • Understand the core concepts related to the cloud infrastructure: virtualization, application containerization, underlay, and overlay networking.
  • Learn basic troubleshooting and how to analyze logs and performance metrics.

Security mindset

Security has long become not the responsibility of just the security department or team, but the active duty of any IT organization. This starts with basic security hygiene like the adoption of secure credentials, multi-factor authentication, using up-to-date tools and libraries from reputable sources, and storing the credentials in a way that would not be able to be easily exposed.

Organizations developing software have even more responsibilities as their products are expected to meet the high (and ever-growing) requirements of the industry. And DevOps has an answer to this in the form of DevSecOps.

DevSecOps extends the DevOps mantra by embedding security as one of the essential aspects of software development. This means that static code security testing is performed each time the code is committed, third-party libraries are being scanned for known vulnerabilities, and as a result, security issues are caught much earlier in the development process (the “shift left” principle) and in the end saves a lot of costs on bug fixing.

Don’t wait to remediate security issues, as the cost will stack up across the security development lifecycle (SDLC) stages. (Source)

Recommendations for developing this DevOps engineer skill

  • Start investigating static code security testing tools not only for applications but also for infrastructure code.
  • Understand the most common types of vulnerabilities (OWASP Top10, MITTRE ATT&CK) and their mitigation practices.
  • Be sure to follow the current-day security trends.

Collaboration, communication, and knowledge sharing

Regardless of this item being the last on the list, it is arguably the most important one. DevOps has come more out of the need for better communication between different teams than the lack of technical competencies. This key value of DevOps has persisted since the inception of DevOps culture.

In practice, this translates into transparent changes that can be visible to any team, peer code reviews, up-to-date documentation, active knowledge-sharing sessions, and, most importantly, blameless culture, where even if things do not go exactly as expected. It is seen as a learning opportunity rather than a prerequisite for punishment.

Recommendations for developing this DevOps engineer skill

  • Practice treating documentation as part of a functionality delivery.
  • Participate (or propose if not available) internal knowledge-sharing sessions for engineering teams involving participants from different departments.
  • Check if there are meetups or conferences in your area where people from other companies share their experiences. Submit your topic to present.

{{banner-3="/design/banners"}}

Conclusion

DevOps is a broad topic encompassing procedural, technical, and cultural aspects of modern software delivery practices. While the discipline naturally evolves with the industry and the technologies evolve with it, it is important to remember that DevOps is not only about technological solutions but emphasizes the collaboration of teams that are experts in their field and work towards the same goal.

Having this in mind, from the technical side of requirements, DevOps is a demanding role interpreted broadly from organization to organization. While some companies construct their DevOps divisions solely with software release-focused people, these people can sometimes be heavily focused on infrastructure activities. On the one hand, this makes the work more demanding, but on the other, it provides the opportunity to contribute greatly to the success of your organization.

Subscribe to our LinkedIn Newsletter to receive more educational content
Subscribe now
ant-design-linkedIN
Subscribe to our Linkedin Newsletter to receive more educational content
Subscribe now
ant-design-linkedIN
Squadcast is a leader in Incident Management on G2 Squadcast is a leader in Mid-Market IT Service Management (ITSM) Tools on G2 Squadcast is a leader in Americas IT Alerting on G2 Best IT Management Products 2024 Squadcast is a leader in Europe IT Alerting on G2 Squadcast is a leader in Enterprise Incident Management on G2 Users love Squadcast on G2
Squadcast is a leader in Incident Management on G2 Squadcast is a leader in Mid-Market IT Service Management (ITSM) Tools on G2 Squadcast is a leader in Americas IT Alerting on G2
Best IT Management Products 2024 Squadcast is a leader in Europe IT Alerting on G2 Squadcast is a leader in Enterprise Incident Management on G2
Users love Squadcast on G2
Copyright © Squadcast Inc. 2017-2024