From I-Shaped to T-Shaped – Why DevOps Professionals Need to be Multi-Skilled
By Jayne Groll
November 15, 2017
The digital transformation is real. To meet changing requirements, enterprise IT organizations are engaging in transformational activities to increase the frequency and speed of delivering value to their markets. Under the umbrella of DevOps, these activities include increasing the use of automation in the deployment process, instilling testing capabilities earlier in the lifecycle and attempts to reshape organizational culture through new processes, interactions and the breakdown of silos.
So what’s the key differentiator between transformation and tradition? People. People drive innovation through the powerful combination of strategic thinking and tactical skills.
I-Shaped vs T-Shaped Professionals
Traditionally, those skills were applied through a human chain of “I”-shaped specialists who have honed a deep and specific area of expertise. I-shaped specialists might be security practitioners, software developers, or infrastructure engineers. Organizations should actively nurture more “T-shaped” professionals who have a wide breadth of knowledge in other related practice areas such as testing in addition to having the depth of knowledge in an area of expertise. Roles such as Site Reliability Engineers (SREs) and Test-Driven Developers are good examples of T-shaped competencies.
In his 2011 Forbes article, “Are you an ‘I’ or a ’T’?”, contributing author Andy Boynton states
“Many leaders today, however, feel that T people are better at fostering the diverse connections and conversations that bring exceptional ideas to the surface.”
Since 2011, a lot has happened in the IT space. DevOps has crossed the chasm into enterprise IT, introduced a “shift-left” approach and encouraged more knowledge sharing and cross-functionality between people and teams. Disruptive thinking and experimentation are now encouraged. Successful DevOps requires people who are willing to think and act outside their own silos with both deep expertise and extended skills. DevOps needs T-shaped people.
IT professionals should start planning their own personal transformations to become more multi-dimensional and multi-skilled. Not only will this contribute to the organization’s competitive advantage, but personal growth through continuous learning will also undoubtedly advance careers.
So how much extended knowledge is necessary and where should I begin?
To start, there are four sets of core skills that I think all IT professionals should acquire to increase flow and collaboration.
- Everyone is a DevOps Leader regardless of role. Therefore everyone has to learn to think like a strategist. Organizations that have achieved the greatest success were those that were unafraid to listen to and try new ideas. Concepts such as Target’s Dojo or Spotify’s Squad Model may have been conceived from the ground up, not necessarily from the top down. Transformational leadership skills are necessary for culture change and empowerment whether you are a practitioner, middle manager, senior management or in the C-Suite.
- Lean techniques such as Value Stream Mapping (VSM) have been identified as being a necessary skill to create a common understanding of the flow of value creation. VSM should not be done in isolation by a small group of managers. VSM is an inclusive exercise that should engage as many perspectives as possible to collaborate and agree on value-adding activities and waste. VSM can be applied to many situations and therefore having practical knowledge of the technique could benefit many teams and projects.
- On the technical side, testing has been identified as a critical competency for everyone in IT. Continuous Integration, Continuous Delivery, Continuous Deployment and DevSecOps rely on pervasive testing from the first line of code through release into production and beyond. Developers, QA, Infrastructure, Security, and Architects must have a solid understanding of the practices and principles of DevOps testing including test types, test cases, test plans, and test analysis.
- In today’s threat-riddled environment, a basic understanding of security practices and DevSecOps is necessary for Continuous Delivery. The “shift-left” approach of security as code means that security is no longer a downstream activity but is integrated into several other aspects of the software delivery lifecycle. Whether the software is built to be “rugged” or code has to be security tested, most IT professionals should have a broad ability to test their code against the organization’s security requirements. This is another reason why testing skills are so critical.
Of course, there is a wide swath of skills for the T-shaped, Pi-Shaped, and Comb-shaped individual to gain. Continuous learning is a lifelong journey and as technology twists and turns according to the demands of the market, there will always be new concepts, frameworks, practices, and technologies to learn. The key is to start your evolution from I-shaped to T-shaped and beyond today – ask a colleague to mentor you, take a class, read a book, join a Center of Interest, attend a conference. Start anywhere – just start.
Humans are becoming E-shaped in 2021. Read more in the Upskilling 2021: Enterprise DevOps Skills Report
About the Author
Jayne Groll is co-founder and CEO of DevOps Institute (DOI). Jayne carries many IT credentials including ITIL Expert™, Certified ScrumMaster, Certified Agile Service Manager, DevOps Foundation and is a Certified Process Design Engineer (CPDE)™ . Her IT management career spans over 25 years of senior IT management roles across a wide range of industries. Jayne is very active in the DevOps, ITSM and Agile communities and is the author of the Agile Service Management Guide. She is a frequent presenter at local, national and virtual events.