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Upskilling 2020: The Enterprise DevOps Skills Report from DevOps Institute


March 11, 2020

Upskilling 2020: The Enterprise DevOps Skills Report from DevOps Institute

By: Niladri Choudhuri

The Upskilling 2021 Report is now available for download. 

The Upskilling 2020: Enterprise DevOps Skills Report has just been released by DevOps Institute. This is the second Upskilling annual report DevOps Institute has produced and is based on the survey of 1260 individuals globally to identify the most critical skills required for digital transformation in the 4th Industrial Revolution. The report is intended to help business and technology leaders, teams and individuals to understand which skills are “Must Haves” for DevOps practitioners.

The key findings:

1. There are Notable Differences Between the 2019 and 2020 Studies

  • Process skills and knowledge are more important for the respondents this year compared to last year where there was an equal distribution between technology and process skills
  • Adoption of DevOps, agile, SRE have all increased as must-haves
  • External recruitment is still the main source of resources
  • The DevOps Engineer job title is the most popular
  • Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) skills have increased as must-have skills by 4%
  • Collaboration and cooperation is still one of the top skills

Based on my experience, this seems to be natural progress. I have seen many organizations failing with their DevOps implementations over the last couple of years as they looked at only the automation element without giving due consideration to the other four core DevOps values (Culture, Lean, Measurement and Sharing). Some have received some automation benefits but not the outcome they expected, while others made it worse by doing it wrong.

2. DevOps Topologies Primarily Used Today are a Huge Challenge

There are three models of DevOps Teams being adopted:

  1. A separate DevOps Team between Dev and Ops (DevOps Team Silo or DevOps Advocacy model)
  2. DevOps is everyone’s job (DevOps Collaboration Model)
  3. DevOps Tools Team (DevOps Team is responsible for tooling required)

Again, from my experience, I see the third model of the DevOps Tools Team as the most popular. This seems to be the closest to heart and the easiest to implement. This is further pushed by the product vendors, who try to give a feeling that using their tool will make the organization implement DevOps and get the benefits expected. Nothing is more untrue than this and thus the prediction of Gartner that “By 2023, 90% of the DevOps Initiatives will fail” will be achieved. DevOps is much wider and deeper than just tooling and needs organizational-wide change with significant support from top management. There is no shortcut. The underlying organizational structure, the culture and the mindset of people all have to change to incorporate the software engineering way of doing things.

3. The DevOps Transformation Journey is Still Very Difficult for More than 50% of Organizations

Most of the respondents felt that it is very difficult to manage people, processes and technology with respect to DevOps initiatives. Emerging Technologies like RPA, IOT, AI, virtual reality, quantum computing, etc. are the biggest revenue earners. However, the availability of skilled resources will be the biggest challenge.

My take on this is that DevOps is the way to go for all these emerging businesses and the biggest challenge will be to have the organizations change their way of working and challenge their status quo. This requires organization-wide transformation and a skills gap will be a big challenge.

4. Agile, DevOps and ITIL are Getting Strong Competition from SRE

Agile adoption is at 81%, DevOps adoption at 75% and ITIL adoption in 25% growth from last year’s report. SRE has risen from 10% last year to 15% in 2020. Others like Value Stream Mapping (19%) and Systems Thinking (13%) have also seen increases.

I can see a great appetite for SRE adoption. Many are thinking about whether to go for SRE or for DevOps, while others are planning to adopt SRE as they have already adopted DevOps to some extent. Others who have failed to deliver DevOps may now want to try out the new ‘buzzword’. Involving IT Operations is now essential. While DevOps helped to break silos and brought the whole enterprise together, actual bridging of Operations and Development is through SRE. Operations also have started realizing that their way of working has changed and they need to be adopting the new way. ITIL 4 also is a catalyst to bring in this change of heart.

5.  Finding and Attracting Skilled People Continues to be a Challenge in 2020

58% of respondents said that finding skilled individuals is a huge challenge and 48% say the retention of skilled DevOps individuals is a challenge. Salaries are up to $180,000 and there is an existing skills gap, so we can expect that 2020 will be a challenging year for talent acquisition. Key verticals such as financial services, healthcare, manufacturing and distribution, and technology are eager to find DevOps and tech talent.

My take on this is that first of all the right skill set required is to be decided. The need for people with knowledge of the concepts and the values and principles have to be having higher weightage than tools. Soft skills like communication, team player, empathy, sharing, collaboration, etc., need to be given due importance. HR needs to be informed and they need to put these in the Job Description rather than just tools.

It will be difficult to find people with knowledge of both Development and Operations. During my interactions with various organizations going for SRE adoption, the biggest challenge is finding such skills of both. Trying to build this is also a challenge as once they know, they become valuable and retaining them will be more difficult.

6. Some Skill Categories Will be Less in Demand and Others More

Both project and program management have declined in must-have skills since last year.. Experience with source control models and processes has risen to the top category. Additionally, the category of experience with performance tuning and monitoring has moved from 32% to 39% must-have skill ranking.

This is a trend that shows that organizational approaches are moving from project to product. This also shows the trend towards breaking down silos and working together in adopting SRE with Dev and Ops working together. This will have an impact on hiring strategies and new job descriptions need to be written. However, we will still see a lot of larger and older organizations continue with their old habits.

7. The DevOps Human as a Hybrid Job and Role

The term “hybrid jobs” was first coined in 2015 to mean jobs that combine skill sets that never used to be found in the same jobs. Since then, one in eight job postings have been highly hybridized according to Burning Glass. One-quarter of all occupations in the US economy show strong signs of hybridization and they are almost universally the fastest growing and highest-paying jobs.

I feel that the DevOps jobs now will need a deep conceptual understanding of software engineering, systems thinking, software architecture, various frameworks like Agile, ITIL, Lean, Kanban, along with high importance on human skills like time management, stress management teamwork, sharing, collaboration and empathy. Understanding both development and operations concepts, as well as domain knowledge, will be critical. These are difficult to find and currently, the only way is to train and get certified.

8. The Hybrid DevOps Human Must be Equipped with Key Skills

Human, process, knowledge and automation skills are equally important. Additionally, the hybrid DevOps human leverages skills from a wide area of fields which range from technology skills such as cloud infrastructure to functional skills such as IT operations, to process and framework skills such as SRE or Agile, combined with business acumen, makes a perfect hybrid DevOps Practitioner.

We need to have a new set of humans of DevOps. They may not be readily available and need to be created with properly well-defined training and certifications, properly defining their career paths and properly supported with experiential learning opportunities, relevant organization structure, incentives and salaries and better work-life balance.

9. Upskilling Needs Attention Now

Interpersonal skills, security practices, knowledge of multiple programming languages, multi-cloud and other infrastructure concepts are some of the skill sets required. Over 38% of the respondents’ organizations do not have an upskilling program, 21% are currently working on one, 8% do not know if their organization has an upskilling program. Companies like Federal Express and Amazon will invest $700 million in upskilling in 2020. AT&T and Google will invest 1Billion in Upskilling. 31% of respondents mentioned their company had already implemented a formal upskilling program.

Many more organizations need to put their focus and invest in upskilling. This should be in the areas mentioned above and not the ones that are currently done related to technology and tools only. It is also important for organizations to invest in having experienced people and have proper process of “Job shadowing” and training freshers rather than expecting the freshers to be “billable” the very first day.

The Upskilling 2021 Report is now available for download. 

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