IT operations and software development used to work in silos – with Agile methodologies only applied to writing new code and building new products. Production operations, release management, and workflow automation were left separate, and inefficiencies grew fast. Eventually, senior DevOps teams rose from the need to bring everything together to speed up software delivery and consistently release high-quality code.
Now, it’s common for companies with significant software development processes to implement some form of DevOps – whether they call it that or not. DevOps teams combine iterative releases, high levels of collaboration, continuous improvement, and a heavy focus on automation to improve the whole software development lifecycle.
A DevOps team could include systems architects, senior software engineers, data engineers, security experts, and release managers. You have to hire for the right roles, but building a senior DevOps team is about more than checking off a list of titles. It’s about adopting the key components of the practice, encouraging collaboration, and supporting the growth of your team members.
Here’s how we’d think about building a senior DevOps team.
What is a DevOps team responsible for?
DevOps is a set of practices that automates the processes between software development and IT operations – to shorten the development life cycle and deliver features, fixes, and updates more frequently.
Because many companies have adopted agile methodologies (sprints, SCRUM, Kanban, etc.) to manage software development, Agile and DevOps often run side-by-side. But they are separate disciplines. Agile focuses on breaking software development projects into manageable chunks that can adapt to rapidly changing requirements.
DevOps is responsible for automating CI/CD pipelines, coordinating between IT and development, and managing software performance in production.
Here are some of the key components of DevOps:
- Continuous Integration (CI): This involves automatically building and testing code every time a team member commits changes to version control.
- Continuous Delivery (CD): This is an extension of CI, ensuring that you can release new changes to your customers quickly and sustainably. Some people also extend the acronym to "CI/CD," where the additional CD refers to "Continuous Deployment," which is a step beyond Continuous Delivery with the aim of automating the entire software release process.
- Configuration management: This deals with maintaining the configuration of your systems and software, ensuring everything is consistent and as expected.
- Monitoring: Real-time monitoring of performance, security, and other operational concerns is crucial for a smooth-running DevOps team.
- Infrastructure as Code (IAC): This is the managing and provisioning of infrastructure through code instead of through manual operations.
- Microservices: Although not strictly a DevOps concept, the microservices architecture is often associated with DevOps practices, as it allows teams to work on different parts of an application simultaneously.
- Collaboration: DevOps encourages greater communication and collaboration between the development, operations, and even other departments like QA and security within an organization.
- Automation: A core tenet of DevOps is to automate as much as possible, reducing human error and making the delivery process more efficient.
Roles you need on your DevOps team
Ultimately, it depends on the size of your company and software development operations. You could have everything from an architect to a release manager on your DevOps team. You might also transform a small group of senior and junior software and data engineers into a DevOps team by changing the way they work and shifting responsibilities around.
In general, here are all the roles you’ll need to cover on a DevOps team:
- Software developers: Writes, reviews, and contributes to software code and architecture.
- Senior software engineers: Provides technical leadership, mentors junior developers, and contributes to architectural decisions.
- DevOps engineers: Manages the CI/CD pipeline and automates infrastructure tasks.
- Automation engineers: Specializes in writing scripts and automating workflows to optimize various development and operations phases.
- System administrators: Manages servers, storage, and other infrastructure components.
- Database administrators (DBA): Manages database systems and ensures data integrity.
- QA engineers / testers: Writes and executes test cases, ensuring software quality.
- Senior QA engineers: Provides leadership in QA processes, designs test strategies, and mentors junior QA engineers.
- Security engineers: Focuses on application and infrastructure security.
- UX/UI designers: Designs the user interface and user experience.
- Release managers: Manages software releases and coordinates deployments.
- Data engineers / data scientists: Focuses on data processing and analysis.
- Monitoring and support engineers: Monitors application performance and troubleshoots issues.
- Architects: Provides overall technical leadership in software design and structure.
While you could hire every title on this list over the next year, that doesn’t mean you’ll have a senior DevOps team. The distinction comes from how these roles work together, collaborate with your business stakeholders, and their experience applying automation to production pipelines at scale.
Skills and qualities that make or break a senior DevOps team
Similar to what makes good senior software engineers, the people on your DevOps team need business awareness, advanced communication skills, conflict resolution skills, and a strong leadership drive to get things done.
If you have a whole list of highly technical DevOps hires that can’t work well across silos, your DevOps efforts aren’t going to get very far.
Here’s what we’d look for when building a team:
- Version control: Mastery over tools like Git is essential for tracking code changes and facilitating collaboration among team members.
- Automation: A strong grasp of automation tools (e.g., Jenkins, GitLab CI, Travis CI) and scripting languages (e.g., Bash, Python) significantly reduces manual tasks and errors.
- Containerization: Skills in container technologies like Docker and Kubernetes are vital for application scalability and portability.
- Configuration management: Proficiency in tools like Ansible, Puppet, or Chef helps in automating the setup, configuration, and management of servers.
- Monitoring and logging: Knowing how to implement and manage tools like Prometheus, Grafana, ELK stack, or Splunk is critical for real-time monitoring and data analysis.
- Cloud services: In-depth knowledge of cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud is a differentiator – particularly for hybrid or multi-cloud strategies.
- Networking: Understanding of network protocols, DNS, load balancing, and firewall rules helps in troubleshooting and optimizing application performance.
- Security: Skills in implementing security best practices, encryption, and vulnerability scanning are increasingly important.
- Communication: Being the bridge between development and operations, strong communication skills are critical for a senior DevOps team
- Collaboration: A senior DevOps team is built with members with diverse skills. The ability to work together and across silos is crucial.
- Problem-solving: DevOps often involves finding innovative solutions to complex challenges. Strong problem-solving skills make a big difference.
- Adaptability: The DevOps landscape is ever-changing. The willingness and ability to adapt to new tools and practices sets a team apart.
- Attention to detail: Mistakes can be costly when it comes to deployment and operations. A detail-oriented approach is invaluable.
- Agility: The capacity to adapt to changes quickly and efficiently.
- Resilience: Systems should be designed to recover from failures quickly, which requires a well-prepared DevOps team.
- Documentation: Good teams maintain excellent documentation for configurations, update procedures, and common troubleshooting steps.
- Feedback loops: Regularly collecting feedback from both the development and operations sides to continuously improve.
- Business acumen: Understanding the business context and goals helps to align DevOps activities with organizational objectives.
- Customer-centric: A focus on the end-user experience, ensuring that all DevOps activities enhance rather than hinder the customer experience.
Challenges to overcome when you build a senior DevOps team
Creating a senior DevOps team from the ground up is challenging. It can take six to 18 months (or longer) and comes with a high price tag to hire everyone internally. You must continue investing in their growth even after the team is up and running. It’s expensive.
Here are some big challenges you’ll encounter when building a senior DevOps team and some solutions:
- Skill Gap: The skills required for a senior DevOps role can be quite specialized and are often in high demand, creating a talent shortage.
- Solution: Consider upskilling current employees, leveraging contract-to-hire arrangements, or tapping into remote talent pools to fill gaps.
- Cost: Highly skilled DevOps professionals command premium salaries.
- Solution: Budget accordingly and weigh the high initial costs against the long-term benefits of having a skilled team.
- Urgency vs. Fit: There's often pressure to fill roles quickly, but rushing can result in poor fit.
- Solution: Use a rigorous but efficient interview process. Consider contract roles or consulting arrangements to take care of urgency efficiently.
- Onboarding Time: Even senior professionals require time to understand the specific technologies and processes used in a new environment.
- Solution: Invest in a structured onboarding process, including mentorship and training programs to accelerate the acclimatization process.
- Cultural Fit: Skilled professionals may not automatically gel with the existing team or company culture.
- Solution: Use behavioral interviews, personality assessments, and ‘culture fit’ interviews in addition to technical evaluations.
- Communication barriers: If your senior DevOps team is distributed or comes from diverse cultural backgrounds, communication can be challenging.
- Solution: Establish clear communication protocols and invest in tools that facilitate better communication.
- Hierarchy vs. collaboration: Senior members may be used to taking the lead, which could lead to conflicts within the team.
- Solution: Clearly define roles and responsibilities while promoting a culture of collaboration and shared ownership.
Other Operational Challenges
- Roadmap alignment: Ensure the team's objectives align with organizational goals and current projects.
- Solution: Regularly revisit team objectives and realign them with evolving business goals. Keep an open channel of communication with stakeholders.
- Performance metrics: Measuring the success of a senior DevOps team can be complex.
- Solution: Develop KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that align with both technical and business objectives. Make sure to include both short-term and long-term metrics.
- Knowledge sharing: A senior team will accumulate a vast amount of specialized knowledge.
- Solution: Establish a robust documentation culture and regular knowledge-sharing sessions to ensure that valuable insights are not siloed.
- Resource allocation: A senior DevOps team is a significant investment and should be used wisely.
- Solution: Keep the team focused on high-impact projects that leverage their unique skill sets. Use less experienced teams or automation for lower-level tasks.
That’s a long list of complex tasks to do on top of your current priorities. If you want to build a senior DevOps team it’s worth the time investment. And if you have a roadmap staring you in the face with initiatives to complete next quarter, you don’t have 6-18 months to hire, onboard, and wait for your team to get up to speed.
Thankfully, you can hire a senior DevOps team in 4-6 weeks if you partner with Codingscape.
How do I hire a senior DevOps team I can trust?
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Cole is Codingscape's Content Marketing Strategist & Copywriter.