DevOps – Misconceptions, Motivation, and Mastery. Interview with Carlos Zapata

Although DevOps has been present in the IT world for two decades now, interest in DevOps shot up in the past five years. So much so that the industry-leading State of Agile report has dedicated more space to DevOps related results to reflect a year on year increase in interest. In the 14th State of Agile report, 79% of respondents stated that they are currently undertaking a DevOps initiative or intend to undertake one in the next 12 months. Even more tellingly, 90% of respondents said that DevOps transformation was important in their organizations. 

To discuss the current state of DevOps, we asked Carlos Zapata, trainer and DevOpsDays Medellín organizer, for an interview. In return, Carlos gave his thoughts on how DevOps is perceived, debunked some misconceptions, and gave advice on how companies can get started with DevOps.

1. Let’s start with the people who join your training. What kind of professionals attend your DevOps sessions, and what drives them?

There is a wide range of participants. Basically, anyone working in a DevOps environment or a company considering a transition to DevOps can join. Their roles vary. Participants can have a technical background, such as developers, operations teams, security teams, testers, or software architects. Not so commonly, there are attendees with a business background as well. We do see these participants with a business role most often in the foundation classes rather than the more advanced ones. But this is where they get most of the benefits of training we offer. 

2. Where are these professionals in their career?

Their career level varies. The EXIN DevOps Foundation is ideal for IT and business professionals who want to understand DevOps and how their organization can benefit. These professionals include members of a DevOps team and anyone who works in information and technology management. Whereas in the EXIN DevOps Professional and EXIN DevOps Master certification training, we tend to encounter people with more technical roles. 

3. Speaking of roles, one of the more common ones is ‘DevOps Engineer.’ What are the skills these professionals need in their work?

This is a great question. I have seen many companies get this essential aspect wrong. It is common to find companies on job portals that advertise their open positions by saying ‘DevOps Engineer needed with five years’ experience.’  

In this context, companies, more specifically recruiters, are looking for people with a working knowledge of the most popular DevOps tools. Some of them are Git for version control, Selenium for test automation, Jenkins for continuous integration, Puppet, Chef and Ansible for configuration management and deployment tools, Docker for containerization, and a couple of tools for logging and monitoring. 

However, it is important to bear in mind that ‘Automation’ is just one of the DevOps’ pillars. To build a ‘DevOps culture’, you need to also work on the other Four Pillars: Culture, Lean, Measurements, and Sharing. It is very difficult to achieve the full potential of high performing DevOps teams if you only focus on one of the DevOps Pillars. The DevOps movement did not aim to create a new role in the organization, but rather a new mindset on how to improve the way IT teams operate and collaborate.

4. How did this misconception arise?

First, I will give you a little bit of context. My work focuses mainly on the Latin American (LATAM) region. The word ‘DevOps’ became a buzzword here over the past two years. DevOps Engineers are now a thing, and I dare to say one of the most sought-after roles amongst IT professionals. After ten years of DevOps, companies in LATAM now trust or see DevOps as a way to take advantage of all the benefits early adopters in the US and Europe were able to have.   

However, although many companies are jumping on the DevOps bandwagon, not many Latin American people know what exactly DevOps is.

In most companies where I have seen the term ‘DevOps Engineers’, it is seen as just an updated system administrator. 

The pillars of DevOps, represented by the acronym “CALMS”, describe the aspects of DevOps – ‘Culture, Automation, Lean, Measurement, and Sharing.’ From what I have seen, most organizations focus solely on the automation side of things. They do not pay attention to the other elements. In my opinion, this is why globally, and especially in Latin America, most DevOps transformations failed to achieve the desired business outcomes that kick-started the adoption process in the first place.  

If you want to start a DevOps Initiative, my best recommendation is to avoid the pitfall of relying only on ‘DevOps Engineers’ or crafting an IT initiative to start looking automation tools for your pipeline. First, understand what DevOps is all about and make sure you truly can harvest all its benefits.  

5. If we would move past this misconception, how would you then define DevOps? What is the focus of DevOps?

DevOps’ overall objective is to prevent IT teams from working in silos and getting everyone to collaborate for a streamlined development process. Therefore, cross-departmental collaboration is needed for DevOps to succeed. You can buy as many licenses as you want for different tools, but you will fail if you don’t get teams to work together.    

6. Are you saying that you don’t need any tools to work in a DevOps way?

DevOps is not just a set of tools. We, technical people, love new tools and are always on the lookout to introduce them to our work. This is how I think we missed the point of DevOps so easily. We tend to focus exclusively on learning what tools a company uses after we hear they work in a DevOps way. We then try to carry out a software selection process to let vendors tell us what tools we should use. Software Tools are great! More often than not, they help us jumpstart the automation process and gather measurement metrics more easily.  

Yes, DevOps needs tools, but they do not make DevOps in its entirety. To effectively state that you have adopted DevOps, your company needs a change in how everyone in the IT department thinks, interacts, and works, to truly gain the values that DevOps mindset can deliver.

7. Do you mean then that the collaboration between development and operations teams is the key to DevOps?

Absolutely! But it is not just about development and operations teams. All stakeholders involved in the value stream must be involved from the start. This includes roles across the organization, such as the business side and technical side. Some of the roles include developers, operations teams, security teams, Q&A, and everyone else involved in creating the product.  

8. Why do you feel companies have failed to understand this?

Companies with a DevOps culture are high-performance IT organizations. Let me quote Gene Kim:

…with production deployments, 30 times more often, complete them 8,000 times faster (think ‘minutes’ vs. ‘months’), and have better results. Their production deployments are twice as likely to succeed, and when things explode, they can fix problems twelve times faster.

Companies want that! And they want it now! So they are eager to buy a silver bullet in the career marketplace. However, the best way to understand DevOps is to fully understand the three principles popularized by the Phoenix Project and explained in detail in the DevOps Handbook: systemic thinking, feedback and experimentation, and continuous learning. 

Most of my work is related to this. Once we understand the “3 Ways” of DevOps, yes, we can, and we should try to look at some tools that might help us simplify or expedite the process.   

A compass is not really helpful if you don’t have a map to guide you where you want to go. Right? 

9. What advice would you give to companies who want to get started with DevOps?

Actually, it is not my advice, but advice from the DevOps Culture.

Which is ‘to start where you are at right now’.

Firstly, map your value stream and understand how the roles involved in that value stream interact and collaborate. Is everyone pursuing a common goal? Or rather, is each one pursuing the individual goal set in their silo? If they’re not focused on the common goal, you should tackle this issue first. This is a very difficult task to manage since people and organizations are resistant to change. Culture and company values are where you should start. There is no collaboration if there is no trust among teams. The EXIN DevOps Foundation Certification is great for understanding the power of each pillar.

On the other hand, you also need to understand the three ways of DevOps. You need to have a powerful vision of why things need to change and start communicating this to the right people. If you do so, the journey will be a lot simpler. 

There are a lot of great tools out there that can help you out. You need to identify the task at hand so you can choose the best tool to help you achieve what you intend to. We have mentioned some above. Instead of looking for a DevOps Engineer, you might as well identify the specific knowledge you need to improve and focus just on that. The EXIN DevOps Professional certification helps you turn the DevOps principles into technical practices so that DevOps teams can gradually adopt them.

10. Lastly, before we conclude this interview, what else would you advise?

DevOps represents cultural change. It is not a team or a product. All stakeholders, including management, developers, product owners, Infosec, and Q&A, need to embrace the change. It’s not just about developers and operations. 

Ultimately, implementing DevOps should deliver value to the end-user. You need to focus on the business results, rather than on the change, or the changes per se.

About Carlos Zapata

Carlos is an electronic engineer with 20+ years of experience in IT and Project Management. He is a trainer in frameworks, techniques and practices of agile organizational transformation, forging organic growth strategies in areas of IT, innovation, design, processes, risks, digital transformation.

Links:

LinkedIn profile | DevOps Days | DevOps Days Medellín | LinkedIn DevOps Days Medellín