Agile for operations teams has long been overlooked and misunderstood, but increasingly, its successful implementation can be the difference between success and failure.
I recently discussed the importance of AgileOps and some of its key themes: bringing simplicity to the DevOps toolchain and integrating/orchestrating the different silos that exist within your IT department. I also considered the benefits and how they will give the developers in your organization the time to focus on developing high-quality code throughout the application’s lifecycle. Today we will look at building an operations team that has the necessary qualities to deliver AgileOps.
There are a number of myths surrounding DevOps that can mislead you when it comes to hiring new staff for AgileOps. Developers often have a tendency to masquerade under the banner of DevOps to entirely remove the need for an operations team, seeing it as a way to circumnavigate safety checks and processes that slow down a release. Developers are typically of the mindset that speed is most important and if they fail (fast) it is no big deal. However, for the operations engineer, this is can lead to serious issues. And even if they (the operations staff) are given the opportunity, they hate doing things twice – it is not in their nature.
What Are You Actually Looking For?
While “DevOps Engineer” is a nice title, what you are really looking for are operations people with skills that developers do not have (such as understanding how to run things at a large scale, ensuring continuity in the case of failures and demonstrable skills in security, storage, networking, backup, etc.). It’s fine to have the name “DevOps Engineer,” but alone it isn’t enough, and great developer skills (multiple programming language experience, debugging knowledge, etc..) aren’t necessarily the right set of skills for the job.
If you are intent on attracting top engineers it is essential to offer an environment that can sufficiently empower them. Operations people have skills that others don’t and they enjoy using these skills to solve problems that others in the organization (including developers) cannot.
You need to be ruthless in narrowing down the skills and strengths your company needs. It’s impossible to hire an engineer who is an expert in everything. However, look for a ‘T’ shaped engineer; someone who can speak intelligently across the technology stack but also has deep expertise in one specific area. This skillset typifies a good startup operations engineer. Identify where your company has a weakness and requires expertise because the key is to hire for the strengths of an individual, rather than a perceived lack of weakness.
The operations staff should complement the development staff and vice-versa, as the sharing of knowledge is absolutely fundamental to the success of the organization. The opportunity to develop crossover skillsets enhances employee development, but at the same time, the new operations employee can alleviate the troubles the developers may have previously found themselves in.
It is also important to provide some balance to the company culture. For instance, developers are used to the culture of failing fast, but for the operations staff, continuity is more of a focus. Failure can occur at multiple levels, often not directly in code, but with relationships to code that aren’t always obvious. Losing sight of this could result in the company losing its data, its financial security, or its customers.
So, when building your AgileOps team make sure that you offer an environment conducive to empowering operations staff, and that the prospective employee:
- Enjoys the prospect of working on extreme challenges.
- Is a ‘T-shaped’ engineer.
- Has a skill set that fills a specific void.
- Looks to simplify tasks.
- Has demonstrated a complete aversion to failure.
- Is well suited to the company culture.
In essence, you need someone who knows things that you don’t and the team needs to be prepared to listen and integrate them into the workflow. Your new operations person will hammer home the importance of simplicity, so ensure they have authority!