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The Roles and Responsibilities of DevOps Engineers

The cloud is now mainstream. With most companies using a significant amount of cloud technology for day-to-day work, the explosion of demand for high-performance web solutions that work flawlessly has engulfed the software development industry. As a result, businesses and tech professionals have had to change how they create and deliver software. DevOps engineering, a position that takes an increasingly popular approach to deliver a steady stream of updated software, bridges a gap between two disciplines that rarely interact: development and operations.

DevOps engineers combine software development and IT operations to create a more streamlined and efficient development process. They’re responsible for implementing and managing the DevOps approach within an organization. These engineers play a critical role in a novel approach that leverages the flexibility of the cloud for rapid software development and delivery.

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A closer look at development operations

Traditionally, software development and delivery involved the dev and operations teams working in relative isolation. This arrangement worked well since software at the time was deployed to physical servers. When developers created a new application or updated an existing one, they passed the updates to the operations team. These professionals would then test the software on the server to ensure it wouldn’t compromise the system’s stability. The process was slow yet reliable.

As the web grew more capable and the cloud became standard, application development increased in complexity. Instead of the process slowing down, the complexity created opportunities for rapid development and deployment of new solutions. To accommodate these emerging rapid development models, a new approach to deployment was necessary.

DevOps engineers are central to this approach, working closely with both development and operations teams to ensure software is delivered quickly, reliably and securely. This entails some degree of oversight across the entire software development lifecycle, from planning and development to testing and deployment.

As businesses seek to deliver software faster and more efficiently, they require skilled professionals who can manage complex cloud infrastructure, automate tedious processes and fix issues fast. DevOps engineers possess unique skill sets and expertise that make them invaluable to businesses that need to stay ahead of the software development curve.

What a DevOps engineer does

DevOps engineers are responsible for overseeing the software development process from start to finish. They’re essential to both development and operations teams, ensuring that software is delivered continuously, securely and without bugs. They do this in several ways:

Collaboration between development and operations

Development and operations teams traditionally have had distinct business objectives. Engineers want to develop new features and get them to users as fast as possible. Operations teams, on the other hand, want to keep systems stable and operational, which favors a conservative approach to updates. These goals often conflict.

DevOps engineers serve as liaisons between these two teams, ensuring continuous updates and deployments are managed in a way that doesn’t compromise stability. In this sense, they function as a leader for both teams, keeping everyone aligned toward the same goal.

Continuous integration and delivery

DevOps engineers automate the software development process as much as possible. This involves implementing continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) pipelines that allow for faster and more frequent releases of software. CI/CD pipelines involve automated testing, building and deployment processes that allow developers to quickly and easily push code changes to production.

Infrastructure management

Along with a deep understanding of development and operations principles, DevOps engineers often serve as cloud architects, working with infrastructure that’s managed through code. This infrastructure is where software is deployed and run, and it often requires finely-tuned integrations to function at peak performance.

Making sure company data is safe and secure is one of the key aspects of DevOps work. They integrate security measures with software processes and ensure that updates don’t create any vulnerabilities. Because DevOps engineers use so much automation in their daily work, keeping information secure by identifying possible breaches and addressing them is especially important.

Monitoring and testing

DevOps engineers run tests on the effectiveness and efficiency of various software tools. This is also known as quality assurance or QA software testing. They assess how well each programming method works in the context of its task. Testing helps DevOps engineers identify infrastructure flaws and draft code to solve a problem or alert team members to start working on a solution.

The tools and technologies used by DevOps engineers

The work of DevOps engineers requires expertise across a variety of tools, technologies and methodologies. Cloud-based platforms such as Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS) are standard. The same goes for containerization tools, such as Docker and Kubernetes, which automate the deployment of servers.

DevOps engineers also require expert-level knowledge of the following tools and methodologies:

  • Source and version control using git
  • Linux-based operating systems
  • Various programming languages
  • Automated code testing tools and techniques
  • Agile and Scrum development methodologies

DevOps engineers spend a considerable amount of time writing and improving code. They review software scripts and look for ways to improve automation and resolve operational issues. While some DevOps engineers may delegate coding to developers, they need to understand computer science principles to address workflow issues.

Skills and qualifications

A great DevOps engineer possesses a unique set of skills that aren’t common in the technology world. Moreover, the combination required isn’t surface level—these operational engineers need deep expertise in infrastructure management and software development.

Technical skills

The technical side of cloud computing has evolved into what’s known as serverless technologies. Rather than powering virtual servers, a serverless approach uses code to specify the computing resources necessary for the corresponding software to function. AWS and Azure are just a couple of platforms that use this approach. It’s an approach that necessitates considerable technical acumen, and it’s essential to most DevOps engineering roles.

This also entails deep expertise in containerization techniques and tooling. A big part of a DevOps engineer’s role is automating the tasks of infrastructure configuration, server deployment and software setup. Containerization tools allow them to create predefined setups that are far easier and quicker to set up than a virtual server.

Meanwhile, these versatile engineers also need development-level expertise in programming. Much of this is leveraged during the aforementioned automation tasks, which require code. DevOps engineers are often proficient in languages such as Python for this purpose. They also need robust familiarity with software engineering principles, so they can remediate problems during testing and deployment.

Soft skills

While DevOps engineers possess substantial technical expertise, their soft skills are equally well-rounded. Since they function as a liaison between two teams with juxtaposed objectives, they need leadership qualities and great communication skills to get their job done.

Astute problem-solving abilities also serve them well on the soft side of things. Since they often need to make tradeoffs between two conflicting business objectives, the ability to find well-balanced solutions is indispensable. This also translates into a high degree of flexibility and adaptability, especially in the ever-shifting realm of continuous development.

DevOps engineers are essential for planning strategies to reach business goals and capable of careful cost and benefit analysis on the technology and operational front. They can also conduct risk assessments, gauge and set operational forecasts and manage deployment timelines. Finally, they consult on leadership decisions from a workflow management perspective and then develop a plan for carrying out those goals across departments.

Education and training

In most colleges and universities, degree programs focus on the wider discipline of computer science. While this can certainly lead to a path of DevOps engineering, programs that teach the necessary skills often sit at two ends of a spectrum. In most cases, DevOps engineers are professionals who have spent years working in one area while amassing the necessary knowledge in the other.

Industry certifications, such as those for Amazon, Microsoft and Google’s cloud solutions, are highly regarded by businesses. These certifications all require extensive knowledge and experience to obtain.

Becoming a DevOps engineer requires deep technical knowledge across two domains and soft skills that are no less impressive. As technology professionals, they need to keep their skills sharp by following industry tools, techniques and trends. In other words, their robust skillsets are continuously developing.

Frequently asked questions about DevOps

Do DevOps engineers write code?

Yes, DevOps engineers write code to automate processes involved with software maintenance and deployment, including infrastructure management. They collaborate with developers and other teams to develop and rapidly deploy reliable, efficient and scalable software.

Is DevOps difficult to learn?

DevOps involves a broad range of skills, tools and methods across multiple domains, and locating the right training and resources is challenging. Meanwhile, much of the depth comes from years of experience. A solid foundation in software development or technology operations can set anyone down the path to becoming a DevOps engineer.

What is the hourly rate for a DevOps engineer?

DevOps engineers earn an average of $127,957 annually, with some salaries reaching more than $200,000. Given the nature of the position, many DevOps engineers work overtime and on-call.

Why are DevOps engineer salaries so high?

The unique skills required for DevOps engineering mean there’s a shortage of qualified candidates. The field is growingly rapidly, so employers are willing to pay premiums for professionals with the necessary skills, especially ones with DevOps experience.

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