DevOps Jobs: 4 trends to watch

DevOps experts weigh in on titles, emerging specialties, and team makeup. Take note, job seekers and hiring managers
988 readers like this.
CIO Digital Training

If you’ve got DevOps chops, you already know you’re in demand. And if you’re an IT leader hiring for a DevOps shop, you know the challenges in finding good people.

Like DevOps itself, the DevOps job market continues to evolve. And let’s be honest: This isn’t an area of consensus in IT, as the ongoing debate about titles such as “DevOps Engineer” attests.

[ See our related article, What's next in DevOps: 5 trends to watch. ]

Given those debates, it can be tricky to figure out what’s next in the booming DevOps jobs market, for both job seekers and hiring managers alike. 

That doesn’t mean we can’t try. Let’s dig into several key trends in – and ongoing debates about – DevOps roles moving forward.

1. The DevOps Engineer title: Debate rages

Perhaps the biggest trend in DevOps jobs is the ongoing discussion of whether “DevOps jobs” should exist at all. To be clear, DevOps jobs absolutely do exist, as evidenced by the thousands of well-paying “DevOps Engineer” positions (and similar titles) posted on sites like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and Indeed. However, not everyone thinks those titles should exist.

“The DevOps engineer title will continue being popular for as long as DevOps is popular,” says says Viktor Farcic, senior consultant at CloudBees. “The problem is that it is a complete misunderstanding of the principles behind DevOps. It forgets that the change is cultural, not technological.”

It would be akin to, in an alternate history of IT, the proliferation of a title like “Agile engineer,” which didn’t actually happen.

“Agile processes like Scrum prescribed names for different roles, so no one came up with something like ‘Agile engineer,’” Farcic says. “Since DevOps is less prescriptive, it produced more confusion about its nature and resulted in job titles such as DevOps engineer.”

Robert Reeves, CTO at Datical, predicts that the future of software will put the title “DevOps engineer” – not DevOps itself – on the endangered species list.

“Today, almost all of us have a website, but no one has a webmaster anymore – they’re obsolete. DevOps engineers are on a similar path.”

“Today, almost all of us have a website, but no one has a webmaster anymore – they’re obsolete. DevOps engineers are on a similar path,” Reeves says. “Eventually, they will all become software engineers as we shift to a ‘You Build It; You Run It’ model of responsibility. DevOps isn’t a service like payroll processing and it’s not something you can outsource or assign one team to perform the entire role.” 

There’s value in having a specific “DevOps team” in an organization’s early iterations of DevOps, says Reeves, but it should be an evolutionary phase, not the finish line.

“Having DevOps teams today is important to identify best practices, but those need to be shared with the rest of the company so that all departments can benefit without creating a ticket for the DevOps team to complete,” Reeves explains. “The DevOps team needs to help the rest of the company in eventually being able to manage and run the software they create.”

2. DevOps titles will continue to vary widely

Here’s both a mix of that debate – what does it mean to have a “DevOps job”? – and trend: You don’t actually need to have DevOps in your job title to be working successfully in a DevOps environment.

“I am sure there are cases where it makes economic sense to individuals to include DevOps in their title – especially when job searches are underway,” says Derek Weeks, VP and DevOps advocate at Sonatype. “That said, I don’t expect a mass shift into catch-all titles like ‘DevOps Engineer.’ There is still value for many enterprises in describing the specific responsibilities a team member brings to the table.”

DevOps can describe a particular company’s culture and software development lifecycle, and influence a particular individual’s job responsibilities, no matter if the term is in that person’s job title or not. It’s a trend that’s already evident. Weeks notes that of the more than 25,000 people registered for the All Day DevOps conference on October 24, just 13% included “DevOps” in their title.

“While the term (DevOps) has been adopted, it is certainly not ubiquitous today,” Weeks says.

Indeed, some CIOs prefer to use the term “agile” rather than DevOps to describe the same fast, experimental, cross-functional style of working.

“I am not a fan of DevOps being a title,” says Mike Kail, co-founder and CTO at CYBRIC, and former CIO at Yahoo. “It is a culture and a methodology that strives for continuous improvement and collaboration across teams and functional groups. Having said that, I believe there will always be a slight delineation between more Dev-centric and more Ops-centric engineers, so the area to continually improve upon is the real-time collaboration between them.”

3. Expect more specialized positions and teams

“As initially conceived, DevOps was often perceived (and sometimes implemented) as being about the elimination of specialist roles,” says Red Hat technology evangelist Gordon Haff. “Everyone does dev. Everyone does ops. Everyone carries a pager.

“But, especially in larger organizations, that’s not really right,” he explains. “Silos do have to be broken down. And it’s hard to argue against multidisciplinary teams. But there’s always going to be a need for specialists in areas like security and operating large-scale infrastructure. They key is for those specialists to effectively communicate with and provide tools for others to use.”

Especially as DevOps teams mature, they develop roles and processes that more specifically address their organization’s needs and business strategies, says Ben Newton, analytics lead at Sumo Logic.

Look for these roles to increase: Site reliability engineers, security architects and specialists, and QA/testing engineers.

“DevOps is a philosophy, a way of life, a perspective,” he says. “I think the trend is for DevOps to just be a given for the modern organization, and the focus is then on figuring out what specializations are needed outside of the core developer/scrum teams that actually build and support their own code.”

He expects roles like site reliability engineers (hold that thought for a moment), security architects and specialists, and various iterations of QA/Testing engineers to increase in DevOps environments.

“We are also seeing more data science-oriented engineers driving development, since analytics is so key to being competitive today,” he adds.

“The primary trend is toward developers taking on more operational and business – and generally broadened – responsibilities, not operations or other older roles learning to code,” Newton says.

Dan Juengst, principal technology evangelist at OutSystems, anticipates increased utilization of smaller teams brought together for specific projects, rather than a single larger unit that touches everything.

“Like a cross-functional scrum team in agile development, these DevOps teams will have resources with both Dev and Ops skills, and they will be empowered and enabled to work closely together with a focused goal of delivering a single project,” he says.

4. Pay attention to the site reliability engineer role

The early leader for hot DevOps job that doesn’t have DevOps in the title (see #2) and is likely to be increasingly specialized depending on an organization’s needs (see #3): Site Reliability Engineer.

The nomenclature for this fast-growing role is attributed to Google, which describes site reliability engineering as “what you get when you treat operations as if it’s a software problem.”

The title has quickly spread to other organizations: There’s plenty of overlap with DevOps culture, especially when it comes to an obsessive focus on automation. Arvind Soni, VP of product at Netsil, predicts the SRE role will be one of hottest job titles in DevOps shops in the future.

“Considering the scale and complexity of modern applications, there is a need to address operational issues such as monitoring, deployment management, incident response, etc. with higher levels of automation and programming,” Soni says. “This need is giving rise to the role of SREs, which bring in the software developer’s mindset of ‘let’s solve this problem more comprehensively’ rather than the previous mindset of ‘let’s get a tool or patchwork of scripts to get past this problem.’”

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a variety of publications. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his story, "Are You Too Old For IT?" He's a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards.