7 traits of a valuable DevOps team player

What do DevOps professionals value most in their teammates? Their answers can inform your hiring and talent retention tactics
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Every DevOps project benefits from experienced DevOps team members. But what experience and skills matter most? To understand operations and development perspectives, I solicited input from our own internal DevOps team.  They provided valuable insights. One interesting aspect is that the mastery of specific coding languages and tools was not emphasized.

Here’s what distinguishes the team members that DevOps professionals prize. These traits can help CIOs and IT leaders fine-tune hiring and talent retention strategies:

1. Self-motivation

Is the job a paycheck or a passion? Do team members indicate an inherent interest in DevOps? What have they done to demonstrate a continued interest in learning about it? With all the hype about what the next big IT game-changer will be, team members must be aware of what other people are using, keeping an ear to the ground with open source communities (where innovation is happening), and experimenting with code firsthand. Also, attending trade shows and events, such as PyCon, DevOpsDays, Monitorama, and AnsibleFest are a few examples of how our DevOps team keeps up with current developments.

[ For more DevOps advice from CIOs and DevOps experts, see our comprehensive resource: DevOps: The IT Leader's Guide. ]

2. Flexibility

When it comes to DevOps, the days of narrow, specialized expertise are gone. Everyone on the DevOps team owns a bigger portion of the IT estate and must wear more hats and accept additional responsibility, from coding to deployment. Each team member must be able to learn on the fly and be willing to get their hands dirty learning new models and interacting with different systems.

3. Collaboration

Because the entire team has to continually evolve with advancing technology, it is vitally important to ask questions, express opinions, and ask for help when needed. DevOps professionals frequently enter new technology territory, so in order to maintain forward progress, everyone must be comfortable admitting knowledge gaps, asking for help, and probing for information. “Teamwork makes the dream work” – and the team wins or loses as a whole.

[ See our related story: 10 bad DevOps habits to break. ]

4. Accountability

Every team member must deliver on personal commitments. Because each team member has more responsibility, everyone influences multiple areas of the IT ecosystem and can impact the entire mission if there is a breakdown or new challenge. Lack of follow-through not only affects current milestones, but also slows momentum as the team attempts to get back on track.

5. Balance

This is a tricky one. In action, an effective DevOps team maintains a well-orchestrated momentum, with each team member initiating and promoting collaboration while meeting individual goals and commitments. Inadvertent focus on consensus, rather than true collaboration, can lead to design-by-committee issues and inhibit productivity, delivery, and creativity. Each team member must be able to self-evaluate and balance communication and execution. The end result is the “ebb and flow” of learning while you transform your IT environment.

6. Trust

An effective DevOps team always assumes positive intent. The “blame game” has no place in retrospectives and root cause analysis. Placing blame and focusing on mistakes is the best way to shut down innovation and collaboration. Sooner or later everyone on the team will have a misstep. Viewing missteps as opportunities to learn and evolve, rather than as setbacks, further empowers the entire team.

7. Good old-fashioned smarts

Being an ace coder is not enough. Each team member must be able to assimilate new information, apply new understanding, know how to look for help, and have excellent judgment. Since DevOps focuses on enabling new solutions, it is unreasonable to expect DevOps teams to know or be familiar with everything from the start, including the latest deployment models, programming languages, and CI/CD systems. Hence, the importance of demonstrating solid grey matter and ability and desire to be a perpetual student.

Spotting DevOps MVPs

Admittedly, many of these characteristics are in alignment with good hiring practices, including self-motivated individuals and good team players, but they’re even more important for DevOps environments.
Given the importance of team dynamics in the DevOps way of working, involve your DevOps team in the hiring process to ensure that they observe candidates up close. If a candidate demonstrates these qualities and can articulate why they are important, this is a good indication of their value in your DevOps organization.

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John Allessio joined Red Hat in September, 2014 as Vice President, Global Services. He is responsible for consulting services, training services, and business partner enablement, globally. This organization of more than 1400 professionals has the mission to ensure client success with Red Hat technologies.