5 must-read DevOps books

No matter where you are on your DevOps path, these books can offer practical guidance and insights. Here’s what they taught my team.
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DevOps is all about constant improvement, and keeping up with the latest trends and thought leaders is necessary to keep yourself (and your team) at the top of your game. I have read several books that offer great tips and process considerations that I consider to be must-reads for DevOps teams and leaders. 

[ Where is DevOps headed this year? Read: 10 DevOps trends to watch in 2020. ]

Here are my DevOps book picks, and how I’ve implemented learnings from each within my team and career.

The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win 

By Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford

Quick Summary: This is a fantastic, real-world application of DevOps principles. IT Manager Bill needs to implement change (and fast!) at his company, Parts Unlimited. If he’s unsuccessful, his department will be outsourced.

“The Phoenix Project” was published nearly a decade ago, but it’s still one of the top DevOps books for businesses that want to take things to the next level. A perfect blend of narrative and practical advice, the book tells the story of a company that needs to implement a major transformation without much time. It provides a step-by-step guide to enacting the practices in your team, transforming IT systems, and using DevOps to make your business more efficient.

How It Helped: This was a great place to start for many of the junior members of my team, and the real-world advice in the book is incomparable. For example, as the IT world changed, my team was able to utilize a lot of the advice and applications from this book in various transformations we’ve been a part of throughout the past few years. We’ve changed and enhanced data systems, transformed the way our company interacts with both the agents and customers we serve, and much more. The practices and tips acknowledged throughout this book were crucial for all of those.

[ Learn more from Gene Kim’s most recent book: 3 lessons for IT leaders from "The Unicorn Project." ]

The DevOps Adoption Playbook: A Guide to Adopting DevOps in a Multi-Speed IT Enterprise 

By Sanjeev Sharma

Quick Summary: This is a back-to-basics guide for anyone thinking of adopting DevOps across an organization. It’s a great read for anyone who’s just starting out or needs a refresher.

The book aims to help IT operation and engineering teams understand the principles behind DevOps. By breaking down many of the common DevOps misconceptions (e.g. “There’s only one specific process when it comes to DevOps” or “DevOps is a process”), it shows how a true DevOps culture can positively impact your business by improving speed, reliability, and security.

How It Helped: This book was a game-changer for our team. It forced us to focus on the fact that DevOps is a mindset and can only be achieved when everyone is working toward a common goal. It helped us solidify our communication methods before and during our projects, and it completely revitalized post-project reporting. This helped tremendously during the digital transformation that HealthMarkets underwent six years ago, which required a lot of brainpower and collaboration from our department.

Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth 

By John Doerr

Quick Summary: This is a guide for using DevOps for goal-setting with in-depth insights about process flows. With advice from contributors like Bono and Bill Gates, this book is all about using objectives and key results (OKRs) to make the right choices when it comes to business. In DevOps, goal-setting is critically important as we are always trying to deliver the best product possible.

How It Helped: This book encouraged my team to be honest about areas where we needed significant improvement. By continuing to aim high with the many projects and initiatives that come our way – and holding ourselves accountable to those goals with positivity and trust – we have helped drive significant growth and change in our company. Furthermore, we have built pride in one another by doing so.

Continuous Delivery: Reliable Software Releases through Build, Test, and Deployment Automation 

By Jez Humble and David Farley

Quick Summary: This book is all about the foundations: the ideas behind creating continuous delivery, how you can create a good pipeline for deployment, and imagining your ideal delivery ecosystem.

This book should be required reading no matter where you are in your DevOps career. It’s a fantastic guide to the basics: developing software faster, reducing risk, and increasing quality. The tips are simple and easy to emulate. But it also covers complicated topics such as production monitoring, dependency management, and using virtualization correctly.

How It Helped: This book explained the philosophies and principles behind the development and delivery processes, rather than just offering tricks and tools. By implementing these philosophies on my own team, I feel like everyone – from the programmers to the managers – better understood what we were doing when we had to implement new programs or software, change back-end systems, develop new consumer-facing applications, and more.

Leading the Transformation: Applying Agile and DevOps Principles at Scale 

By Gary Gruver and Tommy Mouser

Quick Summary: This book tackles the “whys” and “hows.” It’s a helpful read for rapidly growing businesses or large businesses that need to quickly scale a DevOps solution.

It’s short and sweet (only 114 pages!) but packs a punch. It’s a case study of HP, a business that has both server software and embedded software. This is a book for the managers on your team, as well as your stakeholders. It offers a good overview of technical issues at a very high level. But it also makes the important point that leadership can’t just manage by the numbers – you must engage and figure out what works best for your business.

How It Helped: It changed the way I lead my team. I became more realistic about what we needed in order to make things work – not just what I wanted to be doing. I did further analysis on the skillset of my team members so that I could make sure we were collectively making the best use of those skills, and if we needed additional support in some area(s), we could address that from a strategic standpoint. In some cases, that meant hiring additional staff members to fill in skill gaps. In other situations, it meant encouraging team members to take on additional and/or new roles to further expand their skills and knowledge, ultimately benefiting the organization as a whole, as well as the individual contributor.

An effective DevOps strategy has the potential to completely revitalize your business, and these books offer you practical, in-depth guidance to get started. I hope you and your teams can reap the same benefits that my team did.

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free Ebook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

Kassie Rangel is the senior director of IT for HealthMarkets, one of the largest independent health insurance agencies in the United States.