DevOps engineer: IT's most in-demand title for the future

DevOps engineer: IT's most in-demand title for the future

Have concerns about using the term "DevOps" in job titles in the years to come? Get over it. Spend your time using the DevOps engineer title to help achieve important outcomes

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It wasn’t long ago that the job title "DevOps engineer" didn’t exist: But like many things in technology, radical change can happen in flash. Within the past few years the title has grown rapidly in popularity – with LinkedIn declaring it one of the most-recruited roles in 2018 – and 51 percent of respondents to the Upskilling 2020: Enterprise DevOps Skills Report saying they had recently hired or plan to hire someone for that title. 

But does the title “DevOps engineer” have staying power? Will it be the must-have title within IT in years to come? Should technology organizations be planning to add this role to their roster in 2021? And why is a job title in technology worth debating anyway? 

[ Need to explain key DevOps terms to others? Get our cheat sheet: DevOps Glossary. ]

The trouble with IT and DevOps jobs titles

First, let’s explore why technology employees often put a lot of stock into their job titles. 

I admit that at the beginning of my IT career, my perception of a job title was extremely important. Here’s a quick personal story that underscores the importance (or lack thereof) of job titles in IT.   

After graduating with a Master of Science in Computer Information Systems and a minor in Computer Science, I landed a great job as a software engineer in one of the business units at a large technology company. Before starting, I took a few months to travel the world. On my first day, the hiring manager took me aside and told me the job I was hired for no longer existed because the software team had given up on the development of the product. However, they had found something else for me to do. I was disappointed, but as a German optimist, I was eager to understand my new assignment. The new assignment was to help the finance team reengineer some applications. 

Me a programmer? I was hired as a software engineer and not a programmer! That title just did not sound important enough to me.

Shortly after that conversation, on my way to the coffee station, a gentleman greeted me with the words, “Hello to my new programmer.” I was shocked! Me a programmer? I was hired as a software engineer and not a programmer! That title just did not sound important enough to me. But ultimately, I loved the job and the team. It was an opportunity to learn and hone my skills.

Since then, titles do not matter to me anymore. But, titles do matter when industries are going through major transformations. 

[ Are you focused on the right priorities? Read also: 3 DevOps skills IT leaders need for the next normal. ]

DevOps talent still hard to find

I have been following the DevOps transformation as an industry analyst since its beginning. Today’s usage of the DevOps methodology is at 74 percent (aside complementary methodologies) with enterprise wide adoption of 24 percent and project (or multiple project) adoption at 42 percent, according to the Upskilling 2020: Enterprise DevOps Skills Report. 

[ Considering hiring a DevOps engineer? Here are key questions to ask during the interview process. ]

The number one challenge facing DevOps is the finding and attracting skilled DevOps people. 58 percent of respondents said that finding skilled individuals is a huge challenge, whereas 48 percent say the retention of skilled DevOps individuals is a challenge. With salaries in the high $180,000's for experienced people and the current skill gap, 2020 and beyond will be a tough year for hiring managers and HR leaders.  

What DevOps jobs titles must do 

While there is a lot of debate around the importance of job titles, I would argue that no matter what title is used, each one should reflect on a person’s skills and expertise. Once the title is determined, it is up to that person and their accomplishments to define or refine the title further. 

Before exploring the title of DevOps engineer, one must ensure the following when using or creating job titles for their DevOps mission:

  • Job titles must inspire confidence and contribute to a mission. DevOps transformations are equally difficult across people, process, and technology. A significant part of the transformation is to have team members who are stewards of such a transformation. This shows that the company has put people in place who own and have the skills to initiate or continue such as transformation. Using the title of DevOps engineer provides the owner of such a title the confidence that there is support. The title signals to colleagues throughout the organization that the person with this role impacts the DevOps transformation for the business and that they contribute to fulfillment of the mission and vision of their company’s DevOps journey. 
  • Job titles must capture a focus area. The main focus area for a DevOps engineer is of a technical nature. They must understand the software development lifecycle and its associated dependencies and topics. Combining “DevOps” and “engineer” into one title reflects the necessary diligence that DevOps is not just a methodology but also requires an engineering background and a variety of skills to balance a number of different responsibilities. Those responsibilities include designing, building, coding, integrating, testing, and maintaining – all with the goal of enhancing the collaboration between two very broad silos of development and operations. 

Why the DevOps engineer title is here to stay

When looking at the definitions of engineer and engineering we find the following: an engineer is a person who designs, builds, or maintains something; whereas engineering is defined as the branch of science and technology concerned with the design, building, and use of things. If we relate this to the title of DevOps engineer, then the DevOps engineer is the person who designs, builds, or maintains within the branch of DevOps engineering. 

The transformation toward DevOps can be supported by using the DevOps engineer as the title because:  

  • DevOps is a methodology, and using the DevOps Engineer title shows purpose. While there are different DevOps capabilities or maturities across enterprises today, the challenges of adoption are centered around making changes to the existing culture, processes, and practices, as well as the adoption of new tools. There is no right answer on how to best adopt DevOps, because a multitude of factors influence the journey, such as business drivers, organizational state, and more. But to ensure that the methodology is grounded, you must leverage the title of DevOps engineer to indicate the purpose of the journey. Purpose means creating alignment around a common goal. DevOps transformations are continuous and difficult. These transformations need to be owned, championed, and managed, which is why owners are needed for introduction and sustainability. The DevOps engineer title shows ownership and makes it clear that adopting the methodology is not a fad.
  • The title of DevOps engineer describes a different way of engineering. While there are core foundational responsibilities for a DevOps Engineer (coding, scripting, re-engineering, automating, collaboration, and communicating) the role itself is an engineering role. Engineering is about innovation, with creativity being a basic human trait that drives the development of new technologies and new products, processes, or services. The combination of the words of “DevOps” and “engineer” puts forth that the future is about innovation around how development and operations is done together: The title “DevOps engineer” highlights that spirit.

[ Want DevOps best practices? Watch the on-demand webinar: Lessons from The Phoenix project you can use today. ]

What DevOps engineers really need: Empowerment

The title of DevOps engineer can have multiple meanings. But the meaning, the actual role the person owns, and the skills they have must depend on the outcomes you want to achieve when hiring or reskilling. 

As new approaches and methodologies such as holocracy and SRE are being adopted into the world of software, the DevOps role will continue to evolve. Additionally, new word combinations such as AIOps, ModelOps, GitOps, DataOps, FinOps or NoOps are being used. Regardless of what what you choose to call the people holding roles in those areas, they all have one thing in common: The adoption of automation and the collaboration of functions or roles.

New and emerging role titles will continue to show up as new technologies are adopted. Areas such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, blockchain, and machine learning are already introducing new challenges that create new demands for engineering capabilities. In years to come, other titles may eclipse the popularity of the DevOps engineer role.

What’s important is that IT organizations provide autonomy to augment the title of DevOps engineer. Individuals owning the DevOps engineer title should be empowered to augment their title with additional details around their areas of responsibilities by hiring managers and team leaders. 

Organizations using DevOps have adopted integrated product teams that are empowered, autonomous, and networked. These teams focus on areas that support key value streams such as customer on-boarding. Over time, these teams will have the responsibility to further decide the expansion of responsibility for the DevOps engineer and augment the title further within the job description.

If you have concerns about using the term “DevOps” in job titles in the years to come, now may be the time to get over it. You’ll be better served spending your time using the title to help achieve certain outcomes. 

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

Eveline Oehrlich is an industry analyst, author, speaker and business advisor focused on digital transformation. Eveline is the Chief Research Director at DevOps Institute where she leads the research and analysis for the Upskilling: Enterprise DevOps Skills Report and other research projects.

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