DevOps administrator: role and responsibilities

Software development. System management. Communication skills. These requirements for a DevOps admin position seem simple, but each role has nuance that relates to the specific company looking to fill that position – and nothing in IT is static.

For candidates, this can create a confusing path to employment, filled with uncertainty about what recruiters are looking for and what will be expected of them when they land the job. However, these various assignments – and the jobs themselves – share some common mechanics.

To clear up confusion around the DevOps admin role, SearchITOperations spoke with some practitioners to hear their first-hand experiences.

Transversal qualifications

Although a DevOps admin job can range from entry level to senior level, some requirements carry over from each level. For example, the years of relevant experience required for an upper-level position will be greater than for an entry-level position, but many of the postings for both will require a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field.

That said, there are job postings that will waive the bachelor’s degree requirement for equivalent work experience. And while that experience can come from a range of past tasks and projects, there’s one area it should include: the cloud.

“I think the greatest skills [for a DevOps admin] would be familiar with cloud providers and infrastructure,” said Matthew Grasberger, DevOps engineer at Imperfect Foods. “As I’ve been in the DevOps role so far, most of the work has been working with — in our case, AWS — and automating a lot of the things that you can do manually in AWS to save time. developer time. »

A business can choose to use Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, or any of the other cloud providers available, and while their complexities vary, certain knowledge and skills transfer from platform to platform. For example, programming languages, APIs, and containers are commonly used.

Mirco Hering

“A few years ago, we would have described DevOps engineers or DevOps administrators as someone who builds and maintains a CD [continuous deployment] pipeline; that was the main kind of work for them,” said Mirco Hering, head of global transformation at Accenture. To complete this task, they must master tools and concepts such as Jenkins, automation, Perl and Bash. “What we’ve seen change now is that there’s a lot more work going on with cloud-native solutions. So I think today you need to have skills in Azure DevOps platform or AWS or Google alternatives.”

In recent years, Grasberger has also experienced containerization growth. “Using Docker is, at least in my experience, kind of the de facto standard for applications now. And so with that you have organizations migrating to Kubernetes, Elastic Container Service, and many other vendors that let you just give them a Docker container and define how you want the container to work,” he said.

When asked to list just the top three skills a DevOps admin should have, Hering narrowed it down to:

1. The ability to learn

“The DevOps platform is always broader,” Hering said. Being willing to learn new technologies is more of an asset than specializing in a single tool. One way to show this is through certifications. Individual certification doesn’t hurt, but Hering views an individual’s completion of the program, for example from the General Cloud Course for Azure to Developer and then Administrator, as a commitment to their own learning.

2. Automation

Automation in DevOps is a soft skill. “Most people I work with, and love working with, have no problem moving from Jenkins to DevOps,” Hering said. “They understand how automation works, how you need to abstract variables, how you need to think about using configuration for everything rather than hard-coding.”

3. A sharp knife

As important as it is to have broad knowledge and a willingness to learn, experience and proficiency with a tool or platform like Azure DevOps, Ansible, or Terraform rounds out an administrator’s skillset. DevOps.

Responsibilities

“A DevOps engineer in many roles is going to be, maybe not front line, but sometimes a first responder on certain types of issues,” Grasberger said. Knowledge of your organization’s application stack is essential for the role. This familiarity in action can mean looking at a log and, for example, recognizing that it means a database is overloaded.

And while the application stack can change from organization to organization, experience with popular languages ​​like Python, Bash, and JavaScript, and operating systems like Linux, is transferable.

However, the responsibility of a DevOps administrator does not stop with the application, but also extends to the infrastructure. For many, this could mean strengthening their skills with cloud platforms and applications. But, more likely, it means understanding a hybrid environment. “So they’ll have VMware, they’ll have cloud, and what you’re trying to do is create an environment in those two landscapes,” Hering said, by way of example.

Keep an eye on…

Automation is an important part of the DevOps role and its growth in popularity and function should catch the attention of current and potential DevOps administrators.

“I think a lot of companies are already doing [fully automated deployments], where a developer can simply write a feature and push their code. The whole pipeline has so many tests and can fully validate their changes – so if it’s a small change, there’s really no need for intervention – to then roll out to production,” Grasberger said. “And certainly Facebook, Google, and those organizations are doing that successfully, or so they say, and I think companies will move towards that.”

But the road to get there – especially for small businesses – could be a bit bumpy. While fully automated deployments are a benefit, there are still many unknowns to implementation, as well as a current lack of tools that can recognize the validity of tests, Grasberger explained. And while AI and machine learning can help unlock that potential, it’s not yet certain.

Examine infrastructure as code

“Infrastructure-as-code tools are incredibly popular, and for good reason,” Grasberger said. “Because without infrastructure as code, it’s very difficult to understand and track what’s going on with your infrastructure.” A business looking to get started quickly may not be concerned with tracking changes, but larger organizations need to track those changes and their effect on their cloud configurations, he said. Terraform is a popular infrastructure-as-code tool, but there are alternatives, such as Ansible and ARM templates.

DevOps is above all a culture. For a DevOps administrator to successfully implement this methodology, there needs to be a change in the way people design projects. One way to help explain the process is to use visualization skills. “We very often speak in such abstract terms that it’s hard to follow,” Hering said. Process visualization, such as value stream mapping — or application and infrastructure visualization — helps communicate goals, whether it’s implementing technology or changing workflows. “The ability to put this into image and [bring] more people through what you’re trying to achieve, I think that’s super powerful.”

Dig into the data

Hering sees understanding and using data – especially DevOps platform and application metrics – to make decisions as one of the next steps in the evolution of the DevOps administrator role. “It could be decisions about proactively patching security so that we don’t run into the problem of having a Log4J come around the corner – and then we have to fix it very quickly everywhere.”

Or, as Hering explores in his research, it can mean studying how data flows through an application to see which components are under more strain than others and make proactive changes.

“For many years it was a measure of ‘How fast can we get the feature out?’ And now we see [many] more organizations are measuring whether these features are actually being used.”

Does remote work change the role?

The pandemic has pushed many people to work remotely, and while there have been tangible benefits — like an increased talent pool — some companies are looking to bring employees back to the office.

“I started working with [Imperfect Foods] about two years ago and have been completely estranged since then – and [I] was transitioning into a DevOps engineer role at that time. So it’s very common, I think, for DevOps engineers to be remote,” Grasberger said. “I certainly know, culturally, whether people prefer to be there or not, but at least for me there is no discernible way to see that being there would be [have] allowed me to do my job better.”

Accept surprises

Even with years of experience under your belt, be prepared for surprises.

“The most surprising thing is how often things go wrong,” said Grasberger as a DevOps engineer. “Software is inherently buggy. And I don’t care what software it is, but at some point it’s going to fail. And there may not always be a response.”

A DevOps admin should be flexible and ready to handle whatever comes their way, whether the issue is with their own software stack or a third-party service.

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