Myth or Matter: Is There a DevOps Talent Shortage?
Change often requires adding new skills to the team, but the search for the perfect, ideal engineer can become an exercise in frustration. Consultants and hiring experts say this is a time of significant change ushered in by cloud providers and edge computing. They see a bit of a frenzied response at some organizations to find DevOps talent, and such actions may be overzealous.
“Things are not in such bad shape,” says Brendan Caulfield, chief revenue officer with ServerCentral Turing Group, a provider of Amazon Web Services consulting, cloud-native software development, and data center services. The fundamental shift taking place in technology, he says, is driving a feeling there is such a shortage in DevOps talent that organizations believe they need to get in front of. The assumption is that there are engineers with expertise in every aspect of DevOps just waiting to be hired. The reality is quite different. “Everyone is looking for an answer as if there were a dark, unknown job board where all the DevOps candidates are,” Caulfield says. “If it exists, we’re not finding it either.”
At this stage in the evolution in DevOps, he says the focus should be on building competency internally through training and other changes within. For example, he says his team made progress on the DevOps front by adjusting expectations and the way they operate. One solution is to give engineers, who already have strong fundamental skills, the time to learn and grow into the roles they need to fill. There are more people entering the job market with desirable DevOps skills, Caulfield says, but those examples are few and far between with ever-rising salary demands.
“They are obviously quite expensive,” he says. “Companies need to take that into consideration.”
Money is Only Part of the Answer
Enterprises with huge budgets naturally can offer top salaries to attract key talent but even then, the wait can be long to find such unicorns. Companies could instead organically build a workforce around DevOps and cloud by training their engineers or building up the team around a core resource. In many ways, it is in the best interest of legacy IT staffers to update their skills for DevOps and cloud migration because this space is built on evolution. “Certainly, there are still jobs out there working on mainframes and writing Fortran, Caulfield says, “but they are rare.”
Companies that hold out for unicorns with cross-disciplinary mastery in DevOps, expecting them to magically emerge from the hiring pool could spend that time on training, says Dawn Parzych, technology marketing director at Catchpoint, a provider of digital performance analytics. She says employers should also think carefully about listing steep job requirements that can be off-putting to some applicants. “You’re never going to find people who have all of those skills,” she says.
Make Reasonable Demands
Sometimes job requirements do not even make sense. For example, a company might ask for someone with five years of Kubernetes experience despite the impossibility of such an ask. “The technology has only been around for four years,” Parzych says.
Hiring issues could possibly be alleviated, she says, if companies focused on essential skills and allowed more leeway for training for in-house talent. Still, they might dig their heels in and choose to keep waiting for the “perfect” candidate, their own detriment.
Jobs that remain open for protracted periods raise red flags in the DevOps scene, Parzych says. as the available talent pool questions what is going on within a company. “People in the community talk,” she says. “There are Slack channels dedicated to people looking for jobs.” Word can spread that a company has nigh-impossible expectations for the position, which may drive applicants away.
Keeping Talented DevOps Onboard
Companies should consider ways to differentiate themselves beyond salary offerings if they want to attract DevOp hires, says Michael Race, senior consultant with staffing and recruiting company Salt. He also organizes the Big Apple DevOps, a New York meetup group. “It’s really a candidate market,” he says. “They can pick and choose exactly where they want to go.” He typically asks client companies what they see as “sellable” about themselves, something that sets them apart from Amazon or Google, which have notable presences in New York. “What is going to make someone want to move to your company as opposed to others that are more established?” Race asks. “Even startups that are only in Series A or B funding rounds can offer $150,000 to $170,000 base salaries here in New York.”
Setting salary aside, he says company culture and opportunities for collaboration can make roles more attractive to DevOps hires. They also want to be able to move up the ranks in a company.
If an engineer sees that there is little communication or team interaction, they might look elsewhere. Growing companies are more attractive to the talent rising in the current market, Race says, because those are the organizations that need to scale up and deploy new technology. That can be a significant factor in keeping DevOps talent. “They want to stay relevant, so they don’t fall behind and can never get a job again,” he says.