Dev Ringers: DevOps engineers or full-stack developers?

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For some businesses, deciding between investing in DevOps engineers or full-stack developers is no small feat. This is due, in part of course, to the fact that nobody really seems to know what DevOps is. As one of the most talked-about and on-trend tech roles in recent years, it’s initially kind of staggering how hard DevOps can be to define.

Perhaps there’s a reason for that. Typical advice to businesses considering their options usually goes something along the lines of “If you’re established and aren’t offering new products or solutions in the near future, there’s little need to invest in DevOps”, or “If you have adopted a complex stack with multiple different specialized components, then you’ll need DevOps”.

But is it really all that cut and dry in 2017?

What businesses do you know – of any size or industry – that aren’t looking to grow, invest in more complex technology, and be more agile? In the same way, the changing business landscape is changing demands on technical professionals, bringing them closer together than ever.

Cut from the same cloth

When you take a proper look, there are significant similarities between full-stack developers and DevOps engineers. Most significant, perhaps, is the impact each is having on the way we use technology within a business setting. The contribution both full-stack developers and DevOps engineers are making to the way the business world understands technology is easily illustrated in the value placed on each.

DevOps engineers earn very similar amounts of money in both SMEs and Enterprise, showing the value of DevOps provides when it comes to the need to adapt to a changing market. Full-stack developers, on the other hand, also are paid significantly for their ability to provide innovative insights and business tech acumen. Full-stack developers do particularly well as consultants, where they earn more than other developer roles.

Businesses clearly are willing to invest in individuals with a Venn diagram of skills, who can provide them with a span of knowledge that no master-of-one-trade can. Arguably, the rise of DevOps has permanently altered the mindset of the developer by encouraging the prioritization of agility and scalability, bringing the world of Devs and Ops even closer together.

In this way, DevOps engineers and full-stack developers have sprung from the same concept. They are symptoms of a growing demand for flexibility. This growing demand is likely to continue to influence a need for tech professionals with broader skillsets under their belts.

Trading DevOps tools

But does this relationship go beyond the conceptual? Is there evidence that the worlds of full-stack developers and DevOps engineers are colliding in more tangible terms? Consider the language of the two: ‘full-stack’ and ‘DevOps’ are invented words that blur the lines between developer and engineer. Now, consider the fact that more and more developers are using technologies that we would usually associate with deployment and automation. The increasing use of Docker and Vagrant, for example, is highlighting the impact of containerization and virtualization on web development. For those working within the industry, this perhaps does not come as a surprise, but to an outsider attempting to untangle the two to find the best solution for their business, it’s an intriguing trend.

Perhaps it’s safe to say that web developers are increasingly no longer simply expected to develop. They also need to deploy and configure their projects, as this shift in tool usage might suggest. In fact, in Packt’s 2017 Skill Up report, Docker came out on top of the tools that respondents were planning on learning. In 2015, when we first ran the survey, a large number of respondents across web development areas said that they planned on learning Docker over the next 12 months.

Perhaps it’s incremental, a step-by-step revolution. But as software delivery becomes more complex,  it seems that developers don’t want to be left behind. They’re learning more about the infrastructures that their software is run on. This is certainly happening out there in the real world; I’m reminded of a job advert where prospective applicants were asked for a wide variety of tools,  from a high-level language such as JavaScript to scripting languages such as Bash and Perl, to continuous integration tools and even containerization technologies. Undoubtedly, that job went to a polyglot.

However, this landscape of increasing complexity doesn’t need to be a cause for concern or confusion. Instead, it’s an opportunity for developers and engineers to significantly increase their value in the market and to help establish better lines of communication across all aspects of tech – after all, isn’t that what DevOps is really about?

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