Work-from-home mandates may be DevOps’ shining moment

DevOps — which syncs, organizes and automates the pace of software releases — ‘is by default built for remote operations’ such as that required for the COVID-19 crisis. However, DevOps skills have been hard to find.

What effect is the tragic COVID-19 crisis — mandating the current scattering of employees across a corporate diaspora of home-bound workplaces, working from 10,000 home locations instead of one or two — having on collaboration and coordination for information technology endeavors? In recent years, collaboration has been defined as the essence of IT success. Not only have IT leaders and professionals been pressed to collaborate more closely everyone from the C-suite to the call center, but there has been special urgency for IT teams to coordinate and collaborate with each other.

Photo: Michael Krigsman
A report on COVID-era software development activities from GitHub points to some disruptions in development activity, but in general, developers are maintaining the pace. “Developer activity remains largely consistent or increased compared to last year,” according to Nicole Forsgren, the report’s author. “Developer activity-including pushes, pull requests, reviewed pull requests, and commented issues per user-shows slightly increased activity year over year. This suggests that developers have continued to contribute and show resilience in the face of uncertainty.”

What about organizational teams, especially involving operations, security and networking people, who typically have functioned in more on-premises environments?

This may be DevOps’ shining moment. The good news is DevOps — which syncs, organizes and automates the pace of software releases — “is by default built for remote operations,” relates senior technical architect Amit Kumar Gupta in a recent Medium post. “It has process oriented and automated software delivery method which doesn’t differentiate, if the team works from home, office or any other place. DevOps can very well adopt the changed caused by COVID-19 in the software industry. From the use of the distributed testing model to automated deployment mechanism, catching the early bug to capturing quality issues DevOps is all well suited to in these trying times.”

However, it’s time like these that really demand well-honed DevOps skills and experience — and that’s the challenge. The latest survey of 1,260 managers and developers out of the DevOps Institute, which finds the DevOps transformation journey is still very difficult for more than 50 percent of respondents: “Managing the people, processes and technologies associated with and necessary for a DevOps transformation are all difficult,” the report’s authors state.

In addition, the survey shows, finding and attracting people skilled in DevOps continues to be a challenge, cited by 58 percent of respondents. In addition, 48 percent report difficulties retaining them. The skill most sought-after includes process skills and knowledge (69%), which surpassed last year’s leading category of automation skills (67%). Another 61 percent need more “human” skills to boost their DevOps efforts.

For this work-at-home era, it means an ability to communicate frequently, and be able to reach out to various groups to keep things flowing, everyone in sync, and everyone feeling secure. The survey’s authors describe what is needed is a blending of skills, or “hybrid DevOps” skillsets — “skills from a wide area of fields which range from technology skills such as cloud infrastructure, to functional skills such as IT operations, to process and frameworks skills such as site reliability engineering or Agile. And last, having some exposure and skills around specific automation tools which one might have gained throughout their career or training, combined with business acumen, make a perfect hybrid DevOps engineer.”

Adapting and strengthening DevOps across remote teams calls for additional considerations:

Push Infrastructure and DevOps to the cloud: “When there is no certainty of when the situation will become normal and employees will reach office, we should move all the DevOps to cloud sooner than originally planned,” Gupta advises. “Push all DevOps tools into the cloud or use a cloud-native version of tools to support remote operation and monitoring of the DevOps process.”
Encourage more flexible ways of working and interacting. “This includes introducing flexible tools and processes to plan and track work such as enhancements, tasks, features, and bugs, which will help support developer productivity anywhere work happens,” says Forsgren.
Accelerate automation as much as possible. “When the organization sending all employees on work from home, we are realizing all the manual process which is giving the real pain,” says Gupta. “This is the time when machines should be more in charge of operations than humans. Automation can complete the task much faster — be it finding vulnerabilities in product, testing functionalities, or doing deployment to multiple environments simultaneously.”
Watch for burnout. The GitHub survey finds developers are working longer hours, but this could be due to the interspersing of family obligations while working from home. Consequently, “longer work days, more work, and more responsibilities at home means there is an increased likelihood of burnout,” says Forsgren. “Take breaks, try to create a sustainable workload — for yourself and your team — and create a supportive work community that includes clear boundaries for work and personal time.”
Ultimately, as the crisis passes, many employees may end up staying with their work-from-home arrangements, and their organizations will be more open to more flexible or remote work arrangements. Productivity will increase, software quality will be enhanced, and the cadence or releases will be more well-tuned to the business. We’ll all get through this, and technology initiatives will be that much stronger for it.

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