DevOps engineering is a hot career with many rewards. Whether you're looking for your first job after graduating or seeking an opportunity to reskill while leveraging your prior industry experience, this guide should help you take the right steps to become a DevOps engineer.
Begin by learning the fundamentals, practices, and methodologies of DevOps. Understand the "why" behind DevOps before jumping into the tools. A DevOps engineer's main goal is to increase speed and maintain or improve quality across the entire software development lifecycle (SDLC) to provide maximum business value. Read articles, watch YouTube videos, and go to local Meetup groups or conferences—become part of the welcoming DevOps community, where you'll learn from the mistakes and successes of those who came before you.
Consider Your Background
If you have prior experience working in technology, such as a software developer, systems engineer, systems administrator, network operations engineer, or database administrator, you already have broad insights and useful experience for your future role as a DevOps engineer. If you're just starting your career after finishing your degree in computer science or any other STEM field, you have some of the basic stepping-stones you'll need in this transition.
The DevOps engineer role covers a broad spectrum of responsibilities. Following are the three ways enterprises are most likely to use them:
• DevOps engineers with a dev bias work in a software development role building applications. They leverage continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD), shared repositories, cloud, and containers as part of their everyday work, but they are not necessarily responsible for building or implementing tooling. They understand infrastructure and, in a mature environment, will be able to push their own code into production.
• DevOps engineers with an ops bias could be compared to systems engineers or systems administrators. They understand software development but do not spend the core of their day building applications. Instead, they are more likely to be supporting software development teams to automate manual processes and increase efficiencies across human and technology systems. This could mean breaking down legacy code and using less cumbersome automation scripts to run the same commands, or it could mean installing, configuring, or maintaining infrastructure and tooling. They ensure the right tools are installed and available for any teams that need them. They also help to enable teams by teaching them how to leverage CI/CD and other DevOps practices.
• Site reliability engineers (SRE) are like software engineers that solve operations and infrastructure problems. SREs focus on creating scalable, highly available, and reliable software systems.
In the ideal world, DevOps engineers will understand all of these areas; this is typical at mature technology companies. However, DevOps roles at top-tier banks and many Fortune 500 companies usually have biases towards dev or ops.
Technologies to Learn
DevOps engineers need to know a wide spectrum of technologies to do their jobs effectively. Whatever your background, start with the fundamental technologies you'll need to use and understand as a DevOps engineer.
The operating system is where everything runs, and having fundamental knowledge is important. Linux is the operating system you'll most likely use daily, although some organizations use Windows. To get started, you can install Linux at home, where you'll be able to break as much as you want and learn along the way.
Next, pick a language to learn for scripting purposes. There are many to choose from ranging from Python, Go, Java, Bash, PowerShell, Ruby, and C/C++. I suggest starting with Python; it's one of the most popular for a reason, as it's relatively easy to learn and interpret. Python is often written to follow the fundamentals of object-oriented programming (OOP) and can be used for web development, software development, and creating desktop GUI and business applications.
After Linux and Python, I think the next thing to study is cloud computing. Infrastructure is no longer left to the "operations guys," so you'll need some exposure to a cloud platform such as Amazon Web Services, Azure, or Google Cloud Platform. I'd start with AWS, as it has an extensive collection of free learning tools that can take you down any track from using AWS as a developer, to operations, and even business-facing components. In fact, you might become overwhelmed by how much is on offer. Consider starting with EC2, S3, and VPC, and see where you want to go from there.
If you come to DevOps with a passion for software development, keep on improving your programming skills. Some good and commonly used languages in DevOps are the same as you would for scripting: Python, Go, Java, Bash, PowerShell, Ruby, and C/C++. You should also become familiar with Jenkins and Git/GitHub, which you'll use frequently within the CI/CD process.
Finally, start learning about containerizing code using tools such as Docker and orchestration platforms such as Kubernetes. There are extensive learning resources available for free online, and most cities will have local Meetup groups where you can learn from experienced people in a friendly environment (with pizza and beer!).
If you have less experience in development, you can still get involved in DevOps by applying your passion for automation, increasing efficiency, collaborating with others, and improving your work. I would still suggest learning the tooling described above, but with less emphasis on the coding/scripting languages. It will be useful to learn about Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service, cloud platforms, and Linux. You'll likely be setting up the tools and learning how to build systems that are resilient and fault-tolerant, leveraging them while writing code.
Finding a DevOps Job
The job search process will differ depending on whether you've been working in tech and are moving into DevOps or you're a recent graduate beginning your career.
If you're already working in technology
If you're transitioning from one tech field into a DevOps role, start by exploring opportunities within your current company. Can you reskill by working with another team? Try to shadow other team members, ask for advice, and acquire new skills without leaving your current job. If this isn't possible, you may need to move to another company. If you can learn some of the practices, tools, and technologies listed above, you'll be in a good position to demonstrate relevant knowledge during interviews. The key is to be honest and not set yourself up for failure. Most hiring managers understand that you don't know all the answers; if you can show what you've been learning and explain that you're open to learning more, you should have a good chance to land a DevOps job.
If you're starting your career
Apply to open opportunities at companies hiring junior DevOps engineers. Unfortunately, many companies say they're looking for more experience and recommend you re-apply when you've gained some. It's the typical, frustrating scenario of "we want more experience," but nobody seems willing to give you the first chance.
It's not all gloomy though; some companies focus on training and upskilling graduates directly out of the university. For example, MThree, where I work, hires fresh graduates and trains them for eight weeks. When they complete training, participants have solid exposure to the entire SDLC and a good understanding of how it applies in a Fortune 500 environment. Graduates are hired as junior DevOps engineers with MThree's client companies—MThree pays their full-time salary and benefits for the first 18 to 24 months, after which they join the client as direct employees. This is a great way to bridge the gap from the university into a technology career.
There are many ways to transition to become a DevOps engineer. It is a very rewarding career route that will likely keep you engaged and challenged -and increase your earning potential.
About the author
Conor Delanbanque - Conor Delanbanque has been building & scaling teams in the DevOps space for some time now. As well as supporting the growth of some of the most innovative DevOps & SRE organizations in the US and Europe, Conor also founded the Future of DevOps Thought Leaders Debate. He regularly supports and sponsors Meetup groups such as DevOpsNYC and DockerNYC. He was a keynote speaker at DevOpsDays Cuba, 2017 and has contributed to a number of online publications and podcasts.
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