Why hiring natural leaders is crucial for DevOps to work

Why hiring natural leaders is crucial for DevOps to work

Doug Rode of recruitment firm Michael Page believes combining development and operation requires strong characters

DevOps  has become a serious consideration for businesses across many sectors. DevOps isn't really a job title per se, it's more a model for operational evolution and improvement. For that reason we don't, or at least shouldn't, often recruit ‘DevOps' professionals.

What we do recruit are the skill sets necessary to make DevOps work. We are finding that when we engage with clients we are seeing these DevOps related skillsets come up on briefs and in consultations time and again.

Making the transition to a DevOps model is not easily done; and even harder to do successfully. It's about people and it's about processes; bringing developers and operations people together so that agile development can flourish. Where it works well, the DevOps model ensures that developers can issue more releases, more frequently and that operations teams are positioned to ensure that upgrades work as intended. Businesses can adapt to increasing customer demand and keep pace with the competition.

Where managed badly, the model can slow output, drive up workloads and has potential to cause organisational rifts where stakeholders have competing visions for the direction of the team. Getting it right - or indeed, wrong - relies upon those charged with leading a business's DevOps evolution.

I firmly believe that any company's best and most valuable asset is its people. The principals behind the DevOps revolution are a great example of the value of good people. In its essence DevOps is all about helping people to work together and it is a model which relies heavily on those championing its use. But what qualities do those individuals need to possess?


Softer skills

First things first - nobody will excel in a DevOps environment without a solid technical background; lots has been written on this, but there has perhaps been less emphasis on the softer skills which really make an excellent DevOps leader.

It is imperative that all members of each function communicate well and do so all the time, particularly those in charge; developers should understand how QA teams operate, and your IT division must understand the development process. Your leader is the person who needs to ensure that this communication and collaboration is part of the everyday working model. It is hard to overstate this fact and the truth is that if communication within the team and to the wider business is not managed correctly a shift to the DevOps model is likely to fail.

Alongside the highly communicative environment, flexibility is important. If you want to operate in a flexible manner, you need flexible individuals to work in that environment. People from a rigid IT background may not be best equipped to flourish while someone with broader technical experience may be better equipped.

Natural problem solvers will also excel here; the ability to identify, analyse and solve issues as well as the capacity to translate solutions to engineers or ops people is a key part of the job.

As well as a communicative and flexible environment it is important that leaders create a culture where learning is encouraged. Technology is always evolving and DevOps will continue to change - you need people who are capable of moving with new technologies and methodologies. By creating a culture of learning, starting with your leaders, you will ensure that your team stay ahead of the curve.

What works for one organisation will not work for another. Companies which have well-established processes will face the most difficult task in evolving their development and IT operations. In an environment where processes are long established, a light touch may be necessary; attempting to make large operational changes too fast may be met with resistance. Those heading up the change will require exemplary stakeholder management skills in order to sell changes into the wider business and senior management.

At the same time younger companies which can integrate DevOps in line with growth will require a different approach. Where processes are not so ingrained and people are open to change DevOps methods can be adopted faster and will be quickly accepted by the business.

The DevOps model is driving IT forward, and at the heart of this are people who are utilising their people skills, communication and problem solving capabilities above their technical expertise.

Hiring the right people will ensure that your DevOps set-up has a positive, long-term effect on the quality of product and service you provide.

Doug Rode is a senior managing director at PageGroup

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