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DevOps skills shortages hit enterprise digital transformation efforts

Enterprises face challenges when recruiting and retaining experienced DevOps practitioners as demand for agile experts soars

The dearth of experienced DevOps practitioners in the IT jobs market is preventing some enterprises from taking their agile ambitions to the next level, according to infrastructure automation supplier Chef.

Speaking to Computer Weekly at the ChefConf summit in Austin, Texas, Joe Pynadath, Europe, Middle East and Africa general manager and vice-president at Chef, said the scarcity of IT professionals with DevOps skills often prevents organisations from taking their continuous delivery efforts company-wide.

“How quickly organisations can bring in the right level of expertise has become one of the key limiting factors for organisations that want to scale-up DevOps on a broad level,” he said.

People with experience of negotiating DevOps from a technology, cultural and executive perspective are in high demand, particularly as this approach to software delivery and deployment is relatively new.

“People who have experience as part of a DevOps initiative – no matter whether it was technology, cultural or executive – are in high demand now,” said Pynadath.

“One of the things we hear a lot from people who do [DevOps] meetups, for example, is that they are a hotbed for recruiting.”

Individuals with automation skills are also in short supply, as enterprises look to up the software-defined nature of their infrastructure, applications and compliance procedures and – ultimately – speed up the process of releasing software code.

This is one of the reason why the company has rolled out a training and certification programme for DevOps practitioners looking for greater recognition of their automation skills, he said, which was announced on the first day of ChefConf.

To secure a certification, IT professionals will need to participate in a mix of knowledge and performance-based assessments, designed to help them demonstrate their experience of using Chef technologies.

At launch, participants have the option to study for a Basic Chef Fluency certification. This aims to mark out the recipient as someone who understands common Chef terms and is able to explain the benefits of its open source and commercial platforms.

“The certification is designed to provide an easier, more standardised way for companies, customers and the market can be sure [an individual] has a certain level of automation expertise to help from a tooling perspective,” he said.

“We’re trying to do as much as we can to be at the leading front of the transformation agenda. We’re hoping the more people we are exposed to and can touch, the more experience is out in the market for people that can go to these organisations to drive the DevOps initiatives.”

Chef users can also work towards attaining a Local Cookbook Development certification to prove they have what it takes to automate an existing application process by following the supplier’s way of doing things.

Talent retention challenge

While the number of people with DevOps skills is still relatively low, individuals with the relevant experience can choose to be picky about where they want to work, added Pynadath, and enterprises need to bear this in mind when it comes to poaching them.

“One of the biggest things to consider – because it is a very competitive market – is the work has to be interesting. It is not enough to say ‘come join our DevOps team because we’re going to do great stuff,’ anymore,” he said.

Instead, enterprises need to position themselves as exciting places to work that will offer DevOps practitioners plenty of professional room to grow over a number of years, he advised.

“Organisations need to be a little more defined on what the end goals are and what the [candidate’s] role in the DevOps journey will be, and that needs to be articulated to them,” he said.

“Employers also need to be more articulate about why this work they’re hiring for will be meaningful. What impact will the role have? Companies that are most successful in attracting top talent take that approach,” he added.

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Speaking to Computer Weekly, Pauly Comtois, vice-president of DevOps at Hearst Business Media (HBM), said ensuring people have meaningful and interesting work to do is essential for retaining top talent too.

During his 18 months at Hearst, Comtois has played a central role in shaping the DevOps journey within 10 distinct business units inside the organisation.

“We’re not at a saturation point on the transformation, so there is still a lot of interesting work happening and we’re doing a significant amount of migration into the cloud, as an example, and providing channels for folks inside HBM to open source what they are working on, so that’s a lot of growth potential for us,” he said.

“There is a chance we will get there, and we are trying to plan ahead for that by looking at making sure there is ample opportunity for people to work on pet projects and that we have things such as hackathons so people can work on new things and pitch ideas.

“All that being said, you just do the best you can, but sometimes people want to move on and that’s okay, because you don’t want to hold anyone back,” he added.

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