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DevOps for Beginners

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” ― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

If you’re a beginner in DevOps and you can’t figure out how to learn it on your own, don’t worry. DevOps is not about doing things on your own. It’s a team sport. Thinking of doing DevOps on your own is like thinking you could play football on your own. What are you going to do? Throw the football up in the air, run under it and catch it?

One of the keys to learning DevOps is to think about application development in terms of teamwork.

Here’s how Abel Wang, in a keynote at a recent VSLive! conference, explained how Microsoft's DevOps journey evolved when the company made the decision to give up its traditional waterfall approach to development.

He began with Microsoft’s definition of DevOps as "the union of people, process, and products to enable the continuous delivery of value to our end users," according to a report on VisualStudiomagazine.com.

A Cultural Change

It was a cultural change as much if not more than a technology change. My colleague John K. Waters, explained it this way in his report on Wang’s talk.

The new team structure now recognizes only two roles: program manager and engineer. The program manager is roughly the equivalent of a product owner in the Scrum process. Everyone else is an engineer, with no distinctions between developers and testers. Also, restructured: the teams themselves, which had operated in segregated environments: UI developers worked on the UI layer, for example, while database people worked on the database layer. The restructured teams now own the entire feature set from beginning to end, including the UI layer, the data layer, and the database itself, as well as installation, deployment, and quality. Even the workspace was reconfigured: individual offices were replaced by team rooms, where everyone works together, including the program managers.

So if you’re going to begin a career in DevOps, you have to have programming and testing skills, but mostly you have to give up on the idea of the lone coder sitting in a dark concrete block room working on an app. That is not what DevOps is about.

If you are a tester, you’re going to have to learn programming skills you may not have and vice versa if you’re a programmer. No one, least of all Wang, says this is easy.

"Developers traditionally make incredibly bad testers," Wang pointed out in his keynote. "And testers traditionally make very bad coders. So how did we do this? We trained our people and we required them to adapt...."

Considering the talent and brainpower of the average Microsoft employee, it is a gauge of how difficult this was that the attrition rate on Wang’s team was 20 percent. But on the positive side 80 percent adapted to being engineers who could go with the DevOps flow.

"It was incredibly painful," Wang recalled. "We suffered a lot of attrition from all sides -- management, developers, testers -- because the new way of looking at things and doing things was very different from the way we did things before. And we all know no one really likes change. But if there's one constant in our industry it's change."

The IBM Way

IBM has its own take on DevOps and even offers a free eBook, DevOps for Dummies, written by Sanjeev Sharma and Bernie Coyne. Sharma also has a series of video blogs including, DevOps: Where to Start on YouTube. This video is designed to provide an overview for folks who basically know what DevOps is but want to actually implement it in their organizations.

The IBM approach to the team concept in DevOps is different from how Wang and his colleagues at Microsoft do it. As Sharma explains Big Blue’s approach, the team members do have defined roles:

  • Developer
  • Build Engineer
  • QA Team
  • Integration Tester
  • User Tester
  • Operations

He considers the team members with different roles as stakeholders in the overall project who need to collaborate as software moves, for instance, from developers to tester to operations, which is basically the DevOps lifecycle. He acknowledges that there are going to be pain points, for example, testing becoming a bottleneck.

“You look at how you can address those,” Sharma explains. “How you can improve communications and build trust between these teams.”

As can be seen in the different approaches of two giants of the computing world, DevOps, which has only been around as a concept since 2007, is not a paradigm with hard and fast rules that can be employed by everybody everywhere.

For the individual going to work on a DevOps team, where to start may depend on whether your organization is taking an egalitarian approach where you may have to do programming, testing and perhaps go get takeout pizza. So individual skills required will vary. In a Microsoft type system, you may need to become a generalist with coding and testing skills. Following the IBM path, you might specialize in an area such as Integration Testing.

If no one in your organization has DevOps background or skills there are lots of vendors who are willing to help you. But since there are different approaches to DevOps it will be important to make sure the selected vendor’s practices jive with your organization’s culture.

Of course, one place to acquire skills is at VSLive! That’s where you can tap the brainpower of experts like Microsoft’s Abel Wang.

Posted by Richard Seeley on 06/07/2018 at 5:23 PM


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