Defining DevOps

DevOps has become somewhat mainstream in that many companies, perhaps most, are talking about it or trying to implement some of the principles behind this software development approach. However, even as I talk with people that practice DevOps, I find the idea of what DevOps actually includes can vary widely among developers, even inside the same company.

There are lots of definitions, and this one caught my eye recently. It says, among other things, that there should be “increased collaboration among not only developers and operations staff but users.” I like that there is some emphasis on working together, which is often the hardest part of changing how we build software. I find that many customers struggle because they end up adopting the technology tools, but fail to change how they communicate with others. Culture change is hard, and DevOps requires a culture change.

The article is high level, but it does highlight some of the complexities of DevOps, mainly that lots of stuff is happening at once. Good reporting, tracking, and management are important, and unfortunately, lots of managers don’t want to change their approaches to managing teams, which further complicates the process of building better software faster. Certainly, the need to have developers work with ops people, including supporting production systems, is important, but it never happens without management requiring and supporting this collaboration.

The drawbacks to DevOps are many. Plenty of teams slap together code, getting the “faster” part but forget the “better” part, which means increasing and higher quality code over time. They embrace new tools, but they sometimes forget to run small experiments and change their approaches across time when they find better ways of building and operating code. Or they refuse to stick with current techniques or software because they crave change. Developers also find that some groups, like security and compliance departments, aren’t ready for the pace of change, which can be frustrating.

Ultimately, DevOps is better collaboration, getting all teams on board working together. Like many people rowing a boat, every group needs to align their work with others to ensure a smooth and successful journey. Actually creating that alignment requires strong leadership and culture, two of the hardest, and rarest, things to build inside many organizations.

Steve Jones

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