Is DevOps experiencing an identity crisis? [Interview]

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The definition of DevOps is a hotly disputed topic among amateur practitioners and experienced engineers alike. Ironically, DevOps was actually supposed to bring some order into the messy and chaotic environment of IT software development.

DevOps Paradox book cover image

In DevOps Paradox, DevOps expert Viktor Farcic talks to fellow industry figures who reveal their perspectives on the trend and what it means to them. In this article, we’ll see what some prominent people in the DevOps community have to say about DevOps. The quotes in this article are taken directly from the book.

So, how are we supposed to incorporate DevOps into our organizations if we don’t even know what it is? Let’s hear Viktor’s thoughts about what DevOps is and what are it’s trends and future aspects:


What is DevOps and why do we need it?

What is DevOps and why do we need it? What is the most important thing DevOps helps us achieve? What are the factors that drive the development of DevOps?

Viktor Farcic: Almost everyone gives a different answer to the question “What is DevOps?”—there is a huge discrepancy between the idea and the implementation. I believe that the main objective of DevOps is to enable self-sufficient product-oriented teams capable of having a full control of their products. That is in stark contrast with the way many companies operate today.

Normally, a lifecycle of an application is split between many teams. Business analysts define requirements, architects work on guidelines that must be followed and frameworks that must be used, developers write code, testers are in charge of validations, operators deploy new releases, and so on and so forth. The problem is that each of those groups belong to different departments and have different and often opposing objectives. Instead of fostering collaboration towards a common goal, different teams (departments) are looking for their own shortsighted interests. DevOps tries to remove organization based on the type of tasks performed and unite all the expertise required for the whole lifecycle of an application into a single team reporting to a single person. It forces us to work together and it builds empathy.

Is DevOps a process? Or a set of technologies? What’s your perspective on this area of debate?

Viktor: DevOps is neither of the two. Unlike some agile frameworks (e.g. Scrum), there is no prescribed process to follow. Similarly, there is no technology we can adapt that will convert us into “DevOps” teams. It is only an idea that developers, operators, and everyone else needs to work together instead of being isolated in different silos. That does not mean that technology is not important; it is, but often for other than obvious reasons.

Every new technology is created by a group of people that worked together to create it. As such, it always reflects processes of those involved in creating it. Those processes, on the other hand, are a result of the culture of the people following it. In other words, every tech is a result of certain processes created as a result of the culture of the team that worked on it. So, even though we use an end result, it is a product of a process created in a specific culture. If we adopt a technology that does not match our own processes and culture, it will produce suboptimal results at best. So, we must either adopt technology that matches our processes and culture or use it to change them. One cannot work without the other.

All in all, DevOps is an idea, not much more than that. It’s up to us to figure out which processes and technology will help us make it reality.

What does a DevOps engineer do? Is it even a real job role?

What are the core roles of DevOps Engineers in terms of development and Infrastructure?

Viktor: I don’t think there is such a thing as a “DevOps Engineer.” The term was invented by people who were not ready to apply the changes DevOps leads to. Most of the time, a “DevOps Engineer” is just a different name for someone working in shared services, operations, infrastructure, or whichever department was first to be renamed into DevOps.

Do you think DevOps is experiencing an identity crisis?

Viktor: DevOps was never defined as a process. Agile, for example, got quite a few implementations that tell people what to do. Among others, we got Scrum that clearly defines what to do. We could even argue that Scrum, as being a set of practices that must be followed, is against the spirit of Agile, but that’s a conversation for some other time.

What matters is that no one defined the process behind DevOps. There is no such thing as a set of steps that must be followed daily or weekly. It is just an idea that we should work together and not throw things over department walls. As such, the way to accomplish that is open to interpretation. So, DevOps never had a clear identity, so it cannot have an identity crisis either. It’s just an idea, and it’s up to each one of us to try to figure out how to make it reality.

The biggest challenges in DevOps today

What are the biggest challenges in DevOps at the moment?

Viktor: Currently, DevOps is mostly misunderstood. More often than not, companies just rename a department. In some companies, shared services become DevOps teams; in others it is infrastructure, operations, or any other department. It’s as if it was a race and the first department to change their name into “DevOps” was a winner. Logically, changing the name means nothing and does not result in any tangible improvement.

The key challenges are related to people and culture. DevOps is not easy because it challenges current organizational structure, it restructures power within an organization, and it questions the need for the existence of many departments. As such, middle management is often against it because it is perceived as a risk to their position. At the same time, people who spent many years doing the same thing over and over again feel that their credibility is at risk if the structure that allowed them to climb company ladder is removed.

Congratulations on the release of DevOps Paradox. Could you talk a little bit about the idea behind it and what you hope it achieves?

Viktor: I go to a lot of conferences and I realized that scheduled talks are not the main takeaway from them. True, I learned things by listening to them, but the primary reason I continue attending are “corridor talks.” Conferences are a great opportunity for me to find interesting people and have amazing discussions. Unlike scheduled talks, those conversations are not structured. I do not prepare a list of questions for the next person I’ll meet in between talks or at a party. Instead, we’d just start talking about a random thing that happens to be interesting.

I wanted to bring those types of conversations to people who cannot travel the world and be every moth in a different conference in a different country. So, I did not have any real goals for this book, other than speaking with people about any topic, as long as it is related to DevOps. Since DevOps can be anything related to software development, you can say that the scope of the book is as broad as it can be. My true goal was to enjoy having conversations with people. I did not prepare questions in advance. Instead, I just gathered people I’d like to speak with if I’d meet them in a conference and say, “Let’s have a coffee and see what you were up to since the last time we met”. Some of those I interviewed are my friends, while others I met for the first time. Some work for huge enterprises, while others work in startups. Some worked in software industry for many years, while others are young up-and-coming experts. I wanted to make sure that the book gives as many different opinions as possible.

Find Viktor Farcic’s DevOps Paradox on the Packt store.

Read the first chapter for free on the Packt subscription platform.