5 min read

The DevOps movement has come about to accomplish the long sought-after goal of removing the barriers between the traditional development and operations organizations. Historically, development teams have written code for an application and passed that code over to the operations team to both test and deploy onto the company’s servers. This practice generates many mistakes and misunderstandings in the software development lifecycle, in addition to the lack of ownership amongst developers that grows as a result of them not owning more of the deployment pipeline and production responsibilities.

The new DevOps teams that are appearing now start as blended groups of developers, system administrators, and release engineers. The thought isthat the developers can assist the operations team members in the process of building and more deeply understanding the applications, and the operations team member can shed light on the environments and deployment processes that they must master to keep the applications running. As these teams evolve, we are seeing the trend to specifically hire people into the role of the DevOps Engineer.

What this role is and what type of skills you might need to succeed as a DevOps engineer is what we will cover in this article.

The Basics

Almost every job description you are going to find for a DevOps engineer is going to require some level of proficiency in the desired production operating systems. Linux is probably the most common. You will need to have a very good level of understanding of how to administer and use a Linux-based machine. Words like grep, sed, awk, chmod, chown, ifconfig, netstat and others should not scare you. In the role of DevOps engineer, you are the go-to person for developers when they have issues with the server or cloud. Make sure that you have a good understanding of where the failure points can be in these systems and the commands that can be used to pinpoint the issues.

Learn the package manager systems for the various distributions of Linux to better understand the underpinnings of how they work. From RPM and Yum to Apt and Apk, the managers vary widely but the common ideas are very similar in each. You should understand how to use the managers to script machine configurations and understand how the modern containers are built.


The type of language you need for a DevOps role is going to depend quite a bit on the particular company. Java, C#, JavaScript, Ruby and Python are all popular languages. If you are a devout Java follower then choosing a .NET shop might not be your best choice. Use your discretion here, but the job is going to require a working knowledge of coding in one more focused languages. At a minimum, you will need to understand how the build chain of the language works and should be comfortable understanding the error logging of the system and understand what those logs are telling you.

Cloud Management

Gone are the days of uploading a war file to a directory on the server. It’s very likely that you are going to be responsible for getting applications up and running on a cloud provider. Amazon Web Services is the gorilla in the space and having a good level of hands on experience with the various services that make up a standard AWS deployment is a much sought after skill set. From standard AMIs to load balancing, cloud formation and security groups, AWS can be complicated but luckily it is very inexpensive to experiment and there are many training classes of the different components.

Source Code Control

Git is the tool of choice currently for source code control. Git gives a team a decentralized SCM system that is built to handle branching and merging operations with ease. Workflows that teams use are varied, but a good understanding of how to merge branches, rebase and fix commit issues is required in the role. The DevOps engineers are usually looked to for help on addressing “interesting” Git issues, so good, hands-on experience is vital.

Automation Tooling

A new automation tool has probably been released in the time it takes to read this article. There will be new tools and platforms in this part of the DevOps space, but the most common are Chef, Puppet and Ansible. Each system provides a framework for treating the setup and maintenance of your infrastructure as code. Each system has a slightly different take on the method for writing the configurations and deploying them, but the concepts are similar and a good background in any one of these is more often than not a requirement for any DevOps role. Each of these systems requires a good understanding of either Ruby or Python and these languages appear quite a bit in the various tools used in the DevOps space.

A desire to improve systems and processes

While not an exhaustive list, mastering this set of skills will accelerate anyone’s journey towards becoming a DevOps engineer. If you can augment these skills with a strong desire to improve upon the systems and processes that are used in the development lifecycle, you will be an excellent DevOps engineer.

About the author

Darrell Pratt is the director of software development and delivery at Cars.com, where he is responsible for a wide range of technologies that drive the Cars.com website and mobile applications. He is passionate about technology and still finds time to write a bit of code and hack on hardware projects. You can find him on Twitter here: @darrellpratt.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here