Who Is a DevOps Engineer? A Complete Guide to the DevOps Engineer Role

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Who Is a DevOps Engineer? A Complete Guide to the DevOps Engineer Role
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Table of Contents
  • What is DevOps?
  • Who is a DevOps engineer?
    • What is the role of a DevOps engineer?
  • What does a DevOps engineer do?
  • What are the tasks and responsibilities of a DevOps engineer?
    • 1. Managing system security
    • 2. Improving IT infrastructure
    • 3. Automating repetitive tasks
    • 4. Optimizing release cycles
    • 5. Error tracking and reporting
    • 6. Writing and editing code
    • 7. Server administration
    • 8. QA software testing
    • 9. Making project management easier
    • 10. DevOps advocacy
  • What are the key DevOps engineer skills?
    • Hard skills
    • Soft skills
  • What are the top DevOps engineer tools?
    • What is CI/CD in DevOps?
  • What are the benefits of working with a DevOps engineer?
  • Final thoughts on why DevOps matters for your business

The tech world is constantly expanding with numerous different areas of development to choose from. One of them is DevOps—an undeniably trending topic.

According to a recent study, the DevOps market will be valued at over $14.9 billion by 2026, which proves that the movement is growing tremendously and will continue to be in high demand.

It’s no wonder, since DevOps has the unique ability to speed up your company’s delivery of high-quality services and applications to customers. It also provides automation that frees up your staff members to work on more creative projects.

But when it comes down to it, who actually is a DevOps engineer, and what do they do that makes DevOps so popular? Most importantly, why should you invest in a DevOps team? We’re here to answer these questions for you.

After reading this article, you’ll understand what DevOps engineers do, how they do it, who they are, and why they matter. We will provide you with an overview of their responsibilities as well as details on the most important benefits of working with such specialists.

What is DevOps?

DevOps is a set of practices, approaches, and tools to manage IT projects. To be more precise, it’s a strategy that combines automation with human input and enables businesses to regularly update their internal practices as well as integrate improvements and industry best practices.

In traditional software development, programmers have limited knowledge of how the application is being deployed and what’s under the hood. Operations, on the other hand, don’t worry about how the software is created.

DevOps is a concept designed to bridge this gap between software development and IT operations. DevOps engineers (and DevOps teams) sit in between development and deployment, focusing on the software release cycles, improving software development tools, automating processes, and getting rid of time-consuming tasks. It’s all about collaboration and removing any obstacles along the way.

When you implement the DevOps methodology in your IT department, the various areas of your development and IT functions work better together. You can also release updates to your product more quickly and automate a great deal of internal processes to free up hours that could be spent on other tasks.

Having said that, a successful DevOps implementation requires the right tools, culture, and people. So now let’s discuss the importance of a DevOps engineer.

Who is a DevOps engineer?

A DevOps engineer acts as a link to assist cooperation or communication between the various departments involved in software creation and maintenance. Such a person introduces processes, tools, and methodologies to balance the entire software development lifecycle.

Simply put, they are a specific type of tech professionals with expertise in the process of making software changes quickly and efficiently. They can do it by creating new processes or automating existing ones.

Usually, DevOps engineers are IT specialists who support teams that develop business software. They may take on different roles as they assist others in the design, development, testing, and release of the software.

They are: 

  • either developers with an interest in system engineering and network operations,
  • or sysadmins who have a passion for scripting and coding with framework knowledge that moved over to the development side where they can improve test planning and deployment.

Yet it’s only when we combine this knowledge that we can create a solid foundation for a stable environment.

What is the role of a DevOps engineer?

DevOps engineers take on specific roles that will depend on the individual needs of your project. These can change and evolve with time, depending on the current stage of development. However, the main types of DevOps roles would include:

  • DevOps evangelists—leaders responsible for successfully implementing DevOps in your company;
  • release managers—managing ongoing software updates, releasing new features, and ensuring post-release product stability;
  • software developers—writing and testing code;
  • quality assurance engineers—responsible for reviewing and testing any new code;
  • security engineers—monitoring and ensuring the security of the software in your system;
  • automation experts—responsible for achieving automation and orchestration of all the tools.

That being said, more often than not these roles will overlap. Every DevOps engineer essentially doubles as a DevOps evangelist, release manager, software developer, etc. As we’ve mentioned before, it all depends on the current needs of the project.

Furthermore, it might be difficult to determine when someone is focusing more on one of these roles than on the other, making it difficult to distinguish between the two roles themselves.

The majority of the time, all these tasks are handled by just one person who combines all the qualities above. In large organizations working on large projects, there may be a group of employees managing those specific difficulties individually and independently.

What does a DevOps engineer do?

To help you better understand what a DevOps engineer does, we’ll first have to explain the Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC).

The SDLC includes six phases of development:

  1.  planning—when developers define the scope and requirements of the project,
  2.  analysis—when developers research and analyze all the technical requirements of the system,
  3.  design—when developers plan and build the project,
  4.  implementation—when developers build the system,
  5.  testing—when developers test the code and fix bugs,
  6.  deployment and maintenance—when developers deploy and then maintain the system to keep it running as smoothly as possible.

There are a number of ways to approach the SDLC, but we’ll concentrate on the Waterfall and Agile strategies. In the Waterfall methodology, people work through the Systems Development Life Cycle sequentially, one stage after another. When you implement the Agile method, you continuously work through all the phases of the systems development life cycle.

DevOps is partially built on such an agile approach to development. DevOps engineers implement a version of the SDLC known as the DevOps Pipeline. Just like in Agile methodology, the DevOps Pipeline loops around these stages:

  • planning;
  • building;
  • continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD);
  • operating;
  • continuous feedback.

So to answer the question of what a DevOps engineer does in general: DevOps helps organizations adopt, achieve, and automate Agile software development.

To be more specific, they collaborate with technical teams to design the appropriate tools for their project, then test those tools to ensure proper usage and functioning of the system as a whole.

And while it may all seem complicated, the fundamental objective of DevOps engineers is actually to reduce complexity, closing the gap between the steps needed to quickly introduce changes made to an application and the tasks that would maintain its reliability.

As we’ve mentioned before, development and IT operations teams have different skills and goals. Developers want to introduce new features to an application, and at the same time, Operations want to preserve its stability after the release.

The goal of DevOps is to unify and automate these two areas, and DevOps engineers are essential in combining code writing, application maintenance, and application management. They are able to do all of it because they have a solid understanding of the DevOps philosophy, techniques, and technologies, as well as development life cycles.

What are the tasks and responsibilities of a DevOps engineer?

Every DevOps engineer has varied day-to-day responsibilities because they all work on unique projects for companies with various DevOps approaches. Because of that, they can have a wide range of tasks to perform. However, the majority of DevOps engineers will share a few important duties. These include:

1. Managing system security

One of the most important aspects of DevOps work is ensuring the security and safety of your data. DevOps engineers optimize your IT infrastructure’s security by designing cyber-secure systems, updates, and practices. They automate security measures and make sure that updates do not create any vulnerabilities.

Although all DevOps engineers take security into account in their daily work, some of them (known as DevSecOps engineers) will focus on system security full-time.

2. Improving IT infrastructure

If your IT infrastructure delays the software development process, a DevOps engineer is responsible for identifying ways to handle the issue and ensuring you and your teams can get the software to the market faster.

They might have to provision resources, select an appropriate deployment model, directly test protocol to validate each release, and monitor performance after the release. The tasks may also involve test data preparation, results analysis, problem troubleshooting, and issue communication with the software developers.

3. Automating repetitive tasks

The DevOps engineer will be the one trying to increase your team’s productivity if you’re experiencing a delay in getting your releases out there because of important but repetitive chores. They can assist software development teams in introducing new tools that automate their repetitive tasks or help them fit into the wider CI/CD pipeline.

A DevOps engineer might, for instance, automate and maintain a big data build pipeline or implement automated management features like performance monitoring, diagnostics, failover, and availability capabilities. Along with assessing the risks associated with each modification, they will also keep the environment’s high availability.

4. Optimizing release cycles

DevOps engineers optimize the system release cycle by reducing the time and resources needed for projects or updates. DevOps engineers can speed up the release cycle in a variety of ways, such as by removing hidden time-wasters, giving priority to each release’s most important parts or introducing new software and tools.

5. Error tracking and reporting

DevOps engineers keep a close eye on software and systems to resolve any system errors straight away. While some DevOps engineers will prefer to fix them manually, others will rather leave this to the full-stack developers.

6. Writing and editing code

DevOps engineers rarely code from scratch, but they have to understand the fundamentals of software development languages and be familiar with the development tools used to create new code or update existing code.

Some DevOps engineers fully delegate coding to software developers, but they need to be proficient in coding languages to provide useful advice on workflow issues.

7. Server administration

To monitor and improve the networks and servers that host the company software, DevOps engineers take part in server administration. They set up user accounts, modify permissions, and guarantee that server data is safely and regularly backed up. They will also review system logs to identify glitches and possible human errors.

DevOps engineers run tests on the effectiveness and efficiency of various software tools. They will evaluate each programming technique’s effectiveness in relation to the task at hand.

9. Making project management easier

DevOps engineers are instrumental in creating a strategic plan for implementing goals. They will assess risk, analyze costs and benefits, set operational expectations, and forecast future projects to create a timeline.

10. DevOps advocacy

DevOps advocacy is often undervalued but is one of the most important roles of a DevOps engineer. Your team could find the transition to a DevOps culture confusing, and it will fall to the DevOps engineer as the DevOps subject matter expert to educate you on the DevOps way across the organization.

What are the key DevOps engineer skills?

The DevOps role calls for someone who has a wide-ranging skill set that includes both hard skills (like coding and system administration) and soft skills necessary to overcome the conventional barriers between software development, QA, testing, and IT operations teams to foster a collaborative environment.

DevOps engineers, therefore, need to demonstrate the following mix of technical and interpersonal skills in order to carry out their duties effectively:

Hard skills

The tech skills required here will vary depending on your individual situation, the team structure, technologies, and toolsets used at your company.

It’s important to note that the role may not be suitable for complete tech beginners because the bar is set very high here.

Having said that, hands-on experience isn’t required, but there is no doubt that in addition to standard engineering skills, any DevOps engineer should have:

  • knowledge of scripting and programming languages;
  • knowledge of continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD);
  • some understanding of the Agile methodology and the Systems Development Life Cycle;
  • an understanding of automation;
  • expertise in cybersecurity;
  • knowledge of system administration, such as provisioning and managing servers, security monitoring, deploying databases, system patching, as well as managing internal and external network connectivity;
  • expertise with version control systems, repository hosting tools, configuration management tools, containerization, and automation tools;
  • understanding of monitoring, planning, and designing software development projects;
  • expertise in using project management tools;
  • knowledge of the pros and cons of available tools and services;
  • the ability to design and manage computer ecosystems, both on-premise and in the cloud;
  • IT operations skills: configuring networks, managing virtual machines, troubleshooting problems with hardware devices within storage arrays, monitoring server performance metrics across multiple distributed deployments.
Soft skills

DevOps engineers are team players who spend a lot of time working with people from different sections of the IT department at your organization. To do well in this area, they must present:

  • strong communication skills;
  • excellent teamwork and collaboration skills, including the ability to work in diverse teams of different skill sets;
  • good creative problem-solving skills and flexibility;
  • the ability to give and accept feedback and adjust work accordingly;
  • great understanding of users’ needs.

DevOps is the glue that binds various IT functions together, so it’s just as important to focus on the soft skills a DevOps engineer brings to the table as on their technical knowledge.

Such a person could be setting the pipeline for releases and leading the review process, as well as getting hands-on with automation, complex software tools, and infrastructure design. Bearing all that in mind, look for a tech expert who has strong organizational and interpersonal skills.

Interpersonal skills may play an even more important role in the day-to-day job of a DevOps engineer than tech skills: a great technical mind lacking communication skills will prove ineffective in their job.

What are the top DevOps engineer tools?

DevOps engineers rely on a set of various software packages to successfully do their job. Below you’ll find an exhaustive list of industry standards; however, not all of them are necessary for a professional to be an expert in DevOps. They include:

  • Bamboo, GitLab Actions, CircleCI, or Azure DevOps;
  • Git, CodeCommit, BitBucket, or GitHub—version control systems;
  • Terraform and Pulumi—Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) tools;
  • Puppet, Chef, Ansible—configuration management and deployment tools;
  • Nagios, Prometheus, Loki, Grafana—continuous monitoring applications;
  • Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure—cloud computing platforms;
  • Sentry or Raygun—frontend monitoring software;
  • Papertrail or Splunk—backend monitoring software;
  • Docker—software containerization platform;
  • Kubernetes—container orchestration tool;
  • Trello, Monday, Atlassian Jira, Atlassian Confluence—project management tools.
What is CI/CD in DevOps?

Continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) are two fundamental concepts in DevOps. They set DevOps implementation apart from more conventional approaches. In traditional development methodologies, one stage follows the other. Companies using DevOps, on the other hand, can run these stages simultaneously in a sort of feedback loop.

The benefits here are considerable—using a DevOps approach, you can deploy several times per day. In today’s fast-paced environment, this way of developing your product is becoming essential.

What are the benefits of working with a DevOps engineer?

There are several main advantages of having a DevOps engineer on your team:

  • faster security updates and software patches,
  • shortening the life cycle of the product,
  • faster releases with automated tools,
  • better software quality,
  • agile development practices,
  • reliable IT troubleshooting techniques,
  • improved automation,
  • better understanding and cooperation between the different IT departments.

A great DevOps engineer can:

  • help your business integrate its IT systems better, making it more user-friendly;
  • incorporate the feedback they receive very quickly and shorten the lead time between fixes;
  • help software developers release projects quicker by streamlining the entire development process;
  • implement DevOps tools that help developers improve the quality of their work and prevent further software failures;
  • automate repetitive internal processes;
  • help design cyber-secure systems;
  • implement continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) practices.

Research from Atlassian’s 2020 DevOps Trends report shows that 61% of surveyed businesses that implemented DevOps believe it helped produce “higher-quality deliverables” and 99% of surveyed companies believe DevOps “had a positive impact on their organization.”

Final thoughts on why DevOps matters for your business

We hope this article has helped you understand what exactly a DevOps engineer does and why it may be a good idea to consider investing in DevOps specialists.

The key takeaway here is that you might need engineers who will help bridge the gap between Operations and development as you transition further toward more agile development.

DevOps engineers can successfully do this by creating effective communication channels between teams, as well as leading both software development and Operations teams toward a shared vision of how to best implement cutting-edge technology into their organizations.

The DevOps approach can lead to better outcomes for everyone involved—both in terms of productivity and innovation.

Thank you for reading our article. If you liked it, we recommend checking out the following resources on the same subject:

We also suggest reading the case studies on how we helped our clients with comprehensive DevOps services, which might shed some light on how DevOps can improve the flow of software changes and fixes at your company:

Additionally, if you need an external team to support your future projects, our expert engineers can cover all your DevOps needs. Feel free to check out the DevOps services we provide and contact us if you need any assistance with increasing the efficiency and quality of your products!

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