What does DevOps mean to you?

6 experts break down DevOps and the practices and philosophies key to making it work.
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It's said if you ask 10 people about DevOps, you will get 12 answers. This is a result of the diversity in opinions and expectations around DevOps—not to mention the disparity in its practices.

To decipher the paradoxes around DevOps, we went to the people who know it the best—its top practitioners around the industry. These are people who have been around the horn, who know the ins and outs of technology, and who have practiced DevOps for years. Their viewpoints should encourage, stimulate, and provoke your thoughts around DevOps.

What does DevOps mean to you?

Let's start with the fundamentals. We're not looking for textbook answers, rather we want to know what the experts say.

In short, the experts say DevOps is about principles, practices, and tools.

Ann Marie Fred, DevOps lead for IBM Digital Business Group's Commerce Platform, says, "to me, DevOps is a set of principles and practices designed to make teams more effective in designing, developing, delivering, and operating software."

According to Daniel Oh, senior DevOps evangelist at Red Hat, "in general, DevOps is compelling for enterprises to evolve current IT-based processes and tools related to app development, IT operations, and security protocol."

Brent Reed, founder of Tactec Strategic Solutions, talks about continuous improvement for the stakeholders. "DevOps means to me a way of working that includes a mindset that allows for continuous improvement for operational performance, maturing to organizational performance, resulting in delighted stakeholders."

Many of the experts also emphasize culture. Ann Marie says, "it's also about continuous improvement and learning. It's about people and culture as much as it is about tools and technology."

To Dan Barker, chief architect and DevOps leader at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), "DevOps is primarily about culture. … It has brought several independent areas together like lean, just culture, and continuous learning. And I see culture as being the most critical and the hardest to execute on."

Chris Baynham-Hughes, head of DevOps at Atos, says, "[DevOps] practice is adopted through the evolution of culture, process, and tooling within an organization. The key focus is culture change, and the key tenants of DevOps culture are collaboration, experimentation, fast-feedback, and continuous improvement." 

Geoff Purdy, cloud architect, talks about agility and feedback "shortening and amplifying feedback loops. We want teams to get feedback in minutes rather than weeks."

But in the end, Daniel nails it by explaining how open source and open culture allow him to achieve his goals "in easy and quick ways. In DevOps initiatives, the most important thing for me should be open culture rather than useful tools, multiple solutions."

What DevOps practices have you found effective?

"Picking one, automated provisioning has been hugely effective for my team. "

The most effective practices cited by the experts are pervasive yet disparate.

According to Ann Marie, "some of the most powerful [practices] are agile project management; breaking down silos between cross-functional, autonomous squads; fully automated continuous delivery; green/blue deploys for zero downtime; developers setting up their own monitoring and alerting; blameless post-mortems; automating security and compliance."

Chris says, "particular breakthroughs have been empathetic collaboration; continuous improvement; open leadership; reducing distance to the business; shifting from vertical silos to horizontal, cross-functional product teams; work visualization; impact mapping; Mobius loop; shortening of feedback loops; automation (from environments to CI/CD)."

Brent supports "evolving a learning culture that includes TDD [test-driven development] and BDD [behavior-driven development] capturing of a story and automating the sequences of events that move from design, build, and test through implementation and production with continuous integration and delivery pipelines. A fail-first approach to testing, the ability to automate integration and delivery processes and include fast feedback throughout the lifecycle."

Geoff highlights automated provisioning. "Picking one, automated provisioning has been hugely effective for my team. More specifically, automated provisioning from a versioned Infrastructure-as-Code codebase."

Dan uses fun. "We do a lot of different things to create a DevOps culture. We hold 'lunch and learns' with free food to encourage everyone to come and learn together; we buy books and study in groups."

How do you motivate your team to achieve DevOps goals?

"Celebrate wins and visualize the progress made."

Daniel emphasizes "automation that matters. In order to minimize objection from multiple teams in a DevOps initiative, you should encourage your team to increase the automation capability of development, testing, and IT operations along with new processes and procedures. For example, a Linux container is the key tool to achieve the automation capability of DevOps."

Geoff agrees, saying, "automate the toil. Are there tasks you hate doing? Great. Engineer them out of existence if possible. Otherwise, automate them. It keeps the job from becoming boring and routine because the job constantly evolves."

Dan, Ann Marie, and Brent stress team motivation.

Dan says, "at the NAIC, we have a great awards system for encouraging specific behaviors. We have multiple tiers of awards, and two of them can be given to anyone by anyone. We also give awards to teams after they complete something significant, but we often award individual contributors."

According to Ann Marie, "the biggest motivator for teams in my area is seeing the success of others. We have a weekly playback for each other, and part of that is sharing what we've learned from trying out new tools or practices. When teams are enthusiastic about something they're doing and willing to help others get started, more teams will quickly get on board."

Brent agrees. "Getting everyone educated and on the same baseline of knowledge is essential ... assessing what helps the team achieve [and] what it needs to deliver with the product owner and users is the first place I like to start."

Chris recommends a two-pronged approach. "Run small, weekly goals that are achievable and agreed by the team as being important and [where] they can see progress outside of the feature work they are doing. Celebrate wins and visualize the progress made."

How do DevOps and agile work together?

"DevOps != Agile, second Agile != Scrum."

This is an important question because both DevOps and agile are cornerstones of modern software development.

DevOps is a process of software development focusing on communication and collaboration to facilitate rapid application and product deployment, whereas agile is a development methodology involving continuous development, continuous iteration, and continuous testing to achieve predictable and quality deliverables.

So, how do they relate? Let's ask the experts.

In Brent's view, "DevOps != Agile, second Agile != Scrum. … Agile tools and ways of working—that support DevOps strategies and goals—are how they mesh together."

Chris says, "agile is a fundamental component of DevOps for me. Sure, we could talk about how we adopt DevOps culture in a non-agile environment, but ultimately, improving agility in the way software is engineered is a key indicator as to the maturity of DevOps adoption within the organization."

Dan relates DevOps to the larger Agile Manifesto. "I never talk about agile without referencing the Agile Manifesto in order to set the baseline. There are many implementations that don't focus on the Manifesto. When you read the Manifesto, they've really described DevOps from a development perspective. Therefore, it is very easy to fit agile into a DevOps culture, as agile is focused on communication, collaboration, flexibility to change, and getting to production quickly."

Geoff sees "DevOps as one of many implementations of agile. Agile is essentially a set of principles, while DevOps is a culture, process, and toolchain that embodies those principles."

Ann Marie keeps it succinct, saying "agile is a prerequisite for DevOps. DevOps makes agile more effective."

Has DevOps benefited from open source? 

"Open source done well requires a DevOps culture."

This question receives a fervent "yes" from all participants followed by an explanation of the benefits they've seen.

Ann Marie says, "we get to stand on the shoulders of giants and build upon what's already available. The open source model of maintaining software, with pull requests and code reviews, also works very well for DevOps teams."

Chris agrees that DevOps has "undoubtedly" benefited from open source. "From the engineering and tooling side (e.g., Ansible), to the process and people side, through the sharing of stories within the industry and the open leadership community."

A benefit Geoff cites is "grassroots adoption. Nobody had to sign purchase requisitions for free (as in beer) software. Teams found tooling that met their needs, were free (as in freedom) to modify, [then] built on top of it, and contributed enhancements back to the larger community. Rinse, repeat."

Open source has shown DevOps "better ways you can adopt new changes and overcome challenges, just like open source software developers are doing it," says Daniel.

Brent concurs. "DevOps has benefited in many ways from open source. One way is the ability to use the tools to understand how they can help accelerate DevOps goals and strategies. Educating the development and operations folks on crucial things like automation, virtualization and containerization, auto-scaling, and many of the qualities that are difficult to achieve without introducing technology enablers that make DevOps easier."

Dan notes the two-way, symbiotic relationship between DevOps and open source. "Open source done well requires a DevOps culture. Most open source projects have very open communication structures with very little obscurity. This has actually been a great learning opportunity for DevOps practitioners around what they might bring into their own organizations. Also, being able to use tools from a community that is similar to that of your own organization only encourages your own culture growth. I like to use GitLab as an example of this symbiotic relationship. When I bring [GitLab] into a company, we get a great tool, but what I'm really buying is their unique culture. That brings substantial value through our interactions with them and our ability to contribute back. Their tool also has a lot to offer for a DevOps organization, but their culture has inspired awe in the companies where I've introduced it."

Now that our DevOps experts have weighed in, please share your thoughts on what DevOps means—as well as the other questions we posed—in the comments.

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Girish has over 20 years’ experience in technology and software at a global IT Services organization based in India. Girish is architect of "I Got" cloud platform to uplift the bottom of the pyramid built with open source stack and contemporary architectural patterns such as microservices, containerisation and multi tenancy. Girish writes on open source and tech topics.


The most concerning aspect of this article is that it completely ignores how DevOps came about, what problems we're trying to be solved and the overarching concepts that were presented. While the term is overloaded, most definitions fail to see the forest through the trees.

In Girish's defence, this article isn't an introduction to DevOps. And I don't think it was meant to be one. Anyway, a history (of sorts) was published on Opensource.com in 2017, and the Command Line Heroes podcast dedicated an episode to what DevOps is and where it came from.

In reply to by EM (not verified)

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