What Is A DevOps Engineer? All About the Job

Bridging the gap between tech development and operations, DevOps engineers serve a crucial purpose.

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Taylor Tobin1.84k

As the tech sector continues to grow its presence as a powerful force in the economy, both in the United States and worldwide, professionals with the ability to create efficient software that serves multiple purposes become increasingly in-demand. At many tech companies, communication discrepancies frequently occur between the development team (the group designing the software, adding new features, and optimizing existing systems) and the operations team (the engineers executing the processes for which the software is intended). These lapses in interdepartmental correspondence cause productivity hiccups, and because tech companies have a vested interest in keeping everything moving, there’s an immediate need for a third party to keep the flow of information constant.

That’s where DevOps comes in. A growing sector within the tech community, “DevOps” stands for “development-operations”, and these engineers focus on bridging the gap between these two integral departments.

Because DevOps is still a relatively new field within the tech industry, its definition can seem a bit hazy; some software programmers and engineers refer to DevOps as a unifying “state of mind” and a “company culture” theme rather than a discrete profession. However, more and more companies now seek to employ dedicated DevOps engineers, bringing the synergy between development and operations to the forefront of their hiring priorities. 

What do DevOps engineers do?

DevOps engineers must know how to create and design software, but they also must have a keen practical knowledge of how to use the programs and how to gain revenue from their correct operation. 

According to DevOps engineer Kelsey Hightower of Puppet Labs, “The DevOps engineer encapsulates depth of knowledge and years of hands-on experience. You’re battle tested. This person blends the skills of the business analyst with the technical chops to build the solution — plus they know the business well, and can look at how any issue affects the entire company.”

Because their work directly impacts two separate departments, DevOps engineers can’t work in isolation. They must develop clear methods of communication and effectively advocate for the needs of both development and operations, requiring a strong command of interpersonal skills.

What are the duties of a DevOps engineer?

Professionals in the tech industry generally agree that “DevOps engineer” is a somewhat nebulous position, involving different responsibilities depending on the specific company or organization. But overall, DevOps engineers must serve as a walking knowledge base and executor of IT operations and system administrator terminologies and duties. They must also know how to deploy and test necessary software code, must know how to automate software tools, must know how to communicate with sales and marketing teams to promote the successful performance of the software, and must know how to delegate tasks to other engineering-team members to ensure a smooth connection between the company’s technical and business goals.

How do you become a DevOps engineer, and what skills do you need?

To become a DevOps engineer, candidates need a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a similar subject. A graduate degree isn’t required, but entry-level DevOps engineers should walk in with a solid background in data systems migrations. 

After graduation, most DevOps engineers begin their careers in entry-level roles as systems administrators, IT associates, and developers. However, as DevOps becomes a more notable field in and of itself, early-career engineers can now find positions specifically dedicated to this body of work. 

If you want to gain specialized certification in DevOps (which can make you more desirable to hiring managers), tech companies like Amazon and Linux offer training programs in the field worthy of placement on your resume. 

Because DevOps engineers need to balance multiple facets of software programming, their skill sets must be diverse and thorough. Recruiters and hiring managers typically seek out DevOps engineers with a keen knowledge of- and experience in- IT troubleshooting, the ability to work with different networking and storage systems, a strong working knowledge of coding, the capacity to design and implement automation and security programs, and the willingness to plan and execute various stages of testing to ensure the software’s optimal performance. 

What types of places hire DevOps engineers?

Thanks to their diverse skills in both design and implementation, DevOps engineers can seek employment at any number of software companies and large-scale tech organizations like Amazon, Linux, Google, Adobe, and Apple. Customer-facing companies like Comcast and Verizon also regularly hire DevOps engineers to maintain software communication and IT support, as do major financial institutions with a strong digital footprint like PricewaterhouseCoopers, J.P. Morgan, and Goldman Sachs. The larger the company, the greater the need for an engineer to serve a as a go-between for the development and operations departments. However, if you’re interested in getting in on the ground floor at a smaller, up-and-coming organization, start-ups regularly employ DevOps engineers to polish their performance before their launch and in the early stages of their run. 

LinkedIn reports that DevOps engineers top their list of the most recruited professionals on the network. Tech companies of all sizes actively seek these skilled individuals, but LinkedIn explains that any prospective DevOps engineer corresponding with recruiters and applying for jobs should also keep an eye out for open positions with slightly different names but very similar job responsibilities, like Site Reliability Engineer.

What growth possibilities do DevOps engineers have?

Because DevOps requires engineers to possess both development and operations skills and expertise, the growth opportunities for these roles can fall into either category or within the collaborative DevOps sphere itself. Entry-level DevOps engineers can rise to leadership roles like Project Manager, DevOps Architect, Database Manager, Tech Lead, or Operations Manager. While many DevOps engineers work full-time for a single company, a growing number are striking out on their own and launching freelance DevOps businesses, particularly in thriving tech scenes like those in Silicon Valley, Austin, and Seattle. 

What salary can a DevOps engineer expect?

DevOps engineers can easily leverage their skills (both hard skills like coding and soft skills like excellent communication abilities) to earn highly-competitive salaries. According to Payscale, the median salary for DevOps engineers in 2018 is $91,291. Base salaries range fall in the $61,842-133,405, annual bonuses start at $1,030 and top out at $15,182, and companies offering profit sharing pay out anywhere from $485 to $16,240. Like many positions in the tech industry, DevOps engineers frequently earn higher rates while employed at larger companies; currently, Amazon pays its DevOps engineers at least $100,000 per year.


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