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By Digital

There’s a bone of contention in the industry that those in the DevOps space too often display what we might call tech elitism.

I’d counter that and suggest that what we’re actually talking about is just the latest group of talented IT folk in an exploding market, who are riding the current tech and cultural tsunami to their benefit.

In fact, I’d argue that what appears to be happening in the DevOps market is no different to the SAP market in the late 80’s or the Siebel CRM wave in the 90’s.

The success of those vendors spawned the creation of communities of technical wizards and magicians. It also created a lot of wealth for certain people – and earning twice, even three times, the average salary in your field inevitably breeds a certain type of superiority.

In a sense, DevOps is going through the same paradigm shift, but this is about people, smarts and talented skills at the forefront of the market rather than about a vendor application.

What’s in a name?

One of the biggest hiring challenges in the DevOps market right now is around job descriptions. Most of those that we see are shockingly light on detail and quite simply lack content. As a result, HR folk are lost at sea, with much vague arm-waving in the air when attempting to describe the requirements of the role.

The consequence of this is that hiring managers in the main are engineers, who are able to articulate what they need and are trying to achieve and to the right sort of person who can understand what they are talking about.

But very rarely is this expertise tangibly reflected in a briefing document or even a briefing session. Mostly it’s a woolly four paragraph job spec for a £95,000 package.

Is it surprising then that candidates with these skills are so sought after and constantly hounded, because hardly any recruiter or HR department really knows how to speak DevOps or understand what the businesses are trying to achieve?

Same stuff, different time

Part of the rise of DevOps demand stems the notion that no one is hiring sysadmins any more, it’s all about DevOps. Over the past 10 years, sysadmin has become a dirty word.

As market dynamics kick in and the people grab acronyms, sysadmin is not an alluring job title anymore. On the other hand DevOps is very ‘spicy’ so that’s what people call themselves. But on closer inspection, in many cases job descriptions are the same.

The same thing happened to me when the clamour for LAN and WAN networking skills happened. I went from being a £250 a day systems manager contractor to earning £1200 a day as a sysadmin in the space of a week, even though I wasn’t trained in sysadmin and operational skills.

So, on the basis that salaries are rising, why not just change your job title to the current market favourite because it’s the type of work that’s in demand? Who wouldn’t do this, given that it’s market growth and our industry’s appetite for acronyms that’s driving it?

The end result is that DevOps is not a lower level job title anymore.  The good candidates have transitioned into engineering roles, designing complex cloud systems, bashing out intricate scripts, engineering clouds and creating elastic automated infrastructures. These are good and clever people who contribute value to the organisation.

But that’s not uniformly the case. Inevitably there are also the ‘rock stars and ninjas’ to be dealt with.

Ninjas & rock stars NOT required

The rock star definition in this context means you will be one person doing a job of an eight-person team, but is this a hero culture? Maybe in some businesslike start-ups, it’s totally relevant. However you might prefer to hire session musicians or even lead tenors in a choir than have an Axel Rose-style hell raiser in the team.

We have seen a couple of distinct categories emerge when we’ve been asked to headhunt people. To hire for a 4/8 person start-up, you need a hero or rock star, living for something to fail, constantly bootstrapping and working 24hrs a day. But in an enterprise team environment, you don’t need heroes, you need different calibres of individuals. But where to find them?

Skills crisis

As the DevOps contractor market has boomed, the talented folk are migrating from full-time to contract status, thus creating a vacuum in the middle of the market with the lack of skills.

That lack of skills means that enterprises are overpaying for those that are in play. This sort of situation can contribute to a certain inflated opinion of your own value.

So what’s the answer? We need to see DevOps training programmes at scale on new tech, hard and soft skill sets. Training programmes are required for both the new grads who are starting out, but also for seasoned domain-skilled engineers who want to up-sell and cross-sell their careers.

But there are some rays of light when it comes to the move to the DevOps title. There are limited resources available to train for this type of DevOps job, but Ops School has started the journey (

In addition, the explosion of Internet businesses has triggered a mind shift, with start-ups needing people with an operational mind set, who can not only develop and cut code, but keep all the lights on and sustain the company.

Now bother DevOps folk with spamming…right?

Not everyone gets it right. Our candidates send us some very funny emails from ‘old school’ recruiters who know nothing about DevOps! This low-cost, easy-to-use communication method just adds to the awareness of the entire DevOps resource community that they are in demand.

Now add a large dose of IT ‘reccers’ where it is all about the numbers and the ‘old school’ recruitment KPIs. These mass emails and irrelevant jobs derive from outdated techniques give the wrong impression. Also no passive candidate in their right mind will respond to this as it’s just wasting their time when the conversation is non-DevOps-savvy.

How to calm the madness down

So how do we all calm things down a bit? Sadly I don’t think you can, but when we start working on a role for a business, our messaging is very particular.

Each candidate gets a special communication ‘snowflake’ sent to them, that is highly relevant and interesting, calling out skills in their past that are key assets for the next role.

This enables us to start a proper dialogue and connection about the job in detail. We read the public domain profile and understand where they have come from.

We have built our business on knowing our audience – and yes, DevOps architects and engineers are very, very special folk – and engaging in a proper relationship understanding skills, tools and career advancement.

Overall, what we see is a need for a new mantra that is NOT about hiring unicorns, ninjas and rockstars. All we need are good solid developers with cloud tech experience who can relate to the business goals and customer experience.

Those people are clever folk who frankly have a right to treated in a different way to others as they are leading change and driving business agility. If that’s elitist, so be it.

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