How to get into DevOps

DevOps, the merging of Software Development and Infrastructure Operations, is very popular right now and shows no signs of slowing. Entry level positions are paid in the ~£30,000 ball park and experienced DevOps Engineers can earn over ~£100,000, because they help to automate everything, which adds significant value. Add in that you can usually work from home and you are on to a winner!

Sounds great, right? But how do you start?

Soft Skills

Your first priority in any career path, but especially in tech, must be your interpersonal skills. Most technical people are pants at this, so you can truly stand out by being personable and building metaphorical bridges.

Even in such technical lines as engineering, about 15 percent of one’s financial success is due to one’s technical knowledge and about 85 percent is due to skill in human engineering-to personality and the ability to lead people.

Dale Carnegie, “How To Win Friends And Influence People”, 1936

This is as true today as it was when Carnegie wrote it almost a century ago. Continuously aim to improve your interpersonal skills. There are many books on the subject, so start with “How To Win Friends And Influence People”.

Register on Credly

Credly is the main platform that most certification issuers use to allow you to prove that you have achieved those qualifications. It is free for you as the issuer pays for the privilege of being on the platform, so sign up now.

Terraform Associate

Terraform is fast becoming the de facto industry standard as it allows organisations to control all their providers not only “as code”, but also with just one set of code. For example, if you want to be extremely highly available, you will want to spread your cluster across AWS and Azure, as the likelihood of both experiencing an issue is low to say the least. Doing this using the Infrastructure as Code, IaC, tools that each provider offers means that you require a different approach for every provider, whereas Terraform means that they can all be managed by Terraform.

The Terraform Associate certification costs $70 (~£50) which is one of the cheapest certifications in the field. Additionally, there are no curve balls, as all the exam content is available in the Hashicorp documentation, so you should be able to go from “never heard of Terraform” to “achievement unlocked” in two to four weeks.

AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional

Amazon is, of course, most famous for being the online shop where you can get everything from A to Z, which is why their logo is a smile that points from the A to the Z! Quite early on, Amazon realised that they had too much server capacity, so they started renting that capacity to everyone else, and Amazon Web Services, AWS, was born.

AWS has since become the leader in the cloud infrastructure provider market, and by a country mile. Almost every organisation is either already using AWS, or are in the process of migrating to it. AWS certification is, therefore, worth its weight in gold.

If you want to save dosh, you can go straight for the AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional certification as there is no requirement to take the easier exams first. If you feel more comfortable building up to it, you could start with the “Foundational” certification “Cloud Practitioner” and then onto one of the “Associate” level certifications.

Do a Project

It’s the age old “chicken and egg” problem; you can’t get a job without experience but you also can’t get experience without a job! Most good organisations now respect your body of work as a whole, regardless of the source. Find an open source project that you can contribute to and solve problems on.

For example, why not get involved in Geek.Zone/Web? This is a real-world Python project that not only directly helps your Geek.Zone but also has lots of front end, back end and infrastructure challenges for you to tackle, so can really help you to demonstrate your abilities. Plus, Geek.Zone will gladly provide a reference to reflect your involvement.

Learn Python

You do not need to be able to talk in Python, but a good understanding of programming in general and Python specifically will really help you to succeed. After all, that’s the Dev in DevOps, right?

The Python Software Foundation, the body that officially represents the Python programming language, does not offer any officially endorsed courses. The Python Institute (not affiliated) offers the “PCAP – Certified Associate in Python Programming” certification, which also extends to “Professional” level, so that might be a good way for you to prove your skills. Additionally, they offer a 50% exam discount if you take one of their free online courses first.

Learn Linux

By far the vast majority of servers on the planet operate on Linux. It is obviously important to understand Windows, but if you have never touched Linux before, start using Ubuntu as your main operating system. I dual boot, so still have Windows installed on my laptop for playing games, but I spend ~97% of my time using Ubuntu.

I would also suggest purchasing a Raspberry Pi and setting it up as a home server. The Raspberry Pi 3 B+ offers decent specifications for a low price and gives you a good playground. Do bear in mind, however, that you will rarely use a Raspberry Pi in production, but it is still a good test bench.

If you want to demonstrate your Linux prowess, then the Linux Foundation Certified Engineer certification is just the ticket.

Optional: DevOps Leader

I am torn on this one, but I thought it would be worth a mention so that you can make your own mind up.

On the one hand, the DevOps Leader certification is arguably a “gate keeper” certification; one that gets you past the recruiter. Many recruiters are not mega-tech-types, so a qualification with DevOps in the title will allow your CV to be included in keyword searches and help them to see that you could be a good fit for the DevOps role they are working on. Box, ticked.

On the other hand, it costs $245 (~£180) and they don’t even give you a Credly badge. All you get to prove that you passed is an easy-to-photoshop PDF, which irked me somewhat when I received it. Yes, £200 for a ruddy PDF! The only way for someone to check that you are not telling porkies is for them to actually contact the DevOps Institute, and who is going to do that?

I did question this, and their response was as follows.

While we were using Credily for candidates to claim their badge, the claim rate was very low and feedback from candidates indicated that the process was complex and the badges could not be displayed on Linkedin and other professional sites. In exploring other digital badge platforms, we found similar challenges.

Since DevOps Institute also issues a digital certificate and badge that provides evidence of the candidate’s accomplishment, we believe that we are addressing both the professional and social needs of our community by issuing a certificate and a badge image.

We send out badges directly with the certificates as it cut out waiting time our canidates were experiencing reeiving their badges in the past.

DevOps Institute Customer Service, verbatim email, 2021-01

Just to be clear, this is twaddle.

  • Claiming your Credly badge takes one click on the “Accept your badge” button in the email they send you.
    If you feel that a single click is a “complex process”, then perhaps start with introductory computer skills classes, such as ICDL Computer Essentials.
  • Credly sends their email to you immediately once your result is released.
    For example, Hashicorp mark the Terraform Associate exam automatically so your receive your results as soon as you click “Submit”. I got an email from Credly inviting me to claim my badge BEFORE I received the congratulations email from Hashicorp! I would not say that I experienced any waiting time in receiving my badge.
  • Credly badges can be displayed on LinkedIn and anywhere else.
    I have no clue where they got the idea that this is not possible.
  • When you pass the exam, DevOps Institute emails you a PDF certificate and a JPG of their logo.
    Calling this a “digital certificate and badge” is arguably a bit misleading, particularly when the rest of the industry issues digital certificates via a verifiable third party – Credly.

Additionally, the exam is open book and non-invigilated, which arguably devalues the qualification further. But hey, if it helps you get the job, who cares, right? If you have £200 to spare then go for it, but otherwise, you are probably better off spending that £200 on the AWS exam.

Get any tech job

If you have zero experience in the tech sector, moving from a non-technical role into something technical can help you to progress in this area. You might not need to switch companies either; find out if your current employer can switch you over to first line IT support, for example. This will help you to show that you can solve problems and potentially give you the opportunity to automate some manual processes. Remember, if you need to do it more than three times, you should automate it!

Conclusion

Unlike many fields, there is no single qualification that will open the door to the DevOps field. It is a cross-disciplinary area that intends to bring together many skill sets to best add value to an operation, so you need to have a wide range of knowledge. Nobody expects you to know everything while you are just starting out, but just keep proactively learning and demonstrating your skills and you will go far.

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