How Continuous Upskilling Can Solve the DevOps Talent Shortage
August 02, 2022

Benjamin Brial

We all know by now that digital disruption is the top business priority, followed closely by the need to identify the right talent to execute this transformation.

The problem is that pinpointing gaps within an organization and acquiring people with the skills to drive a digital revolution is difficult. And ongoing labor shortages, the impact of automation on job roles, and continuously evolving technology doesn't make it any easier.

The big question for IT leaders is: what can be done to help organizations not just survive, but also thrive in this new, rapidly changing reality?

Human Transformation

One of the first places to start is by considering the most vital element of any digital transformation, and that's human transformation.

Of course, delivering more interconnected applications faster than ever requires a high degree of automation. But delivering digital experiences that truly matter to customers? This cannot be done without effective leadership, collaboration, and strategy. And this is where the human element of DevOps is essential.

DevOps skills are some of the most in demand across the entire IT sector, with McKinsey recently reporting that the pandemic has sped up the adoption of digital technologies by several years, meaning that more and more companies are looking to DevOps to accelerate innovation by developing new and improved code faster than ever.

Image from DevOps Institute

But this surge in demand for accelerated innovation is outgrowing the talent available, a problem which has been referred to as the "DevOps skills gap." The extent of the issue is such that "lack of appropriate skill" is regularly listed by IT leaders as the biggest obstacle to implementing DevOps, and it's a situation that's not showing any signs of changing. In fact, according to The Upskilling IT 2022 Report, 40% of respondents said that the resource and skill shortage is one of their top three challenges.

Which is why, against this backdrop of changes and challenges, organizations are starting to realize that a culture of continuous learning might provide a more effective alternative to a reliance on snapping up new talent before the competition. Technology stacks are constantly being upgraded, but what about people? What skills are most important for enterprise DevOps success today; and what is the best way to develop these skills amidst the constant pressure to deliver more, better, and faster?

The Upskilling Fundamentals

A critical part of any upskilling strategy is firstly to understand the must-have skills, and secondly know how to develop those skills. The challenge is that, while IT leaders are continuing to put complicated, expensive, multi-year plans in place to remediate technical debt, there is a lack of focus on remedying talent deficiencies, which are also increasing.

According to the upskilling report, only 52% of IT enterprise organizations have a formal upskilling program currently, listing: a lack of time (53%), lack of budget (47%) and lack of offerings (32%) as excuses for not having this in place. While these issues are valid, successful enterprises are, by definition, continuous learning organizations, and this learning needs to be enterprise-wide and incorporate both technical and human skills.

And it's this area that is so critical because while the importance of technical skills is apparent, without the necessary human skills, innovation and transformation will be disrupted. These include skills that are essential must-haves for any IT enterprise organization: things like collaboration and cooperation, communications skills, problem solving, and sharing and knowledge transfer.

Just as human attributes aren't as valuable without technical skills, technology without human skills will not accelerate transformation. Therefore, upskilling needs to involve the creation of formal upskilling programs across the organization that will see all the necessary skills provided to all employees at all stages of their career for professional advancement.

IT Transformation

As we've seen, we live in a world of complicated tool ecosystems and a serious shortage of DevOps talent. This leaves a hole for IT solutions, especially as the number of organizations embarking on digital transformations continues to increase, with as many as 89% of all companies adopting a digital-first business strategy, or planning to do so, according to IDG.

For any digital transformation to be successful, an IT transformation — the process of aligning IT with broader, organizational goals — is an essential prerequisite. IT transformation introduces critical new capabilities and next-generation solutions while refreshing the legacy capabilities to enable a true digital transformation.

As IT spending continues to accelerate post-pandemic and organizations look to speed up technology processes and manage the number of developers they need, DevOps practices will have an increasingly valuable impact on how IT organizations operate and how businesses succeed.

Enterprise-grade DevOps and hybrid cloud collaboration platforms use the concept of stacks, which are ways to build and organize infrastructure as code configuration management and CI/CD pipelines more generally so that developers can create generic descriptions of the application that will be used across all projects and environments to act as a kind of "service catalog." This enables specialists to streamline and automate the management of projects, reducing the load on DevOps specialists and developers so that they can spend more time developing and less time challenged with things like testing and deploying. In a nutshell, this means developers can deliver more to a higher standard.

Simultaneously, automation encourages cross-role behavior, ensuring that all technical employees — regardless of role or experience — can safely and efficiently contribute to DevOps projects, without having to worry about how to interact with infrastructure and without the need for time-consuming ops supervision.

Leveraging automation and best practices like this frees DevOps specialists to be innovative in improvements and refinements to an organization's infrastructure and tooling. With this sort of grunt work out of the way, professionals can focus on what they do best — inspire creative thinking and achieve success within a team.

Empowering Employees: DevX and upskilling go hand-in-hand

Ultimately, any business transformation is reliant on creating an environment in which employees feel empowered to help grow the business, develop their skill sets and further their careers without being limited by the people, practices and tools around them.

For developers, this doesn't mean they need to be writing thousands of lines of code daily, just that there shouldn't be any obstacles for them to do so. By creating the right experience, or DevX, developers can be free to innovate and interact efficiently with tools, infrastructure, and clouds.

Critically, though, the right DevX needs to be about creating a continuous learning environment that supports employees at all stages of their career to develop a compulsion to expand their knowledge, ability and skills. As we've hopefully now seen, this is important for both their professional advancement, and their organization's ability to not only survive, but also thrive.

Benjamin Brial is the Founder of Cycloid
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