Surging demand for DevOps skills has created a “great opportunity” for IT specialists to advance their careers, according to new research that also warns experts in other areas are missing out on DevOps jobs because they don’t understand how their skills fit into the in-demand discipline.

Almost half (49 per cent) of the more than 2,000 global respondents to the DevOps Institute’s third annual Enterprise DevOps Skills Report say they would look internally first when hiring DevOps specialists, with a further 25 per cent preferring to hire internally and train the individual.

Finding or building talent is critical to helping companies acquire DevOps’ five must-have skill sets: automation, human skills, technical skills, working in a multi-disciplined team, and leveraging best practices and existing frameworks for speed and quality improvements.

While demand for automation skills increased markedly during the pandemic’s disruption, the report found, human skills are still high priorities because the last year had exacerbated the need for “an incredible amount of flexibility, adaptability and empathy”.

Domain knowledge and process skills are also critical, the report found – noting that conventional images of DevOps “could be misleading” as they give practitioners the impression that the only important operational areas were Development and Operations.

A true enterprise DevOps capability, however, is recognised as involving a range of domain expertise – with the top five functional skills needed for DevOps including IT Operations, Infrastructure, Security, Application Development & Design, and Architecture.

“The pandemic pushed global workforce development several years forward into a ‘next normal’ that will require an army of skilled IT talent to succeed,” warned DevOps Institute CEO Jayne Groll in introducing the report.

To effectively build that “army”, executives must actively source relevant skills from all five domains – with respondents also saying they most valued those who could approach them with exceptional skills in product thinking, business understanding and strategic thinking.

“We believe that this represents a priority shift to find DevOps individuals who are product thinkers paired with business understanding to deliver customer value,” the report notes – echoing recent Gartner advice that next-generation chief data officers (CDOs) must embrace a product mentality to help organisations convert innovation into action.

Upskilling towards EverythingOps

For executives who have seen DevOps as a technical operational issue, thinking of DevOps as a human-centred issue may take adjustment.

Yet DevOps has continued to ‘shift left’ in recent years, becoming more integral to operational processes as manifests in domains such as secure-development focused DevSecOps, secure-operations focused SecOPs, artificial intelligence-based AIOps, machine learning-focused ModelOps, and data management-related DataOps.

As each of these evolves, its specific required skill set is being fleshed out and internal IT staff have the opportunity to upskill to meet requirements.

By actively recruiting and training promising employees, employers can increase their chances of retaining skilled talent, recruitment firm Robert Half noted in its latest Australian Salary Guide, with DevOps among the top five technical skills wanted by today’s employers.

Cloud engineers – for whom DevOps is a key enabler – are among the top five permanent roles in demand, Robert Half found, but were not among the top five contract roles.

This highlights executives’ desire to retain skilled people for the long-term – and they’re willing to pay for the privilege, with skilled DevOps engineers making higher salaries at the top end than those in most other IT areas: with 95th-percentile salaries averaging $180,000 in Melbourne and Sydney, and $150,000 in Brisbane.

Yet making DevOps succeed requires more than money.

DevOps leaders must be strong influencers, the DevOps Institute report found, with 68 per cent of respondents citing the importance of empowering and developing others, and being able to look beyond one’s self to help the group.

For aspiring DevOps specialists, these traits offer plenty of opportunities to chart a career path – and with executive support for DevOps growing, the report advises, “upskilling according to the needed capabilities should be on your personal and organisational roadmap.”

“You own your skill-building journey,” the report advises, “but let your leadership own the initiation of upskilling so that the organisation shifts towards learning.”