DevOps Career Path: From Trainee to Team Lead or Architect
The author of this article is tech expert Pieter Murphy.
In this article
The DevOps career path from being a DevOps trainee to being a team lead or architect is not easy, but it is rewarding and, for those interested, worth investing time and money.
We expect the DevOps market to balloon to an incredible $25.5 billion by 2028 at a compound annual growth rate of about 19.7%. The industry is here to stay.
That means your career path may be arduous, and could take some time to reach the role of team lead or architect, but your skills will continue to be in demand for years to come.
How do you work to the top of the DevOps engineer career path? In this DevOps career guide, we start with understanding the concept of DevOps.
DevOps (a portmanteau of Development and Operations) is a model that combines philosophies, practices, and tools designed to increase an organization’s ability to deliver applications and services quickly and with the highest levels of efficiency.
In addition, the products can be developed and improved much faster than organizations using traditional development and infrastructure management methods.
In this context, the development and operations teams work in the same environment and can sometimes be merged into one team where engineers can access and work on the app during its lifecycle.
Where security is paramount for the app in question, it cannot be removed from the equation. This is how we get specialized methodologies like DevSecOps, which puts security as a key tenet of the process, or AIOps, which integrates AI tooling into the development lifecycle.
To enhance your DevOps career growth, you must learn to automate processes that would be tedious and slow, as well as leverage the right tools and technology stack to operate and evolve apps quickly and efficiently.
Skills Required for a DevOps Engineer Career
To experience career growth in DevOps, you must develop DevOps skills specific to the DevOps philosophy, technical skills, and additional skills that make it simpler for you to fit into the culture.
Let’s break them down.
Here’s what you need to know on the technical side of things to start a career in DevOps:
1. Linux fundamentals
Linux is the most widely deployed operating system for hosting and deploying software apps. As such, you need to know the OS intimately, including utilities, configurations, and basic commands.
You must also know how to write scripts using languages like Perl, Bash, and Python to automate tasks and processes on Linux servers.
The career path of DevOps engineers takes you through the fundamentals, including file systems, process management, user management, network configuration, troubleshooting, and security.
Automation involves using technology to perform tasks and complete processes with little human intervention. Automation can enhance the quality, reliability, and efficiency of software delivery.
As an engineer, you must know how to leverage tools and technologies that support different phases of the software development lifecycle, including source code management, monitoring, continuous delivery, testing, integration, and more, and configuration management, among other tasks.
Some tools and technologies you’ll learn about during your DevOps career progression include Git, GitHub, Jenkins, Docker, Kubernetes, Puppet, Ansible, Nagios, Chef, Prometheus, etc.
The cloud is a term used to describe the delivery of computing services over the Internet, including networking, servers, storage, databases, analytics, and intelligence. The cloud can offer benefits for software development, including flexibility, scalability, security, and cost-effectiveness.
The career path of DevOps engineers helps them gain proficiency in cloud computing platforms, including Amazon Web Services (check out the AWS DevOps engineer job description), Google Cloud Platform, or Microsoft Azure (discover Azure DevOps career path a specialist follows here), which offer services and resources for hosting, scaling, and deploying software apps in the cloud.
You will also need to gain familiarity with cloud design patterns, including microservices, containerization, and serverless.
Security best practices are used to protect data, apps, and infrastructure from threats and attacks. It forms a vital part of software development and delivery, as it can impact the software's performance, functionality, and reputation.
To become a platform engineer, you must understand the best practices and standards to secure software apps and infrastructure, including encryption, authentication, firewall, authorization/permissions, backup, recovery, and antivirus.
Security involves knowing and using tools and technologies that monitor, detect, and prevent security incidents, including vulnerability scanning, intrusion detection, response, penetration testing, etc.
Testing involves evaluating a software app or system's functionality, quality, and reliability. Testing helps identify and fix software defects, errors, or bugs before delivery.
Your DevOps engineer career growth will see you learn various types of testing, including unit testing, integration testing, performance testing, functional testing, and security testing. There are tools for this, including Cucumber, JUnit, Selenium, Nmap, and JMeter.
You are also expected to be able to implement continuous testing and feedback lanes, including code reviews, code analysis, code coverage, and automated testing.
6. Technical support and maintenance
Technical support and maintenance ensure the software applications and systems function appropriately after user delivery. Technical support maintenance can involve updating, troubleshooting, and resolving issues and providing assistance and guidance to end-users.
As an engineer, you will need to provide technical support and maintenance for the software apps and systems you develop and deliver, as well as relay information and collaborate effectively with end users and other stakeholders.
To start DevOps career growth, most of the skills you will gain working in the development and operations environment center around the central tenets of the model. They include knowing the tools and technologies to do the following:
1. Source code management
SCM tools are used to manage the source code of an app to help ensure that code is stored in a central repository where changes are easy to track.
2. Configuration management
The tools of configuration management help ensure that the correct versions of the software are deployed and that configurations maintain consistency across all environments.
3. Continuous integration
This is a tenet of DevOps that calls for the automatic building and testing of code changes. The aim is to ensure code changes integrate easily with the main codebase and don’t break anything or cause issues.
It also involves finding and addressing bugs faster, improving the software continuously, and cutting down on the time it takes to create, test, and release updates.
4. Continuous delivery
Continuous delivery is a practice that sees code changes automatically built, tested, and prepared for deployment. It expands on continuous integration by deploying all code changes to a testing/production environment after the creation stage.
When properly used, continuous delivery means developers usually have a deployment-ready piece that has undergone and passed all tests and is ready to go.
5. Continuous monitoring
After releasing an app or making updates to it, organizations collect metrics and logs of how the app and infrastructure performance affect the end user’s experience. The data helps DevOps engineers understand what changes are called for and how implemented changes impact users.
It offers insight into the root causes of problems, allowing developers to continuously optimize performance by addressing issues in a manner that improves the experience for users.
Containerization is a technique used by platform engineers to package an app for easier deployment. It involves placing a software component, its environment, configuration, and dependencies in an isolated unit known as a container.
It is an excellent way of consistently deploying any app on any cloud or on-premises computing environment.
It is one of the technical skills a DevOps engineer needs to know to do their job effectively. Some of the tools used for containerization include Docker Engine, Kubernetes, OpenShift, Container Linux, Amazon Elastic Container Service Apache Mesos, Containerd, Rkt, and more.
Additional skills you need to acquire as you climb the DevOps career ladder include:
Communication and collaboration skills
The path to become a DevOps engineer calls for communication and collaboration skills. You must develop or hone your communication and collaboration skills to be an effective team member.
It is also essential to communicate your ideas to other developers, end-users, and stakeholders (testers, operations staff, managers, customers, etc.)
A DevOps engineer is encouraged to develop with the customers' and end users' needs and expectations in mind. They must use tools like CI/CD, monitoring, and testing to ensure the software is functional, performant, and user-friendly.
The customer-centered approach helps an engineer create value for the customers and improve the quality and reputation of the software.
Soft skills and noble thought
Platform engineers need soft skills and noble thought to fit into the DevOps culture easily. They include problem-solving, creativity, critical thinking, and adaptability. Noble thought is espoused to make the team trust each other and gel well in the workplace.
Noble thought includes honesty, integrity, respect, and empathy. Working with colleagues in an open environment where changes are tracked and many hands go into making the broth, as it were, requires noble thinking to overcome interpersonal challenges.
A DevOps engineer's career development is smoother if they develop their soft skills and noble thoughts, learn from mistakes, innovate collaboratively, and respect diversity.
How to Start a Career in DevOps
As you have seen from what it entails, DevOps is all about teamwork. Lone wolves don’t do very well in this environment, so developing your communication and collaboration skills and technical abilities is essential.
Normally, you will play a role in the software development lifecycle, from planning to deployment.
You will likely work in an entry-level position like a release manager or junior DevOps engineer at the beginning of your path to become a DevOps engineer. You can then work your way up, gaining certifications, skills, and a portfolio of work to back up your proficiency.
We have a handy guide for how to become a DevOps engineer, which offers an introduction to this career path for anyone interested in pursuing it.
To understand this journey better, let’s discuss the key steps you must take to become a DevOps engineer.
Key Milestones in a DevOps Career
Like any career, your career aspirations for DevOps engineer roles start with the lowest rungs, when you are greenest, and progress over time, with continuous improvement, to the position of a senior platform engineer.
Here are the critical DevOps roadmap milestones:
At the trainee level, you are just starting. This is where you develop the basics of DevOps, including the philosophy, practices, and tools. As a trainee, you get to work on small projects or tasks under the supervision of a mentor or senior platform engineer. A trainee must have programming skills and a willingness to learn new methodologies and technologies.
2. Junior DevOps
A junior DevOps engineer has some experience and knowledge of development and operations but still needs to improve their skills and confidence. A junior DevOps engineer may work on more complex tasks or projects but still requires supervision and feedback from a senior engineer.
You are expected to understand the software development lifecycle, configuration management, cloud services, and CI/CD at this level.
3. Middle DevOps
At this level, your confidence is settling. You have a solid grasp of DevOps and can efficiently work independently or in a team. Your tasks include challenging projects and tasks that require critical and creative thinking to finish.
A middle DevOps engineer should have a strong command of their organization's programming languages, tools, and platforms, including the ability to troubleshoot and optimize software quality and performance.
4. Senior DevOps
Senior platform engineers have extensive experience and expertise in DevOps and can oversee projects and mentor or lead other engineers. You will likely work on strategic projects or tasks with extensive planning, designing, and implementing DevOps solutions at this level.
Your skills as a senior engineer include a deep knowledge of security, reliability, scalability, software architecture, advanced collaboration, and communication skills.
5. Team Lead
Team leads are DevOps engineers assigned to manage an entire team of engineers and oversee an organization's DevOps processes and practices. A team lead may work on setting the goals, best practices, and standards and monitor and evaluate the team’s performance and progress.
A team lead should have excellent management, leadership, and interpersonal skills and a broad and holistic view of the software development lifecycle.
6. Architect DevOps
An architect DevOps engineer designs and builds an organization's DevOps infrastructure and architecture. It is the peak of the career, where your DevOps career opportunities open up significantly.
DevOps architect roles and responsibilities may include designing and maintaining the DevOps vision, strategy, and roadmap for the organization, including ensuring the alignment and integration of the DevOps solutions with the business goals and requirements.
An architect DevOps engineer needs to have a comprehensive and in-depth knowledge of the DevOps principles, technologies, and trends and the skills to innovate and optimize the outcomes.
Challenges and Solutions
Your career development plan for DevOps needs to account for the continuous learning and upskilling you will need and the challenges facing new entrants into the paradigm. It is worth knowing some of your challenges and how to tackle them.
Let’s dive in:
1. Lack of a clear understanding of DevOps
It is common for most people trying to get into a DevOps engineer career to find that their prior skills and training didn’t prepare them for the world of DevOps. The philosophy and culture are relatively new and, in most places, haven’t made it into the curriculum, let alone implemented by most organizations.
To solve this, one should familiarize themselves with the concept, what it means, how it changes the workplace compared to the old ways, as well as best practices and key concepts.
You can also dedicate time to upskill and gain certifications that better prepare you for the DevOps model.
2. Resistance to change and collaboration
Developers have been working in silos for almost as long as software development has been a thing. It is not uncommon to find it hard to adjust to the rigors and differences a DevOps model brings.
It requires collaboration and integration across different functions and roles. To meet this challenge, one should learn the benefits of DevOps, including faster delivery, better customer satisfaction, and higher quality.
It is also worth knowing how to communicate and implement those ideas should you find yourself in a position where you have to lead an organization away from traditional methods. You should also know how to use agile methodologies and practices, including kanban, sprints, scrum, and more, to facilitate continuous feedback and optimization.
3. Striking a balance between speed and quality
DevOps aims to deliver software faster and more frequently without compromising reliability and quality. It is challenging to do this, so you should understand the implementation of quality assurance and testing practices throughout the lifecycle, including unit testing, integration testing, security testing, and performance testing.
One should also use tools and support CI/CD delivery, including Jenkins and GitLab CI, to automate software builds, testing, and deployment. It is also essential to understand how to use tools that support monitoring and logging, including ELK Stack, Prometheus, and Grafana.
There are more challenges you’ll encounter, often solved by upskilling, continuous improvement, and experience gained over time.
What Next After DevOps Career
Your career options with a DevOps degree and certifications could take you to other careers and roles after reaching the top of the DevOps engineering ladder. They are transferable in the modern tech market and can open up opportunities in the following professions:
- Automation Architect- They oversee and guide the automation efforts of the organizaton.
- Site Reliability Engineer (SRE)- SREs apply the principles and practices of software engineering to the operations and maintenance of software systems.
- Cloud Engineer- This role involves managing and supporting an organization's cloud infrastructure and services.
- Security Engineer/DevOps Engineer- Your skills in security or the deep integration of security into software development come in handy to integrate security aspects into the development pipeline.
- Release Manager- They manage the software release process and coordinate different teams involved in software delivery.
- Configuration Manager- This role tasks you with managing the configuration and versioning of software code, infrastructure, and data.
As you can see from the descriptions, these jobs overlap significantly in terms of the methodologies, tools, and technologies.
Advice for Aspiring DevOps Engineers
You didn’t ask for it, but we have some tips and advice collected from DevOps engineers who have gone into this career and seen what it’s like firsthand. They are useful in your DevOps engineer career progression:
- Learn the fundamentals of DevOps, including principles, values, and philosophy, and how they apply to software development and delivery. Get into the culture and mindset of collaboration, communication, and integration across teams.
- Evaluate your current skill set and determine what you are good at and where you need upskilling or a polish. First, learn the essential skills and technologies relevant to your organization and stay updated with the latest trends.
- Select the tools that suit your current role and learn how to use them efficiently and effectively to further the philosophies of DevOps.
- Seek feedback from seniors or more accomplished experts to learn from your mistakes, experiment with new ideas, and embrace the spirit of change and continuous improvement.
- If you intend to one day oversee teams, find and take opportunities to gain leadership experience earlier in your career to give yourself a leg up for when you want to transition to a DevOps role with more responsibility.
The journey to becoming a DevOps architect is a challenging and interesting one that finds itself at the intersection of rapid digitization efforts, the rise of artificial intelligence, and a change in how we develop software. It is the next step in the ever-evolving software development process.
Currently, the world needs platform engineers and suffers a severe talent shortage. We have also seen layoffs, with efforts in low-code and no-code development striving to help fill that gap. Committing to this as a career path guarantees you will find your place among software developers with the same philosophy and an ever-improving ethos.
Get started today and reap the benefits of a fulfilling, engaging, dynamic, and rewarding career as a DevOps engineer.