How to Become a DevOps Expert
How to become a DevOps expert? There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this question, as the best way to become a DevOps expert depends on your background and experience. However, there are some general approaches and tactics that will be useful in the path to becoming a DevOps expert.
Who is a DevOps expert?
To be a DevOps expert, a person should have a narrow focus on one or several key areas, invest a significant amount of time into developing technical excellence, and have a proven track record of real large-scale projects. In addition, a DevOps expert should maintain his expertise by researching new tools, reading books, and attending conferences.
On the journey from the first mechanical calculator to distributed cloud systems, the complexity of solutions has grown by orders of magnitude. Even in such a narrow field as DevOps, it’s no longer possible to be a complete polyglot, and now everything. You need to make informed and weighted decisions about what tools you want to add to your DevOps expert’s toolbox.
What you can do is define significant areas of experience. These will be Cloud, Containers, Databases, and Pipelines for our case. After that, you choose 2 or 3 technologies that excite you most and focus on the intersection between them. For example, you can position yourself as an expert in running containerized workloads in AWS. Or an expert in Pipeline security (essentially DevSecOps), or whatever excites you most.
|Cloud||Cloud Engineering Expert||Cloud Container Expert||Cloud Database Expert||Cloud Security Expert||Cloud Automation Expert|
|Containers||Cloud Container Expert||Cloud-Native Expert||Container Security|
|Container Automation Expert|
|Databases||Cloud Database Expert||DBA||Database Security|
|DB Automation Expert|
|Security||Cloud Security Expert||Container Security|
|Pipelines||Cloud Automation Expert||Container Automation Expert||DB Automation Expert||DevSecOps||CICD Expert|
However, this does not mean you can’t focus only on one thing. For example, you can solely concentrate on containers, building pipelines, or become a multi-cloud polyglot or a single-cloud guru. Generally, you need to make a tradeoff between depth and breadth. The more technologies you add to your profile – the less deep you can go.
More deep you go – the smaller variety of technologies you can cover. Both approaches have their own advantages. Being a specialist means there is less competition and higher pay. However, also fewer opportunities to choose. While being a generalist allows one to fit a vast set of jobs, the competition will be increased, and pay levels might be smaller.
To make a more informed decision about which technology has a bigger demand, check out our other blog: What Cloud to Learn in 2022?
As per Malcolm Gladwell’s rule, it takes 10000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in any field. Having said that, it won’t be possible to become a DevOps expert overnight.
However, there is one exception when dealing with emerging technologies, which DevOps obviously is. It’s physically impossible to have 5 years of experience with a tool released 3 years ago. For example, at the dawn of the cloud era, in the mid-early 2010s, it was enough to have some general understanding and probably a couple of entry-level certificates to be considered an expert.
A similar thing is happening nowadays with containers and Kubernetes – most companies are still in the early stages of adopting containers. These technologies simply aren’t that old yet. However, Kubernetes experts are needed here and now – this means the criteria for being an expert a softer and easier to achieve.
The most challenging task is identifying new big things correctly and jumping on them earlier than others. And there is always an element of gambling that remains – at the early stages, it’s almost not possible to know whether the tool will become popular or not.
Becoming a DevOps expert in a home lab is impossible – you need real projects. Also, the infrastructure you build should play a vital role in the business process and, ideally, should run on a large scale. Most importantly, if you want to be a DevOps expert, your employers should be famous brands.
Let’s consider two examples: An engineer whose name is Ann deployed containerized cloud application that allowed Coca-Cola to successfully run a marketing campaign during a Superbowl. And an engineer whose name is Sam. Sam is responsible for the local pizzeria website that barely gets ten visitors per day. Who is more of an expert here? – the decision is up to you.
When accepting the job offer, ensure you understand what tasks you’ll be responsible for and how they affect the business. Choosing the right project directly affects your growth – always keep this in mind.
Certifications – Do They Matter for a DevOps expert?
Traditionally the Cloud&DevOps community is divided into two camps: the first one is certification fans, and the second one is the certification deniers. While certification will not make you a DevOps expert – it will provide significant grounds and additional authority.
But don’t forget, it’s easy to fall into a “certification trap” and start chasing new certificates repeatedly. “This guy has 40 certifications. Does he work or only study?” – make sure no one can say this about you. Once you have defined your focus area – identify the list of the most valuable certifications and achieve them – usually, up 5 professional-level certificates are enough.
For example, an export in AWS Containers can have the following certifications: AWS Solutions Architect Associate, AWS Solutions Architect Professional, Certified Kubernetes Administrator, and Certified Kubernetes Application Developer.
P.S. Don’t brag with foundational certificates like Terraform Associate or Certified Cloud Practitioner – other experts understand the actual value of each certificate.
Recognition by the community
There is a fundamental difference between the “I am an expert” and “He is an expert”. Saying “I am an expert” does not cost you anything and hence has no actual value.
On the other hand, convincing others to start seeing you as an expert is significantly more difficult. In fact, how many people consider you an expert is a primary measure of “being an expert”. From this point of view, becoming an expert equals building your personal brand.
There are several ways to create your personal brand:
- Network with other experts and engage in conversations. Create a LinkedIn and Twitter account if you haven’t done this yet. Start following official pages of tools and companies that are relevant to your focus area. Engage in public conversations, express your professional opinion, and interact with the content in your feed. You can even post something yourself if you have any bright ideas or strong opinions.
- Act as a mentor. Help junior colleagues. Give free consultations to people in your network. This will improve your authority and develop your leadership skills.
- Speak at conferences, podcasts, and events. This option is the most valuable. I believe everyone who wants to be a genuinely recognizable DevOps expert (or an expert in any other field) should also be a public speaker. First, you need to define a topic. If you don’t have a topic yet – you should not worry. Just complete a couple more projects, and ideas will come. After that, prepare a presentation and apply as a speaker to some local interest groups or meetups. You can use these events as a testing ground that will allow you to polish your presentation and prepare for something bigger. You can apply as a speaker to significant events like KubeCon or AWS ReInvent, and who knows, you may be selected.
- Create educational content. This can be blogs, tutorials, or videos. But make sure you produce original, high-quality content. The Internet is flooded with articles describing how to write a hello world in every possible language and framework – make sure your content stands out.
Technology is a never-ending race. Once you’ve come to the top, you can’t afford to celebrate for too long. Since this moment, you need to run even twice as fast to maintain your status as a DevOps expert. You should always catch up with the latest updates and know new tools relevant to your focus area. You can obtain the latest news from the following sources:
- Official blogs. Subscribe to the key players in your focus area. It can be an AWS blog, Kubernetes blog, or any other official blog related to your focus area.
- Books and video courses. Books should go first and only after them video courses. Whenever something new is created – documentation first comes. After that, somebody writes a book, and only then do course creators pick up and record video materials. Preferring written content means new ideas will be delivered to you faster.
- Conferences and webinars. All huge events have so-called “breakout sessions” – lectures that uncover some technical aspects of a technology or a platform. Also, significant releases and announcements are usually made during conferences. The faster you get the news – the more knowledgeable you are. The more knowledgeable you are – the better you are as a DevOps expert.
Before we finish
As mentioned initially, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each case is unique and special. Having said that, I hope this material gave you additional clarity on becoming a DevOps expert and did not overwhelm you.
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