Leaders who look to separate dev from ops may be missing the point
By BreakFree Solutions
One of BreakFree’s Architects recently stumbled across an article that got the team buzzing. The piece posed the question: Should development and operations be separated again?
This online discussion around breaking devs from ops started with a tweet from Emily Freeman, head of community engagement at Amazon Web Services and author of “DevOps for Dummies.” It declared, “Devs don’t want to deal with operational concerns, for the most part.”
Many engineers agreed, citing valid concerns over bandwidth, shifting left, and over-specialization. However, in our experience, when teams are worried about whether developers should care about operations, they’ve missed some critical steps.
With all due respect to Freeman and others sharing their perspectives, we think this analysis is a bit shallow. In fact, a desire to separate devs from ops isn’t as simple as “devs don’t want to do ops.” It’s a symptom of a more severe issue within an organization—one that won’t be fixed by dismantling DevOps.
Let’s break down some developer concerns and point to where it may not actually be a DevOps problem but an issue elsewhere in the organization.
It’s All About Value
Developers, engineers, operators, platform teams—all of those involved in creating digital products—should be motivated by whether the product they’re developing delivers value to the users. (Remember, all platforms should be treated as products).
The only thing that judges the product’s success is how much value it delivers. Developers can make the world’s coolest, most life-changing digital product, but if it’s not operational, it’s not delivering value.
The best developers are invested in their product’s success. Because of that, they see operational tasks as opportunities to improve their product rather than a chore to pass on to someone else.
The only way developers can continue to do what they do best, build cool stuff, is if that stuff has the desired impact and outcome. “App offline” is not the desired outcome. The purpose of DevOps is to provide value to the customer, and nothing is valuable if it isn’t working.
So, if your team is worried about separating devs from ops, ask yourself: Is everyone aligned on this idea to prioritize value? Does leadership empower them to embody this vision?
Personalities on a Product Team
Some members of our team suggested the issue of devs not wanting to do ops could be one of personality. Some engineers are most comfortable in front of their computer, creating products as a team of one. In our experience, this personality is an ill fit for a high-functioning product team. If you have a dev that doesn’t want to do ops, they’d be a better fit for a position where they can work solo.
Another possibility is that devs don’t want to do ops because, in their organization, doing ops has mutated into being constantly “on call” for their employer. Whether you’re a dev or an op, you didn’t sign up to be perpetually on lease, and that treatment from an employer is a recipe for burnout.
This points to an organization management problem, not a technical problem. In this scenario, the organization should prioritize and honor their employees’ work-life balance, then see if the team still wants to separate dev from ops.
Sometimes an issue of bandwidth—such as developers needing to know multiple programs to perform simple, essential tasks—is an issue with the platform.
Regarding platforms, remember “all user input is error.” Too much overhead prevents developers from doing what they need to do—build valuable products.
If you expect your devs to learn so many new skills around cloud and platform technology, such as terraform, your platform needs work.
Focus on the maturity of your platform. Does it enable devs to build cool things as effectively as possible? If the platform empowers its users to do their work to the best of their ability, you won’t hear devs complaining about having to do ops.
There’s a reason why opinions on DevOps inspire such passionate debates. DevOps has extensive applications. Not unlike Agile, it makes its way into everything an organization does.
So, of course, everyone has an opinion on how teams should do it. When teams do it correctly, DevOps is an essential force multiplier for becoming digitally capable. Rather than asking whether you should separate dev from ops, ensure you’re doing DevOps optimally for your organization.
If you need guidance operationalizing DevOps, don’t hesitate to reach out and learn how DevOps can transform your organization and deliver value to your customers.