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5 soft skills of successful DevOps software engineers

Mike D. Kail Chief Technology Officer, Cybric
Team working on puzzle

From security and healthcare to financial services and the public sector, DevOps is helping to bring new software and applications to market faster. To succeed, however, it’s critical to have a team of skilled professionals on your side.

Earlier this year, Indeed released its list of Best Jobs in America, with DevOps engineer landing solidly in third place. Engineers play a pivotal role in DevOps, and as the field continues to evolve, so do the criteria for success. Software engineers must possess skills beyond the keyboard, and have more than just an understanding of automation tools and programming languages.

Increasingly, organizations want software engineers who have mastered soft skills such as empathy, integrity, and resiliency to help usher in a new wave of DevOps. Here are some of the key traits that will help propel software engineers to success.

Empathy: The team-first mindset is key

Because DevOps seeks to combine both development and operations, it’s imperative that all team members adopt a team-first mindset. Gone are the days of the development team passing things over the fence to the operations team, and vice versa. First and foremost, the application process must be set up as a team effort. But as with teams or large groups of any kind, disagreements and conflicts are bound to happen. This is where empathy comes in.

Arguments and contentious conversations can often lead to pointless frustration and anger. And though it may sound trite, the next time you’re in a querulous conversation, try seeing things from the other person’s point of view. It’s an elementary lesson, but one worth reiterating nonetheless. Empathy can help reframe the conversation so that it doesn’t become a combative back and forth, but a productive discussion that moves processes forward. Because the team’s goal is to bring forth the best product, it’s best to think selflessly and leave ego at the door. Engineers who can listen and react with empathy are absolutely necessary for today’s DevOps ecosystem.

[ See report: Smart answers for your next DevOps interview: How to prepare ]

Teams and leadership take good communication

The best teammates and leaders are those who can identify issues and effectively communicate ways to solve them. Just as you would adjust program language to fix a coding error, you should always be on the lookout for ways to adjust your communication style. Whether you’re running into a problem with a tool or a teammate, try working backwards to identify the root cause, determine how to clearly articulate the issue, and then decide how to solve the problem.

It’s important to remember that messages can easily get misconstrued in high-stress environments, so as a best practice, keep all forms of communication as clear and concise as possible. This is not to suggest taking a robotic approach, but rather communicating in ways that leave little to misinterpretation. It may require a level of self-introspection, but streamlined communication will yield high results in the workplace, from peers all the way up to the C-suite.

Integrity is integral to DevOps

In the fast-paced world of today's modern development processes, anyone and everyone must have impeccable integrity. A tenet of the DevOps approach is the cultural shift in the workplace, uniting workers from once segregated areas of IT. In this converged workplace, it is crucial that all participants be genuine and honest about their experiences in order to build a culture of trust.

This is especially applicable to engineers, since they play a vital role in DevOps. While it’s true that the field of DevOps is still relatively new, it’s no invitation for engineers to stretch the truth or make false claims about their capabilities. To be successful, engineers must be transparent about their backgrounds and the experiences they’ve had within their teams and be able to explain their thought processes. This level of openness and transparency will help to foster a culture of trust and instill confidence in those working alongside the engineers.

Continuous improvement (for engineers)

The same way that successful DevOps engineers look for ways to keep applying automation, they should also be looking for ways to continuously self-improve. Just as technology that fails to adapt becomes obsolete, engineers who rest on their laurels will find it harder to succeed in today’s application economy.

Building off a framework of open and honest communication, engineers should be receptive to constructive feedback. Avoiding the dreaded and often ineffective annual performance review, engineers should seek out mentorship for a continuous feedback loop on ways to improve. This encourages engineers to be flexible and open to ideas outside of their own, all the while nipping the post-mortem assessment in the bud. With an open, continuous feedback plan, engineers can course-correct almost immediately upon feedback rather than waiting to analyze a problem after it’s grown too large. The willingness to learn from what went wrong and how to improve performance will drive the top engineers to success.

Make infrastructure more resilient

With new products going to market faster than ever, it is critical for engineers to ask, “How can we make our infrastructure more resilient?” The answer is really quite simple: break it. We see this in the principles of chaos engineering—purposefully breaking the infrastructure to find the weakest links. Aggression wins here, as opposed to a passive approach that would elicit a slower response time with fewer results.

This model of chaos engineering, however, is exactly what engineers should apply to themselves and their careers. The most successful software engineers will sidestep rigid thinking, embracing an elastic mindset to find new solutions to problems and new angles for self-improvement. Instead of repeating the same processes blindly, they will challenge situations with creative thinking to isolate any weakness and build resilience.

DevOps engineers are the people in an organization who will drive the business into the next era of autonomous delivery. As DevOps continues to accelerate the cultural shift in the workplace, it is essential to have intelligent, innovative, and resilient engineers on board. Outside of core technical skills, the men and women who can communicate effectively, lead with empathy and integrity, and continuously challenge themselves will be the engineers who rise to the top.

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