If you had to pick the single most important type of engineer within software delivery processes today, a DevOps engineer would be a good choice. Because DevOps engineers play a role in virtually all stages of software development, deployment, and management, they are a vital asset to businesses that depend on software.
This article breaks down exactly what a DevOps engineer is and which tasks DevOps engineers are responsible for. It also explains the skills that you need to become a DevOps engineer and offers tips on getting started with work in DevOps.
- What Is DevOps?
- What Is a DevOps Engineer?
- What Are the Responsibilities of a DevOps Engineer?
- How to Become a DevOps Engineer
- The Best Countries to Become a DevOps Engineer
- DevOps Engineer Frequently Asked Questions FAQs)
What Is DevOps?
Before explaining what a DevOps engineer does, let's discuss the meaning of DevOps itself.
DevOps is an approach to software development and management that emphasizes collaboration between software developers (who are responsible for designing and writing code) and IT operations teams (who are responsible for managing applications after developers have written them).
By bringing these two functions of the business into close coordination, DevOps aims to reduce the friction and wasted effort that can result if software developers are unaware of the challenges IT operations teams face when managing applications, and/or if IT operations teams have limited insight into the plans and rationale of software developers.
What Is a DevOps Engineer?
A DevOps engineer is someone who specializes in helping businesses implement a DevOps-based approach to software delivery.
Put another way, a DevOps engineer is a type of engineer responsible for enabling an approach to software delivery that involves tight coordination between software development operations and software management operations.
At some businesses, DevOps engineers work as a standalone team, serving as liaisons between software development and IT operations teams. In other cases, organizations don't have separate development and IT operations teams at all; instead, they rely on a DevOps team to develop and manage their software.
What Are the Responsibilities of a DevOps Engineer?
While the exact responsibilities of a DevOps engineer can vary, the typical DevOps engineer is responsible for the following core tasks:
- Monitor and maintain systems: DevOps engineers play a central role in monitoring the applications and infrastructure that a business depends on. They identify problems like applications that are performing poorly, then take steps to remediate them.
- Help design applications and application updates: Because DevOps engineers are plugged into the software deployment and management process, they can offer valuable insight about how to design new applications, or updates to existing applications, in ways that make the applications easier to deploy and manage.
- Develop and test software: DevOps engineers are often expected to help write the code that powers new applications or application updates, then test the code to ensure that it behaves as it's intended.
- Deploy new software: Responsibility for deploying software — which is the process of moving a newly written application from a testing environment to a production environment where end users can access it — often falls to DevOps engineers.
- Manage and update infrastructure: DevOps engineers typically play a key role in helping to manage and maintain the infrastructure that hosts applications. Infrastructure could consist of on-premises servers, public cloud infrastructure, or a combination of both.
- Implement security measures: Although security is not typically a central responsibility of DevOps engineers, DevOps teams nonetheless frequently find themselves responsible for mitigating security issues, such as application vulnerabilities.
- Continuously improve systems: At most businesses, DevOps engineers are expected to work alongside other stakeholders to identify and act on opportunities to improve systems. They might look for ways to enhance application performance, for example, or to reduce the amount of money a company spends on hosting.
In short, DevOps engineers are responsible for handling a range of tasks that span the processes required to develop, test, and maintain software, as well as the infrastructure that the software depends on to run.
How to Become a DevOps Engineer
There's no simple formula to follow or class to take if you want to become a DevOps engineer. In fact, many career paths can lead to work in DevOps engineering. Some DevOps engineers start out as software developers or IT operations engineers, then broaden their skill sets so they could work in DevOps. Others take courses or training programs designed specifically for DevOps.
No matter your career background or the strategy you are considering to become a DevOps engineer, however, there are several key steps that you'll need to cover in order to qualify yourself to work in DevOps.
Step 1: Learn about the duties and responsibilities of a DevOps engineer
Start by learning exactly what a DevOps engineer does. We outlined the core responsibilities of DevOps engineers above, but you should read up on DevOps tasks in more detail to understand what DevOps engineering looks like on a day-to-day basis.
Step 2: Familiarize yourself with DevOps tools and technologies
Although there is no single set of tools that every DevOps engineer needs to know, most DevOps engineers rely on certain categories of tools to help them perform their jobs.
Infrastructure-as-code solutions like Ansible and Chef help DevOps engineers automate infrastructure management, for example, while knowledge of source code management (SCM) tools (such as Git) and automated testing frameworks (like Selenium) is important when helping to manage software development and testing operations.
An understanding of containers and container orchestration technologies, like Docker and Kubernetes, is also often important if you want to work in DevOps. Not every DevOps team uses these technologies, but they are widespread today, especially within businesses that take a modern, DevOps-centric approach to software development and management.
Step 3: Learn about coding and software engineering
DevOps engineers also require a deep understanding of software engineering concepts — such as different types of application architectures (like microservices and three-tier applications) and the processes involved in continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD).
Step 4: Learn collaborative management skills
Since cross-team collaboration is a fundamental component of DevOps, DevOps engineers should understand concepts, techniques, and tools that help enable collaboration on complex projects. They should learn the principles behind agile processes, for example. Familiarity with project management tools like Jira and Trello, which are widely used to help manage software development projects, is also useful.
Step 5: Prove your DevOps skills through a job or certifications
Once you've gained the core skills required to work as a DevOps engineer, you'll want to demonstrate those skills so that employers take them seriously.
One way to do this is to work a job that requires you to operate like a DevOps engineer. Even if your formal job title doesn't include DevOps, many DevOps-adjacent roles, like software development, testing, or IT operations, provide opportunities to assume additional tasks that overlap with those of DevOps engineers. For example, if you currently work as a software developer, you could volunteer to interface closely with your company's IT operations team in order to gain relevant DevOps experience.
The other main way to prove that you're ready to work as a DevOps engineer is to earn a DevOps certification. There are a variety of online training programs that offer certifications in DevOps and related fields. In-person courses in DevOps are rare, although taking classes in programming, project management, or related fields could help you to bolster your readiness to perform certain aspects of DevOps work.
The Best Countries to Become a DevOps Engineer
Companies around the world hire DevOps engineers. There is no "best" country to live in if you want to work in DevOps, although DevOps engineer earnings do vary between geographies.
Unsurprisingly, affluent countries with high average salaries for all employees tend to be places where you can earn the most as a DevOps engineer. DevOps engineers in the United States, where the average DevOps salary is around $134,000 as of 2023, are among the highest-paid of all DevOps engineers. In Europe, western European countries, like Germany and Switzerland, have higher rates of pay for DevOps engineers than other countries.
If you're not based in North America or Europe, however, you can certainly still succeed as a DevOps engineer. A large job market for DevOps engineers now exists in China. Plenty of DevOps job openings also exist in the Middle East and Africa.
We could go on, but the point is that no matter where you are located, you can find a high-paying job as a DevOps engineer. Keep in mind, too, that many DevOps jobs can be performed remotely, which makes it possible in some cases to work as a DevOps engineer for a company based in another region or country.
DevOps Engineer Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: Which skills does a DevOps engineer need?
Broadly speaking, DevOps engineers require skills that allow them to collaborate with other types of engineers on a regular basis. They also need an understanding of software engineering, coding and IT operations. Knowledge of automation tools is important, too, for most DevOps engineers.
Q: What is the certification process for becoming a DevOps engineer?
There is no official certification process for becoming a DevOps engineer. You don't need a specific degree or certificate to work in this field. That said, holding a DevOps certification from an organization like the DevOps Institute, Amazon Web Services, or Microsoft can help you prove your expertise in DevOps.
Q: What tools do DevOps engineers use?
DevOps engineers use a variety of tools, ranging from source code managers like Git, to continuous integration servers like Jenkins, to infrastructure-as-code tools like Terraform and beyond.
Q: How does a DevOps engineer collaborate with other teams?
The way you interface with other teams as a DevOps engineer depends in large part on how your organization is structured. In some companies, DevOps engineers are "embedded" into software engineering or IT operations teams, where they work directly alongside other types of engineers. In other businesses, you might work as part of a standalone team of DevOps engineers, who interface collectively with other types of teams.
Q: What is the job outlook for DevOps engineers?
The job outlook for DevOps engineers remains bright. The DevOps market is projected to grow by about 21% between 2018 and 2028, and DevOps engineers remain one of the most in-demand types of engineers.
Q: What is the average salary for a DevOps engineer?
Average salary for DevOps engineers varies depending on location and experience. In general, however, a DevOps engineer in North America and western Europe can expect to earn close to $100,000 per year or more. Earnings may be lower in regions with lower overall salaries for all workers, but even there, DevOps engineers are in most cases among the highest-paid types of employees.
About the authorChristopher Tozzi is a technology analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York, area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” was published by MIT Press.