Many small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are currently finding it very difficult to hire affordable DevOps engineers. In this post, I’ll discuss why that is and what they can do to optimise their chances of finding the right talent at the right price. But before diving in, it's important to clarify a few terms first.
What is DevOps!?
As career buzzwords go, you’d struggle to find one that trumps DevOps judging by the number of conferences, software tools, and books flooding the market. But what does the word actually mean?
Given that DevOps encompasses so many different tasks and processes, coming up with a clear and comprehensive definition is difficult. Writing about how she personally came to understand the concept, computer engineer and blogger Cindy Sridharan offered some helpful clarification:
“It became clear to me that when people spoke about ‘DevOps’, they didn’t necessarily mean individual tools or job titles but more a set of practices that roped in both developers and operators to deliver software to the end-users in a more holistic and efficient way. It was more a philosophy along the lines of Agile that tries to break down organisational silos and promote cross-functional teamwork and cooperation,”
In other words, DevOps represents a convergence of several different spheres within enterprise IT.
What is a DevOps engineer?
There is no formal training or educational path to becoming a DevOps engineer. Typically, DevOps engineers are senior developers or sysadmins who have skills in business, organisation, configuration, automation, operations, and leadership. In other words, it’s typically people who are confident in their current skill-set and have branched out into other roles. They are hired because they have deep knowledge about the field and have lots of hands-on experience.
Demand outstrips supply
With so many companies jumping on the DevOps bandwagon, demand for qualified candidates now far outstrips supply. According to a recent market report published by LinuxRecruit, over the past two years, DevOps roles have increased from 2% to 7% of all engineering jobs in London. Furthermore, average salaries are rising at a substantial 7% per year – outstripping inflation and other technical skills sets.
This trend means that SMEs are now searching high and low for qualified, affordable DevOps talent to deliver their technical aspirations. However, it is important to note that DevOps engineers are not miracle workers. They can’t walk into a company and immediately solve all pre-existing problems. What they can do is facilitate the adoption of a DevOps culture within a business to achieve better results.
Based on my own experience recruiting for DevOps roles, the financial clout of the banking sector is what is making life so difficult for SMEs.
Banks have inflated rates of pay
Once an innovation takes hold (e.g. DevOps) and a few banks are using it, others are keen not to be left behind. Unsurprisingly, the area banks are most interested in is saving money. DevOps helps them achieve this.
Banks are very process-oriented. For this reason, hiring a DevOps engineer (or a whole team of them) who can automate a lot of these processes in IT systems can deliver huge improvements in inefficiency. IT costs banks a lot of money and efficiency improvements help them offer better services, for less money.
Finance is a fairly dry subject, so the work the engineers are doing isn’t overly exciting. However, the one thing banks do have is money and lots of it. They can afford to pay their DevOps engineers 33% to 50% more in terms of rates/salaries than an SME could. If you happen to be a DevOps Engineer that’s a pretty big incentive to work for a bank. Banks are fully aware that these professionals are in extremely high demand so will pay whatever it takes to get them in the door.
But without huge amounts of money to burn, what can SMEs do to compete with these giants?
Grow your own engineers
One approach some SMEs have adopted is to build internal training schemes to produce their own DevOps engineers.
There are likely already a handful of people at your company who have the potential to develop the technical and people skills needed for DevOps. The standard method is to take someone with a system development or system administration background and train them in process automation and DevOps tooling to become eligible for an engineering role.
Another approach is to partner with local universities that have good computer science programs. By getting to know top junior talent and then hiring them into your organisation, you can further develop these individuals into full DevOps engineers. Such strategies have already been implemented with great success at a number of well known larger companies including Sky Betting and Gaming and Sainsbury’s.
Offshore DevOps teams
Many SMEs are already very familiar with the value of outsourcing software development. So partnering with a capable outsourcing vendor for DevOps may seem like a natural next step. If you want to want to embrace the benefits of DevOps but haven’t yet, aligning with a qualified DevOps outsourcing company is worth considering. However, you need to be very careful when it comes to selecting a partner.
For example, a partner who communicates poorly can derail a relationship that has all the right methods and tools in place for success. Design iterations and project sprints simply cannot happen if your outsourcing partner lacks the proper communication skills. Time zone differences are another important consideration. The best DevOps outsourcing companies have a business model that allows UK time zone companies to interact easily with the offshore team supporting your project. Be wary of companies that assume that all Skype and conference calls will be done off-hours to your normal business day.
Use a specialist DevOps recruiter
A specialist DevOps recruiter can save you time, hassle and money by sourcing qualified candidates while you are focused on your day-to-day role. Working with a specialist recruiter who knows the ins and outs of their market offers a number of benefits i.e. immediate access to an extensive DevOps candidate network, salary benchmarking services, and insider market knowledge.
To ensure the process goes smoothly make sure you are clear and precise about your requirements, what you are willing to pay, and the details of your ongoing projects. Get the ball rolling by setting up an initial call to talk through your requirement and lay out a timeline for when you expect candidates to be delivered. They can and will help you if used effectively.