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How to use devops automation to combat devops workforce shortages

By Brian Galura -

Introduction: Workforce Shortages

The well-documented demand for (and shortage of) DevOps engineers is a persistent itch that has remained unscratched for technical teams worldwide. And it’s easy to see why.

DevOps is the elixir of the software development lifecycle that intersects between development (Dev) and operations (Ops). This skill set helps organizations build better products, ship faster, and implement customer feedback more efficiently - and is therefore in great demand.

The DevOps Institute predicts that 60% of organizations are either hiring or are likely to hire for DevOps roles at some point in the future. Hardly surprising, because a well-oiled DevOps process is a golden ticket to gaining a competitive advantage through faster and more frequent deployments.

But with around 300,000 DevOps-related job vacancies posted in the last year, 65% of companies found it difficult to recruit for DevOps roles. This outsized DevOps demand against the supply of DevOps engineers leads experts to predict that organizations will not realize 75% of their DevOps initiatives in 2022.

Let’s discuss some solutions.

So how can companies combat this Devops workforce shortage to reliably and predictably meet their business objectives?

When it comes to scratching the DevOps engineer shortage itch, there isn’t a shortage of ways to do it. With suggestions ranging from compassion to upskilling junior developers to nearshoring (or hiring DevOps engineers from nearshore locations like Latin America), solutions abound.

While these solutions are valid, they only address one part of the equation - supply. Increasing the supply of DevOps engineers is one answer to the problem, however, this solution is not without downsides.

Funneling in DevOps engineers by any means necessary, without optimizing operations on the demand side leaves organizations open to a critical level of variability and uncertainty. Especially with ‘the great resignation’ taking root after the pandemic, it is impossible to guarantee employee loyalty even with the best staff retention initiatives.

DevOps automation is a better way.

By optimizing DevOps operations through automation, organizations can focus on the ‘demand’ side of this problem. By optimizing infrastructure management, organizations can reduce the number of engineers required for repetitive tasks. Automated processes require fewer DevOps engineers to oversee, reducing dependence on the limited pool of technical talent as well as the associated headache that comes with manual DevOps fulfillment.

A well-optimized DevOps process barters effective automation for a slow and repetitive process that spends more time figuring out how to do things than doing them.

One significant benefit of this exchange is that automation introduces greater efficiency and speed into the SDLC (Software Development Lifecycle) in a way that humans can oversee but not replicate. This is because the use of technology (usually a PaaS) to automatically execute DevOps tasks enables rapid feedback loops between development and operations teams, allowing iterative updates to be deployed more rapidly.

This new paradigm substantially shortens the SDLC and increases the deployment rate of software applications, as experienced by Codelitt (a remotely-distributed software development agency) in this case study. This shift reduces dependence on specific teams while accelerating the SLDC through improved collaboration between teams.

So what DevOps tasks should automation replace in part or in full?

Automate Security Operations

The last decade has ushered unprecedented transformation in the IT infrastructure landscape - agile computing platforms, remote working, shared data, etc. This transformation has also generated an increased spate of cyberattacks. In response, experts advocate for the integration of security operations into the software development cycle, rather than adding it on as an afterthought. The culmination of development, security, and operations is what is referred to as DevSecOps.

Because speed is critical to the success of any successful DevOps strategy, security operations need to be automated to match the pace of continuous integration and continuous deployment.

Automating security operations helps to streamline security operations within programmable defense systems. This approach beats a dependency on manual intervention by engineers, which can sometimes prove cumbersome and impossible.

The use of automated tools to handle security operations allows for immediate detection of security threats and rapid deployment of necessary counteractions. This significantly reduces the workload of security analysts, allowing them to focus on building better automation tools than manually dealing with most security threats that are repetitive and easily detectable.

Automate Deployments and Continuous Delivery

Automating deployments is a necessary step in the DevOps protocol. Automated deployments accelerate the transition of development projects from creation to testing to production stages with minimal friction - so that teams can deploy applications more rapidly.

By automating deployments, teams can significantly reduce the lengthy “manual clutter’ involved in engagement between teams, which can often become a primary impending mechanism for the smooth running of the process.

One of the best tools for automating deployments is Convox. With Convox, development teams can automate their Kubernetes-based application deployment and management across clouds with zero downtime. By keeping deployments running smoothly, Convox ensures continuous delivery and keeps code ready for deployment. Convox offers free and premium choices to get teams started on their DevOps automation requirements.

Automate QA Testing and Continuous Integration

Software development teams that practice continuous integration regularly commit their code to a repository for development, then testing to combat pre-deployment integration challenges. For this to be effective, testing automation is key to ensuring that applications are kept intact whenever new commits are integrated into the main branch.

QA testing simply ensures that the software being developed undergoes stringent testing before deployment. However, continuous testing is sometimes filled with regressive tests that can be cumbersome for manual testing. Therefore, it makes sense to automate this process - to liberate manual testers, and focus on building effective frameworks for QA testing automation tools.

Automation for repetitive QA processes means that testing tools adopt the mammoth task of going through several different debugging cycles without getting strained as a manual tester would. The automation process cuts down unnecessary workloads for developers and facilitates continuous integration.

How to Improve Efficiency Using DevOps Automation Tools

DevOps tools can help significantly reduce developer workloads by executing cumbersome and regressive tasks on their behalf. Here’s a helpful framework to keep in mind when using DevOps automation tools to improve efficiency.

Understand the Mechanism

To get maximum efficiency out of your selected DevOps automation tool, you must understand how each of your collaborating teams contributes to the deployment process. Team leads must be on top of team dynamics such as shared tools strategies, effective contributions, and work-sharing between developers, QA testers, and the architecture automation team. For example, prior to their automation journey, Codelitt’s team dynamics included tutoring junior developers to run multiple automation scripts. This allows for the proper application of automation to the DevOps lifecycle because, after all, DevOps is not a singular tool - rather, it is a ‘culture’ and a way of doing things that can lead to transformative results if applied correctly.

Understand DevOps Tools

As a team leader, you must outline the automation tools used for every process, from the design and architecture to the deployment and production of the software. Teams can easily get confused by the sheer quantity of specialized tools out there, so do your due diligence and ensure that your selected tools are a perfect fit for your DevOps pipeline. The best DevOps tool for automating DevOps processes should aim to eliminate (or reduce to a bare minimum) human interventions to make the whole process as autonomous as possible.

Understand the Software Development Process

Next, you must ensure that the framework of tools used for the entire DevOps lifecycle must incorporate every detail without any tasks being unaccounted for. This implies that any process change that demands a software change must be included within the DevOps pipeline and not performed outside it. This way, every change is tracked with no room for uncertainty - in case there’s a need to backtrack the process.

Log the Automation

There is a need to maximize the use of automation tools, logging each step within the process for manual and automated actions. Logging the automation process allows for an efficient, future-proof operation as mistakes can be corrected for future operations. Because a key component of DevOps relies on experimentation and real-time observation, development teams are kept at an advantage if each operation is logged and studied within the framework.

Request Continuous Evaluation and Feedback

Finally, continuous evaluation and feedback from each member in the DevOps process are critical to DevOps automation success. This practice significantly increases the efficiency of a DevOps process by highlighting every possible mistake and flaw in the design of the process. It reduces the error margin for future tasks and makes planning more efficient and failproof.

In conclusion, DevOps automation best practices can help teams achieve significant progress in optimizing the process of DevOps automation.

Top DevOps Automation Tools

DevOps automation tools like Convox can significantly improve the task of designing, writing, testing, and deploying software. There is a great degree of specialization in the market with various tools suited to specialized functions within the DevOps biosphere. However, some tools offer the superior benefit of being capable of automating multiple key processes simultaneously. For example, with automation and semi-automation capabilities, Convox significantly reduces the dependence on human DevOps engineers for a number of key tasks.

Downsides of Automation

While industry leaders have lauded DevOps automation, automation still had its downsides - especially for organizations not well suited for the automation framework. DevOps automation demands a significant culture shift, but not all companies can approach this transition with the speed and dedication required. Some companies may only have a few minor software changes or requirements every few months, making DevOps automation an unsuitable and unnecessary framework to adapt.

DevOps automation is a means to accelerate processes that were slowed down by inefficient loops and human errors. But automation is only efficient when the cost of implementing it is low compared to the volume of the company’s output. Therefore, before embarking on a DevOps automation journey, it is wise to discuss the suitability of the organization for automation with an expert.

DevOps Automation Best Practices

Because DevOps is more of a ‘culture’ than a specific tool or framework for every problem, automation best practices vary significantly by project requirements. However, these DevOps automation best practices are essential for team leaders looking to efficiently transition to automate their DevOps processes:

  • Keep the primary focus on customer needs.

  • Encourage an interdependent and collaborative team culture.

  • Use agile methodology for better and faster results.

  • Analyze and keep track of valuable metrics.

  • Use credible, efficient DevOps automation tools to fully harness the powers of DevOps automation.

Final Word

Automating DevOps is the way forward for teams struggling to maintain a critical mass of engineers to attend to necessary DevOps tasks. By transitioning to efficient automation tools, teams can scale efficiently by rapidly accelerating the rate at which their applications are deployed. However, DevOps automation isn’t the perfect solution for every team. Smaller teams with limited capabilities that are yet to scale may not benefit from a decision to automate processes. Team leaders may benefit from consulting with an expert to see if their teams are ripe to reap the rewards that DevOps automation promises.