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Core Tenets of a DevOps Culture

Dan Holloran September 10, 2018

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DevOps isn’t a specific role or responsibility, it’s an ideology. There’s no specific process or set of tools that leads to a successful implementation of DevOps. The true nature of DevOps relates to the way humans interact and learn to build reliable, secure applications and services. While there’s no one way for building DevOps into your organization–there is a set of core tenets necessary to achieving a collaborative DevOps culture.

These core tenets act as a set of guiding principles and personality traits required in individuals across teams adhering to DevOps ideals:

1: Exposure

Individuals in a DevOps team require the ability to see the larger picture. A key component of DevOps is finding ways to remove silos and stop people from throwing responsibility over the proverbial wall. When engineers are exposed to both developing and maintaining current code in production, there’s a deeper understanding of the system as a whole and the importance of avoiding downtime. Reliable continuous deployment and integration becomes easier when engineers have more exposure to applications and services in production.

Siloed teams lack a holistic understanding of a system’s intricacies. When an issue comes up while on-call, DevOps practitioners have a deeper knowledge of where to look first and how to quickly fix the issue. Before, a siloed Ops teammate would simply receive an alert–with little to no context–with the expectation being that they quickly resolve the incident. In a DevOps culture, with developers on-call for the services they build, people develop a holistic understanding of the way their system functions.

2: Collaboration

Collaboration is a common thread you’ll see across any DevOps conversation and is a key component of all core DevOps tenets. Deeper collaboration through DevOps enhances people’s exposure to different parts of the system, speeds up incident resolution time, and ultimately helps you build more robust systems. Then, with a better system and process understanding, you can collaborate to improve your internal collaboration processes.

Finding better ways to collaborate with teammates, both during a firefight and post-incident, will expose system weaknesses, improve processes, and open channels of communication. Better collaboration before and after incidents occur will prepare your entire team for future incidents. Then, take what you learn from previous incidents to improve real-time collaboration during an outage and implement tools that help your team communicate.

An open DevOps environment focused on collaboration, from product development to QA, allows for a better exchange of ideas and helps teams build more reliable products.

3: Continuous Improvement

Finding new ways to do things, learning new programming languages or methodologies, and approaching problems in fresh ways is all part of a DevOps culture. As with collaboration, continuous improvement also applies to all of the other DevOps core tenets. The willingness to try new things, learn new skills, or implement new technologies is important to maintaining a DevOps mindset.

Through careful experimentation and testing, teams can continuously improve to make systems more reliable and user-friendly. Try running your first game day or implementing your first chaos engineering test. Learn a new programming language or tool and think of ways it could be used in your system to add speed, security, or reliability. Keep up on related open source projects and read pertinent articles on topics that could help you become a better DevOps engineer.

Taking action to continuously improve will ultimately help yourself and your team, consequently making continuous improvement the third core tenet of a DevOps culture.

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4: Accountability

You become more accountable for what you produce in a collaborative DevOps environment. As a developer, you’re no longer solely responsible for building new features or products. In a DevOps culture, you must also deploy and maintain the code you’ve built. So, you can no longer pass responsibility over the wall to the SRE or Ops team. In a DevOps team, when you write poor code and can’t maintain uptime, you’re the one who gets alerted at 3 AM.

So, this increased accountability in the code you write and the features you develop forces you to be more cognizant of adding reliability into the code produced. Also, because engineers take accountability and ownership of the things they build, they’re more familiar with the product(s) when an incident does occur. So, the accountability created by DevOps causes less downtime and speeds up incident response and remediation.

5: Transparency

Largely through collaboration and continuous improvement, DevOps teams create more transparency and visibility into deployments and incidents. DevOps teams are involved from beginning to end in the software delivery lifecycle. So, the team has a large amount of visibility into how things are built, why they were built that way, and failover measures in case there’s a problem. Powerful post-incident reviews can create more transparency and make your system more robust over time.

DevOps provides additional transparency and context to team members who may not have been as involved in certain aspects of the software delivery lifecycle previously. A centralized timeline of your monitoring, alerting, and collaboration tools can give your team more visibility into the success of deployments and any incidents that occur. Transparency is important not only in your systems, but in your people.

There needs to be as much visibility into issues as possible–whether they stem from technology, processes, or people.

6: Automation

Another core tenet of DevOps is automation. But, contrary to what you might first believe, this automation should typically be focused on ways to make workflows easier for people. Automated alert routing and incident escalation procedures can help create more actionable alerts and mitigate alert fatigue. DevOps teams can use automation to focus their actions on more important issues requiring human attention.

Automation tools and processes allow teams to think more strategically about the way they build products and address incidents. But, automation for the sake of automation will not always be the most efficient way forward. Create more automated alert processes and limit documentation that your team needs to analyze. Ideally, you want to implement any automation that creates more efficient workflows and improves the quality of life for your teammates.

Choosing the right tools can accentuate the benefits of the core tenets of DevOps. In our free, pre-recorded webinar, learn more about finding the right tools to help you build and maintain better software with DevOps.

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