Tech Memo: Steps to DevOps
The software methodology can accelerate development.
Juan Sanchez says it was curiosity and a book called The Phoenix Project that first sparked his interest in a software development methodology known as DevOps.
He’s the first to admit that DevOps was a concept he knew little about, even as chief technology officer at the American Occupational Therapy Association. The process, often depicted as an infinity symbol, brings together software development and IT operations teams to work along a continuous loop of building, testing, and monitoring new products, applications, or infrastructure projects that are deployed rapidly.
“We dared to say, ‘Let’s see what [DevOps] is, and how it can be better for us as far as developing things that are faster, higher quality, and have fewer bugs,” Sanchez says of his team at AOTA. “Our ultimate goal is to get into a mode of continuous building, integration, and deployment—what others like Amazon have conquered, doing multiple app or software updates in a single day.”
DevOps teams are not only found at giant tech firms. They’re also at work inside government agencies, like the General Services Administration, and behind the scenes at major retailers, like Target, Walmart, and Nordstrom. The goal at each of these organizations is to better serve customers with a coordinated approach to tech development projects.
By definition, DevOps combines several IT philosophies, workflows, and practices, including lean startup and agile development. It’s not something that a tech team can learn overnight, Sanchez says.
“Step one is to begin a conversation with your team,” Sanchez says. “We held a meeting where we simply identified and talked about the roles each of us play to better understand each other.”
That conversation tends to lead naturally to opportunities to work more cohesively in the future. “If you don’t have people who have ever been DevOps people, the first and biggest challenge is a philosophical one,” Sanchez says. “You have to convince the team to work together and that they’re not part of any distinct tribe—say, a hardware specialist or developer.”
With that hurdle crossed, Sanchez says, you can go about identifying small, internal projects to experiment with using a DevOps approach. At AOTA, “we’re looking at creating a Slack-like hardware tool that’s purely an internal prototype that will help us automate user-acceptance training.”
As an in-house DevOps team begins to function, technology vendors can be incorporated into the process. But expect a learning curve there as well.
“As of right now, we’re getting a few deer-in-the-headlight stares from our vendors,” Sanchez admits. In some cases, “your vendor also might know DevOps but doesn’t want to go through the trouble of teaching you.”
Whether or not you go it alone, the primary objective of DevOps is transformation. The goal, Sanchez says, “should be to build small and steady increments of work that can deliver good and stable functionality to your members.”