Main image of article DevOps Engineer Skills: What Do You Need to Know?

DevOps engineers develop and maintain infrastructure and tools required for the efficient deployment of software applications. They often work with engineering teams to ensure that software development, testing, and final deployment are executed efficiently. With all that in mind, which DevOps engineer skills are most prized by employers?

What Is DevOps?

DevOps is a set of methodologies and tools that allow organizations to accelerate their building and adoption of crucial services, software, and apps. Becoming a successful DevOps professional depends on mastering the associated methodologies and tools, as well as helping guide teams and an organization as a whole through best DevOps practices.

Totally new to DevOps, or interested in exploring a DevOps career? It’s always helpful to start off with a little research. In the past, we’ve recommended this explainer by Gitlabas well as this one by SimpliLearn. At its core, DevOps has three constituent parts:

  • Technology (CI/CD, automation, testing tools, etc.)
  • Processes and methodology (i.e., Agile and Scrum)
  • Team and internal culture (everyone aligned toward the same goal!)

On a workaday level, here are the top five must-have processes and frameworks within IT enterprises (according to DevOps Institute’s Upskilling IT 2022 Report):

  • DevOps and DevSecOps
  • Agile
  • Site Reliability Engineering (SRE)
  • Design Thinking and System Thinking
  • ITIL

Hiring managers and recruiters will also test your knowledge of DevOps terminology (such as continuous delivery/continuous integration), processes, and tools (get ready to learn Git!), meaning there’s a steep learning curve—but becoming a DevOps master is certainly within the reach of virtually all tech professionals.

What Do DevOps Engineers Do?

DevOps engineers help streamline the entire software development process, from code development to testing to deployment and monitoring. They rely heavily on cutting-edge automation techniques, cloud computing, and containerization. DevOps engineers are also responsible for identifying and resolving technical issues related to infrastructure and software deployment, using monitoring tools and metrics to identify performance issues and bottlenecks in the system. They often work with the development and operations teams to implement solutions.

What Stands Out on A DevOps Résumé?

Kishore Yerrapragada, Product Manager, MacStadium, tells Dice: “I’m looking for experience with different types of involvement in which a person worked, both on-premise and cloud… Additionally, I’m looking for various standard tools that a person has experience with, such as GitHub/Git and CI/CD processes. Finally, I look at people who have worked in or supported the SaaS environment. DevOps is a very critical part of the SaaS customer journey, as they use the output of what DevOp does. You're in the hot seat all of the time.”

Strong candidates have a grasp of the entire development process through integration and deployment; they have a track record of using their experiences to learn and improve. “A bonus attribute I look for is the ability to show an understanding of the customer experience and how essential DevOps is to a successful one,” adds Scott Aucoin, Director of Engineering at Liberty Mutual Insurance.

What Are Some Technical Skills a Good DevOps Engineer Should Have?

Todd Copeland, Platform Director of Enterprise Applications at Experis, lists three important skills for DevOps engineers:

Experience with containerization: DevOps Engineers are always standing things up and breaking things down.  

Scripting: Automation of processes is where DevOps engineers really show their value. This automation requires lots of scripting, some of it specific to the tools being used for the project. For example, Chef and Puppet require Ruby, while Ansible requires Python or yaml.

IaC Cloud Experience: Being able to generate and tear down architecture in cloud environments is a must-have. Many companies want DevOps engineers with experience with AWS CloudFormation, Azure ARM, Terraform, and so on.

Copeland says: “There are other tools out there, but Jenkins is still the undisputed king.  If I don’t see any Jenkins experience at all, I’m less likely to look any further.” For those unfamiliar with Jenkins, it’s an open-source automation server for building, deploying, and automating projects.

DevOps engineers who’ve worked at considerable scale might also have an advantage when it comes to the job hunt, as that experience shows they have a grasp on managing complexity. “The size of organization where work was previously done is also important,” Copeland adds. “Larger organizations have many more moving parts and problems that must be solved.” During the job interview process, DevOps engineers should highlight their organizational skills and attention to detail.

Depending on the needs of the broader organization, a DevOps engineer might need to master cloud computing, database and network management, programming, and an understanding of testing, security, and monitoring. Many DevOps engineers opt to specialize in DevSecOps, which focuses on the “integration of security into emerging Agile IT and DevOps development as seamlessly and as transparently as possible,” according to a definition published by research firm Gartner.

“Experience with tools like Ansible, Jenkins, Git, and AWS and proficiency in programming languages like Python are essential for DevOps engineers,” says Jeff Tao, CEO and founder of TDengine. “Experience in implementing continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, automating testing and deployment processes, and ensuring smooth software delivery is also essential. These skills demonstrate a candidate's ability to optimize and streamline the software development process.”

What Soft Skills Are Important for DevOps Engineers?

Troubleshooting and solving complex problems are likewise key, Tao adds, which means successful DevOps engineers must possess strong collaboration and problem-solving skills. “You should be able to handle conflicts and reach compromises to ensure everyone is on the same page. A DevOps engineer should be a good listener and have a continuous ‘learning mindset,’ as the technology landscape always evolves. You should be willing to learn new tools, technologies, and methodologies to stay updated and bring innovative ideas.”

Aucoin tells Dice: “The most effective DevOps engineers are curious, able to think about the lifecycle of an application (not just the creation of it) and operate with a continuous improvement philosophy. DevOps engineers also need to be able to operate effectively as team members who embrace experimentation and learning to solve challenges in a proactive and enduring way.”

DevOps Interview Questions from The Experts

We asked our experts about skills-related questions a DevOps engineer might face in an interview. Here’s the full list:

  • What is continuing integration, and how is it different from continuous delivery?
  • What is the difference between virtualization and containerization, and when would you use each?
  • How do you ensure the security of a system in a DevOps environment?
  • What DevOps tools do you have experience with, and tell us about your experiences – what went well and what didn’t?
  • What are some anti-patterns you’ve seen that create barriers to effective DevOps practices?
  • What business value did you bring as a DevOps engineer in your last role?
  • Are there any online tools DevOps engineers can use to upskill or continue their education?
  • Define different code-branching philosophies and merging processes.
  • Describe deployment strategies. 
  • What do you think is the best approach for implementation of continuous testing?
  • Tell me what’s in your favorite DevOps toolchain?  Why are those the tools you prefer?
  • What metrics do you employ to determine the health of automated services?
  • Explain how you handle cases where automated tests fail in a CI/CD pipeline.

Overall, a DevOps engineer's primary goal is to create an efficient and reliable software development pipeline that enables fast and reliable software releases that minimize risk. Master CI/CD, version control, virtualization, and security, and you’re off to a great start as a DevOps engineer.