Career makeover: From ops to devops

Get in on the devops revolution by freeing yourself from mundane server tasks and tapping your inner coder

Career makeover: From ops to devops

Long ago, in a IT operations model far, far away, businesses built their data centers. Rows and rows of server racks humming away in closets tangled with cables -- that was IT’s lifeblood. It was a time when virtualization meant that thing a couple of gung-ho admins toyed with on an old HP DL360 server destined for the garbage bin.

Our days as ops admins consisted of unboxing pallets of servers, heaving them into the closest server rack, and struggling to get the rails aligned just right. Then we'd pop in the manufacturer's CD, install the OS, drivers, and load it onto the network. Only then would we return to the cooler confines of our desks to remote desktop or SSH into the server to install the required software and configure the settings necessary to meet developers’ application specs.

Those days are over: No more servers treated as individuals with funny names like Uranus to care and feed like an ops family cat. Today, the cloud -- whether public, private, or hybrid -- has greatly transformed operations work, an evolution that has many dyed-in-the-wool admins wading in waters once considered entirely the realm of developers. Isn’t it high time you do the same?

Following are our essential career makeover tips for admins looking to develop their devops chops and future-proof their careers, as organizations increasingly head for the cloud.

Get hip to automation -- and cultivate your coding chops

These days, IT must deploy services faster, with greater reliability and fewer people on hand to do the work. This means automation. Without automation, IT can no longer provision, manage, and support the kind of services architecture that enterprises use today. Consider automation the most essential of tasks for you to master.

This is where code comes in -- yes, the cryptic files of commands that developers cobble together. To manage the vast number of virtual machines, containers, and physical servers both on-premises and in the cloud, you will be thrown headfirst into the world of code. Provisioning and managing the configurations of your servers will depend heavily on your ability to think like a developer.

Code is simply pure text. It has allowed software developers to add, modify, and remove critical features in software that businesses depend on every day for years. It has enabled developers to patch security vulnerabilities and fix problems quickly. It was only a matter of time before forward-thinking businesses caught onto this fact to ask: How can we apply the flexibility and dynamic nature of code to infrastructure?

Code comes in many forms under many different languages, but a few languages will naturally lend themselves to the ops person. If you're in a Microsoft shop, you'll need to learn Windows PowerShell. PowerShell is the successor to the command prompt, batch files, VBScript, and much more. PowerShell allows ops admins to automate every aspect of the Microsoft ecosystem, and nearly every Microsoft product now has PowerShell support.

For the Linux and open source crowd, Python is a worthwhile language to check out. It is well established and, as such, is used in many different scenarios. Python is a great tool for infrastructure automation. Certain configuration management tools, like Chef, require knowledge of Ruby, so that’s another language to investigate.

Regardless of what you choose, remember this: The languages themselves are semantics. You can eventually pick up any language, but the key is to understand the underlying principles of coding and what code can do. If you're brand-new to coding, I highly recommend starting with "Coding for Dummies." It will introduce you to scripting/coding and give you a leg up once you choose your preferred language (or the language chooses you).

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