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What is the best DevOps tool for my career?

I have no prior knowledge on DevOps. I'm doing an online course and understand Unix. I get the concepts, so what tool should I concentrate on learning to advance my DevOps career?

New college grads that enter the workforce learn quickly that there's no such thing as a best DevOps tool. Rather than a particular platform or product, what matters is a willingness to learn and embrace a range of tools that can and will change over time.

That said, DevOps professionals surveyed at ChefConf 2018 were happy to recommend some tools that they believe will make new grads stand out.

Throughout their DevOps careers, most IT pros can expect to change their tool orientation over time. What one tool teaches you will translate -- in principles and processes -- to others, said Don Lewis, a DevOps engineer. Lewis started out using the Puppet configuration management tool before he moved to Chef, a comparable technology.

IT pros should embrace these expected changes but still cultivate specific deep expertise. "I hire for DevOps jobs regularly, and I look for T-shaped people," said Sean Wilbur, director of DevOps solution delivery and architecture at Perficient, a systems integrator.

T-shaped refers to a person with depth of knowledge in one area (the stem of a T), as well as collaborative, cross-group skills and communication (the arm across the top of the T). Recent college grads can be a shallow T but should have some acumen somewhere, he said.

Sophia Ehlen, a DevOps engineer with a development background, agreed that DevOps recruiters seek balanced knowledge. As a developer, she already has expertise in programming languages and the dev stack, so her focus now is to pick up infrastructure management and monitoring practices. Similarly, someone with an infrastructure background would be well-served to study programming.

The best DevOps tool to start on

Container and microservices skills are in demand among DevOps engineers, as well as CI/CD code pipeline knowledge, Ehlen said. And diverse IT pros call version control, specifically with Git, a prerequisite for a DevOps job.

I hire for DevOps jobs regularly, and I look for T-shaped people.
Sean WilburDirector of DevOps solution delivery and architecture, Perficient

Developers must understand version control, and ops pros should have an idea of the technology and why you'd use it, Wilbur said. It's a good entry point to modern IT in many forms.

"Git and version control are essential to more than just DevOps roles. Everything is in code now," said JD Goins, cloud engineer at Agilent Technologies, a scientific instruments company in Santa Clara, Calif.

Attendees mentioned Git the most, in connection with source control, but others include Perforce, Apache Subversion and Microsoft Team Foundation Server. The tools might differ, but source control is a fundamental concept; you must know how to update versions in an organized way, said Noah Kantrowitz, programming and IT expert at Coderanger.net.

Perficient's Wilbur added that DevOps job seekers should also understand Agile project management, which includes scrums and backlog management. For these tasks, consider tools such as Atlassian Jira, CA Agile Central (formerly RallyDev) and IBM Rational Team Concert.

While it's generally good to know a programming language, such as Ruby or Python, Wilbur emphasized that he's not hiring developers; he's hiring for DevOps.

Another good choice? How about HashiCorp's Terraform for infrastructure as code, said Lamont Lucas, a consultant at FastRobot. He also suggested some technologies that come squarely from IT ops rather than DevOps. Lucas said he could get by with just Tcpdump or Wireshark network packet analysis and the Linux strace debugging utility, if need be. These names help entry-level DevOps job applicants stand out because they show that the person understands how the stack fundamentally works.

Most new college grads quickly learn that DevOps means different things to different companies, and there are as many DevOps products as there are beliefs about how to influence culture. Think about the employer's situation, Agilent Technologies' Goins said. DevOps and cloud deployment go together, so maybe consider a company's platform. If an employer is all-in on AWS, then CloudFormation skills might stand out, he said. Choose the best DevOps tool for the specific situation if you've zeroed in on a particular job.

Since tool requirements vary according to a given situation, experts advise newcomers to devote time to a product that includes rich documentation materials and user support. "Chef has one of the best learning paths out there," Lucas said, which earns it a spot on his list of DevOps tools to learn.

This was last published in June 2018

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