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DevOps certification is not the only path to success

Is DevOps certification worth the paper it's printed on? In emerging areas such as DevOps, IT ops pros should combine real-world skills with training to get ahead.

Attend a DevOps meeting and you'll inevitably hear discussions about how to encourage better communication between two disparate teams: IT operations and development.

It's no secret that, for a corporation to successfully introduce a DevOps methodology, it must improve those soft skills. But can those skills be taught at your two pizza meetings and cupcake-catered, team-building events? Or is it time to recognize cultural skills with DevOps certification and training?

A lot of the communication skills come from the acknowledgement that we're all just human beings.

"It's getting to know my coworkers and ... feeling like we're a family," said Ken Kozman, principal architect at multinational conglomerate General Electric, headquartered in Boston. "All tech people tend to be fairly on the spectrum, so I think we're teachable."

Conferences are a place to improve soft skills; notably, communication and collaboration. Events such as the annual DevOps Enterprise Summit are packed with case studies and speakers who share success stories and tips on how to unify people.

"There's a lot of benefit from conferences," Kozman said. "You get to mix and mingle with people [and] see that they're doing something similar to us, but in this whole other way," Kozman added.

But conferences only go so far, and busy ops and development teams rarely have the free time or discretionary budgets to attend. And even the most insightful networking, peer-to-peer discussions can't go on a resume or prove you have a particular set of skills.

A DevOps certification could offer IT ops professionals one way to quantify this soft skill set.

DevOps certification picks up

DevOps certifications and training courses continue to emerge worldwide. But identifying which classes have the most value for a sys admin or IT admin interested in DevOps can be challenging.

Whether you're in operations or development, you should focus on the core skills first, said Jayne Groll, board member of the DevOps Institute, which offers enterprise-level DevOps training and certification.

"Everybody should understand test-driven development, how to interpret a test plan and how to interpret test results," Groll said.

She also emphasized the importance of understanding principals of architecture, such as knowing how to architect a continuous delivery pipeline.

A solid grasp of technology pays off -- whether you're a Linux, Unix or Windows shop -- as does a grasp of the more modern frameworks that sit on top of these technologies, Kozman advised.

"I think for us, the big thing has been automation," he said. "And it depends on what your tech stack is as far as what automation tools you'll use."

The DevOps Institute offers three classes and certifications for pros. DevOps Foundations provides an introduction to DevOps, its culture, collaboration and basics on integrating automation. Certified Agile Service Manager teaches students how to apply and integrate Agile thinking into service management processes. And Certified Agile Process Owner provides training to oversee the design and re-engineering needed for IT service management processes.

The IT training organization also plans to add a site reliability engineering certificate and a DevOps Professional certificate, as well as noncertification courses that cover lean DevOps; IT service management; and DevOps, Kanban for DevOps and DevOps simulation.

AXELOS -- an IT training group that oversees the IT Infrastructure Library and IT Revolution, and the publishers of The DevOps Handbook -- jointly offer a free online DevOps Awareness Training program that combines interactive learning with animation and simulation exercises. It teaches both the cultural and technical skills of DevOps.

Simulation-based DevOps training, which engages IT teams to act out important roles within the DevOps spectrum, can also be a valuable tool for organizations to grasp the basics.

GamingWorks, a Dutch company that designs, develops and runs professional simulations, uses characters from The Phoenix Project to model behaviors and to teach organizational structure.

"Everyone has a role description and plays a character," said Jan Schilt, director of GamingWorks. "The purpose of the exercise is to teach people skills and behaviors. It's about IT service management behaviors. And in four rounds [of the simulation], they will experience a learning cycle.

"At the end of the day, people have a broader picture of what DevOps is about."

For IT pros who seek more specific skills and certifications, cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure offer narrower DevOps certifications specific to their platforms.

IT ops teams can also acquire certifications from various vendors, including Chef, Ansible, Puppet and Jenkins. To get the best tool-based knowledge, know which tools are important in your IT organization -- and have a realistic view of how both developers and IT ops teams use them.

Understanding both the development and operations side of the equation also plays a big part in how IT pros can better advance their understanding of DevOps.

"It's good for me to know some of the ops stuff, just like it's good for them to know some of the dev stuff, in a tools sense," Kozman said.

Nothing beats real-world skills

Still, not everyone is sold on the value of certifications, especially with newer IT models such as DevOps.

"That's one thing I'm a little scared about -- the attempt to clamp onto DevOps as an emerging culture and practice too early," said William Evans, chief design officer at PraxisFlow, an IT consultancy group based in Lancaster, Pa. "We'll see a lot of challenges with people trying to codify what DevOps is -- clearly define it [and] create a rigorous training program with multiple certifications and black belts and green belts and all the stratifications of learning -- none of which I think really contributes to the way people do work in their job."

It's more important to get people comfortable with the principals of DevOps first, before trying to fill your wall with new DevOps certifications. In most instances, nothing beats real-world, hands-on experience.

When we're flipping through resumes, sometimes I'll see just a bevy of certifications, and I almost see that as a bad sign. Why are you throwing up a smoke screen of certifications?
Ken Kozmanprincipal architect, General Electric

"I don't give any credence to certifications," Kozman said, adding that how an interviewee answers the first few technical IT questions is a better indication of real-world skills and ability. "When we're flipping through resumes, sometimes I'll see just a bevy of certifications, and I almost see that as a bad sign. Why are you throwing up a smoke screen of certifications?"

You don't necessarily need the certifications to make the money, according to a recent "IT Skills Demand and Pay Trends Report" from Foote Partners, an IT analyst firm based in Vero Beach, Fla., which surveyed 3,018 employers. The report showed a gain of 7% in average pay premiums for noncertified DevOps skills in 2016, and those with specialized training nabbed salaries above the market average for more generic engineering roles.

It's clear that, in burgeoning areas such as DevOps, any experience is helpful -- whether it's from working with people who have already done it, attending simulation training, reading books or just talking to peers. Being able to put that learning into practice is the next stage.

"If you do all that and a get a certificate for it, that's great. But I care more about what you actually got out of it," Kozman said.

Michelle Boisvert is the executive editor of the Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. Contact her at [email protected]

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