From Zero to Becoming a DevOps Expert

From Zero to Becoming a DevOps Expert In 2023 - MediaOne Marketing

Achieving a big goal can be intimidating, but not with a roadmap. A roadmap gives you direction, allowing you to break down your goal into smaller, achievable steps. 

It’s the same with DevOps. The pathway from a novice to a fully-fledged DevOps Engineer isn’t easy — but with the right roadmap, you can get there.

If your background is in software development, you have a good starting point for your DevOps journey. You’re most likely familiar with writing code, source control systems, and different programming languages

But what if you’re starting from an entirely different background? Maybe you’ve been a system administrator or an IT specialist. Or, perhaps you’re from a completely different industry or have little IT skills. 

No matter where you are currently, this roadmap will provide the necessary steps to help you transition into a DevOps Engineer. 

But before we dive into the roadmap, let’s take a moment to explore what DevOps is and why it’s important. 

What’s DevOps? 

DevOps is the merging of Development and Operations. It’s a way of combining the best of both worlds by leveraging development teams to automate tasks such as deployment and configuration management while relying on operations to maintain system infrastructure reliability and scalability.

Dev = Development — developing a product, coding, debugging, and testing

Ops = Operations — configuring and maintaining the production environment, monitoring system performance 

Traditionally, in many organizations, these two teams were siloed.

Developers wrote code and handed it off to operations for deployment without any knowledge of the infrastructure and how it works. That resulted in a lack of team collaboration, delays in product releases, and quality issues.

DevOps changes this by bringing development and operations together as one team with shared goals, processes, and responsibilities. That enables faster time-to-market, fewer errors, and greater customer satisfaction.

What’s the point? By automating processes, you can reduce errors, speed up development times, and enable smoother deployments.

Here’s a layman’s explanation:

In the early days of software development, computer programmers wrote code and had to beg time on a single computer (mainframe) to test it. The IT department was, therefore, divided into two distinct camps; the developers and the operators. That created a disconnect between teams, as each group was responsible for different tasks and had different goals.

The operator team was the practical, hands-on group responsible for guarding the mainframe, which was big and expensive and had a lot of other things running on it. They had to ensure that the software didn’t crash and was as efficient as possible.

On the other hand, the developer team was focused on pushing out features and getting code out the door as quickly as possible. They were the creative team that made the mainframe do all sorts of crazy things, experimenting with different technologies and pushing the boundaries of what was possible.

Operators controlled the keys to the mainframe kingdom, and developers had to wait their turn before they could test their code. It was a slow, inefficient process that often led to delays in product releases and quality issues.

Fast forward to three decades later, and a new methodology has emerged — DevOps. This is an approach to software development that seeks to bridge the divide between developers and operators, bringing them together to work collaboratively towards a common goal.

By integrating development and operations into one team, DevOps gives developers the tools to deploy code while maintaining system stability and scalability.

What’s the DevOps Skillset? 

Skill DevOps Needs
Image Courtesy: TechBlost

DevOps as a field is as broad as it is deep. Depending on the organization, DevOps engineers may focus on one particular area or be a jack of all trades. 

Now, let’s define the core skillset needed to become a successful DevOps engineer:

Skill #1: Basic Software Development Skills

Since you’ll be working closely with other developers, it helps to have a solid foundation in software development principles.

You’ll need to understand basic development concepts such as:

  • How developers work together
  • What workflows do they use
  • How do they collaborate on developing code
  • How do they test the code 
  • What tools and frameworks do they use
  • What Git workflow do they use
  • Modern processes like scrum, agile, and lean

Even more important, they must understand what the software development life cycle covers, from idea to code, all the way to the finished product.

Note that: you don’t necessarily have to be a software developer or implement any of those scrums, agile, or lean processes. You just have to understand how they work and fit into the bigger DevOps picture.

Skill #2: Software Deployment and Configuration Management 

Software DevOps
Image Courtesy: Fiverr

Deploying software can be a complex and time-consuming process. That’s why having a solid understanding of software deployment, configuration management, and release automation is key to being a practical DevOps engineer.

You’ll need to understand the different ways that code can be deployed, such as:

  • Virtual Machines (VMs)
  • Containers
  • Continuous Deployment and Delivery (CD/CD)

You’ll also need to know what configuration management tools are available, such as: 

  • Chef
  • Puppet 
  • Ansible 
  • SaltStack 

The core concept here is understanding how these tools can be used to automate the deployment process and ensure that the software is deployed consistently and reliably.

Skill #3: Operating Systems and Linux Basics

Regardless of your background, if you’re going to be a successful DevOps engineer, you need to have a solid understanding of the Linux operating system. You’ll need to understand the basics, such as:

  • How Linux works
  • The different distributions available 
  • Command-line tools and utilities 
  • Package managers like apt and yum
  • How to prepare and provision for these environments
  • How to maintain them

You’ll also need to understand networking and security concepts such as firewalls, authentication systems, patches, software installation, and encryption protocols.

Skill #4: Containers with Docker and Kubernetes – 

Containers have become increasingly popular in recent years and are now a must-have for any DevOps engineer. You’ll need to understand how containers work and what tools and frameworks are available to manage them, such as Docker and Kubernetes.

You’ll need to understand how to use these tools to create and manage containers, deploy applications inside, and monitor their performance.

Skill #5: Cloud Computing with AWS, Azure, GCP – 

At this point in the DevOps journey, you’ll need to understand cloud computing and how to use these services effectively.

You’ll need to understand available cloud platforms, like AWS, Azure, and GCP, and how to configure them for your needs.

You’ll need to know how to set up and manage infrastructure, deploy applications, use APIs to connect services and understand the different cloud computing services available. 

Skill #6: System Monitoring & Logging 

DevOps engineers need to have an understanding of system monitoring and logging tools. From understanding your system’s performance to identifying errors and anomalies, these tools are essential for any effective DevOps engineer.

Tools like Splunk, Datadog, Logstash, and Elasticsearch all offer ways to monitor and log what’s going on in your system. You’ll need to understand how they work and how to use them effectively.

Skill #7: Continuous Integration & Deployment

At the heart of any successful DevOps process is a solid Continuous Integration and Deployment (CI/CD) strategy. That is the process of automatically building, testing, and deploying code into production.

You’ll need to understand how to set up a CI/CD pipeline from scratch and what tools you can use to automate the process. Tools such as Jenkins and Travis CI can automate the process, while tools such as Ansible, Chef, and Puppet can be used to manage and deploy your code. 

In other words, how do you deploy new features and bug fixes more quickly and securely when developing a software solution? 

And yes, it goes beyond deployment. After all, you don’t just want to take code and throw it there. Because humans are prone to making mistakes, a single mistake can lead to a loss of reputation and money. Hence, robust testing, quality assurance processes, and validation checks are needed.

So, we add many gatekeepers in the form of automated tests, checks, and reviews that must be met before a new code can be shipped.

And to help you automate these processes and ensure efficient software delivery, we have various tools such as Jenkins, Bamboo, Gitlab CI/CD, Circle CI, Travis CI etc. 

That’s what the DevOps CI/CD pipeline is for:

  • Testing code
  • Packaging it
  • Deploying it to production
  • And monitoring it for any errors or failures.

So, what are we testing the code for? 

Mostly, we want to make sure that the code works as expected and does not introduce any new bugs or issues. 

We’re testing it for quality and code logic. We’re testing it to ensure it doesn’t break existing features, validating our code to ensure it meets the requirements, checking for any security issues, testing performance, and more.

To get the most out of your CI/CD pipeline, you’ll need to understand how to set up and manage a robust workflow. 

You’ll also need to know what tools are available such as Jenkins for automation, Kubernetes for orchestration, GitLab time tracking for version control, and terraform for cloud deployment.

These tools and techniques will combine to help you create a seamless, secure, and efficient DevOps workflow.

Skill #8: Monitoring and Observability – 

The last skill you’ll need to master is monitoring and observability. It’s the process of monitoring your applications, servers, and infrastructure to identify any performance issues or errors that may occur.

Since we’re humans, we don’t always know when and where issues occur. That’s why monitoring and observability tools are essential for any successful DevOps engineer. 

That’s why we have bugs, errors, and performance issues.

It helps to have a plan in place for handling these issues, and the best way to do that is through monitoring and observability.

It’s part of the DevOps skillset to create a streamlined process for handling discovered issues instead of relying on manual checks. 

Tools such as Datadog, New Relic, Prometheus, and Influx DB allow you to collect data from your system and display it in an easy-to-understand way. That makes it easy to spot trends, identify issues, and take action before they morph into serious problems.

Skill #9: Automation

And finally, the missing part of the puzzle for many DevOps engineers: Automation.

Automation is the process of automating manual tasks such as deployments, testing, configuration management, and more. You can automate these processes using tools such as Ansible, Chef, or Puppet.

Here are some of the things you can automate:

  • Deployment of applications and infrastructure
  • Configuration management
  • Testing processes 
  • Monitoring and observability 
  • Security checks 
  • Packaging of applications 

All these tasks should happen automatically, without you having to do anything.

Developers shouldn’t deploy applications locally from their own machine but from a CI/CD pipeline with automation set up.

You also want to automate monitoring. Obviously, you don’t want to sit and watch logs all day to find errors.

So, as a DevOps engineer, you need to be able to configure tools like Datadog or Grafana to alert you about any performance issues or errors that may arise.

Skill #10: Infrastructure as Code

The last skill you’ll need to master as a DevOps engineer is Infrastructure as Code.

DevOps doesn’t stop with automation and monitoring, but extends to creating and managing infrastructure.

Infrastructure as code is the process of writing code to define, deploy, and manage your entire stack. For example, setting up Kubernetes clusters or provisioning infrastructure isn’t something you should be doing manually.

Tools like Terraform and CloudFormation let you write code to define, deploy, and manage your entire stack in an automated fashion. 

IaC helps reduce human errors, makes deployments faster and easier, and allows for more efficient infrastructure management.

By mastering Infrastructure as Code, you’ll be able to create an automated and efficient DevOps pipeline that takes your development process to the next level. 

Having everything in code instead of manual scripts makes it easier to track changes and ensure that your infrastructure is secure and up-to-date. 

Here are some benefits of Infrastructure as Code:

  • Encourages collaboration and reuse of code
  • Automates the process, reducing errors and manual tasks. 
  • Easily track changes and manage infrastructure over time.
  • Increase security by ensuring that your infrastructure is up-to-date with the latest patches and updates.

Skill #11: Scripting Skills

Scripting Skill - MediaOne Marketing

Writing code is a key part of any DevOps engineer’s job. You can use scripting skills to create custom scripts or modify existing ones for automation and deployment purposes. 

You should know at least one scripting language, such as Python, Bash, or PowerShell.

For example, you may need to write a script that automates the deployment process. Or you might need to write a script that automatically runs tests on your code.

You might also be required to write a shell script to do something in Jenkins in a CI/CD pipeline or write a small utility script for flushing the cache, connecting different tools, building and pushing images, or other tasks. 

There are many scripting programming languages that you can learn, and each one has its own strengths and weaknesses.

We suggest you start with Python and then move on to other scripting languages such as Bash, PowerShell, and Go.

While knowing multiple scripting languages will make you more versatile in the workplace, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should be a master of all of them. A better approach is to pick the language that best fits the task at hand and become an expert in that language. 

Skill #12: Version Control with Git

Git is the standard version control system used in DevOps and is a skill that no serious engineer would want to miss in their toolset. Git stores and tracks your changes on software code, documents, configuration files, and other assets. 

It ensures you always have access to the latest version of all your code and makes it easy to collaborate with team members.

Git also allows you to easily roll back in case something goes wrong or a feature needs to be reversed.

To become proficient in Git, you should understand basic concepts such as staging, committing, branching, merging, and reverting. 

You should also be familiar with the most common commands related to Git, such as “git clone,” “git pull,” “git push,” and “git reset.” 

In addition, you should be able to troubleshoot and debug Git-related issues that may arise during the development process. 

GitHub is a popular platform for hosting Git projects and can provide an effective way to collaborate with other developers. It also makes tracking changes and building automated CI/CD pipelines easier.

How to Get Started on Your DevOps Journey

Now that you know the 12 essential skills of a DevOps engineer, you’re ready to start your journey from zero to becoming a DevOps expert.

First, you must understand that DevOps is not an entry-level position. You should have some basic knowledge of software development, scripting, and/or operations before you begin exploring DevOps.

Once you’ve done that, you can start by learning the basics of version control with Git and learn how to write scripts in Python or other scripting languages. 

Then you can move on to other topics such as automation, virtualization, containerization, CI/CD pipelines, and cloud deployment.

Finally, you want to familiarize yourself with the DevOps tools most commonly used in the industry.

Now, let’s break down everything, step by step, and get you on your way to becoming a DevOps engineer. 

Step 1: Understand the Complete Software Development Lifecycle

The first step is understanding the complete software development lifecycle (SDLC). That includes understanding how software projects are planned, developed, tested, released, and maintained.

Be sure to develop a solid grasp of different software development methodologies such as Agile, Waterfall, and DevOps.

It’s easier than it sounds. You don’t need to take months learning software development. Nor do you need to become an expert in managing software infrastructure and configuring complex networks. 

The idea is to find a simple application and learn how to deploy it on a virtual server. Learn the steps of developing, packaging, deploying, and automatically testing the application. 

It may be a good idea to start by using a platform like Heroku or AWS Elastic Beanstalk, which will simplify your process and make it much easier to learn the basics of DevOps.

Once you understand how software is built, deployed, and maintained, repeat the process a few times, simulating an update or a bug fix each time. 

You’ll soon learn how to automate the process and save time and effort.

At this point, you should be comfortable enough with software development lifecycle processes to move on to the next step.

Step 2: Learn How Software Development Teams Collaborate

The next step is to learn how software development teams collaborate. That includes understanding the various roles within the team and how they interact with each other. 

You should also be familiar with popular collaboration tools such as Slack, Jira, Trello, GitHub, and GitLab.

Go through tutorials to learn about scrum and agile methods for managing software development projects. 

Get familiar with the jargon and concepts used in the software development industry, such as sprints, user stories, features, epics, etc. 

Step 3: DevOps Pre-requisites

Before you jump into DevOps, there are some prerequisites you should learn. That includes understanding version control systems such as Git and learning one or more scripting languages such as Python.

It would help if you also understood the Linux command line and basic system administration tasks well. 

Finally, you will need to become familiar with automation tools such as Ansible and Terraform, container technologies such as Docker, and orchestration tools such as Kubernetes.

Step 4: Practice DevOps Projects

Now that you have the basics of software development and collaboration down, it’s time to practice your DevOps skills by building and deploying a project. 

Start with a simple application such as a web server, use your scripting skills to automate deployment and testing, and then move on to more complex projects such as microservices.

Throughout the process, you’ll learn how to set up infrastructure, automate deployments, monitor applications, debug problems, and implement best practices.

Step 5: Specialize in a Particular DevOps Area

Finally, once you have the basics down, it’s time to specialize in a particular area of DevOps. That could include system administration, automation, monitoring, or security. 

Choose an area that interests you the most and learn as much as possible. Specializing will help you become an expert in your chosen area and make you a valuable asset to any DevOps team.

Good luck on your journey! With enough dedication, practice, and experience, anyone can become a DevOps engineer. Happy coding!

About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


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