Skills spotlight: Sky Bet’s Andy Burgin on the future of DevOps

5 May, 2017

Last week’s Leeds Digital Festival played host to one of the city’s passionate technical meet-up groups. Leeds DevOps, held at ODI Leeds, has been running for around four years and sees an average of 65 people turn up each month to hear masterclasses on everything from company culture to coding.

Its leader, Sky Bet senior DevOps engineer Andy Burgin, gave several talks on the tech topic throughout the week. Burgin says that interest around DevOps is on the rise in the North, where it’s adopted by organisations of varying sizes. I spoke to him at the Tech North Digital Jobs Action Summit to find out more.

What is DevOps?

In a traditional IT organisation you have two different departments – development and operations. And it’s very common to find those two departments don’t work very together; there are misaligned incentives in what they’re trying to achieve – one team is charged with releasing features and the other with stability.

Those two don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, so you end up with a situation where you have poor communication and in-fighting between the teams. DevOps is an approach to alleviate the problem and break down the silos between the two, get them working collaboratively and ultimately deliver quality software faster.

What are some DevOps trends for 2017?

None specifically, but we’re still seeing large adoption of cloud technologies and containerisation.

Other than that, we are seeing the continued movement to apply lean manufacturing techniques to software development. Again, that’s about improving quality and delivering software faster.

What types of organisations are adopting DevOps?

There are varying levels of DevOps adoption throughout organisations in particularly regulated industries like finance.

You have a very large existing structure of teams and departments, and trying to get those to collaborate has always been a problem. Typically that would be quite a large organisational change, whereas a lot of the smaller companies are doing this by default as it’s a sensible way to work.

You run the Leeds DevOps meet-up, which seems to be growing in numbers. Does that reflect interest around DevOps in the North?

I suppose so – I think people are very interested in DevOps as a thing and want to learn more about it. The DevOps group has grown in the past four years and other groups have been set up in Newcastle and Manchester that get good attendance and speakers. But there’s also a lot of interest in what we do at Sky Bet as well. We have quite mature adoption of this approach so there’s an interest in that.

In terms of the talking gigs I do, I suppose it’s partly an interest in demand and partly because I’m daft enough to do them in such volume.

Have you found that graduates recruited into Sky Bet have the necessary skills to work in a DevOps environment?

The ones I work with, yes. This is more down to the attitude of graduates today. There’s much discussion at this jobs summit about the merits of apprenticeships and graduates, and we have great examples of people who have come straight into the industry and worked their way up.

We have graduates that join us that have the correct aptitude to work even though they don’t have the skills. People work their way up through the IT department, and we also have DevOps engineers that came through the call centre on the service desk side, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all starting point for IT. It depends a lot on attitude and willingness to learn, and a desire to do it.

Attitude is clearly important, but what technical skills come in handy?

There’s no single definition of DevOps, but if you look at it from a technical perspective then there are certain skills you can point to. They include system administration skills, be that Windows or Linux; any of the cloud providers; containerisation; CI/CD platforms; Jenkins; and TeamCity – the list goes on.

It’s really just a solid grounding with those pieces of software that help deliver and release the products that your development teams are working on.

Is DevOps here to stay?

I don’t think its popularity is going to wane, but there are two theories around why it may end. The first is that DevOps should destroy itself, because it will become the norm for organisations.

There’s also a number of different technology platforms out there that kind of remove the need for an operations team, but they’re in their very early days. They include server-less technologies and Platform-as-a-Service providers like CloudFoundry, which are doing all that kind of operational stuff already and making you develop apps using that approach.

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