Before I show you the top 20 skills of a DevOps engineer, let’s quickly have a look at three concise definitions of DevOps first!
DevOps is short for software development (Dev) and IT operations (Ops).
Definition from Atlassian:
DevOps is a set of practices that automates the processes between software development and IT teams, in order that they can build, test, and release software faster and more reliably.
Definition from TechTarget:
A DevOps engineer/specialist works with engineers, software developers, system operators (SysOps) and administrators (SysAdmins), and other production IT professionals to release and deploy code in the real world.
Definition from AWS:
DevOps is the combination of cultural philosophies, practices, and tools that increases an organization’s ability to deliver applications and services at high velocity: evolving and improving products at a faster pace than organizations using traditional software development and infrastructure management processes.
You can play this video as you go over the full article—it’ll play well in the background and you can absorb more information this way:
If you’re interested in learning more about the income and opportunities of DevOps engineers, feel free to check out my in-depth tutorial on the Finxter blog.
Read More: DevOps Specialist — Income and Opportunity
Let’s dive into the top 20 skills of a DevOps engineer one by one:
Skill 1: Communication
DevOps engineers do not sit in an office and code all day. They must align goals and coordinate with both the developers and the operations teams. Great communication is crucial for DevOps engineers!
Skill 2: Listening
Many problems can be solved before they occur if you listen either to the developers who are close to the code or to the operators who are close to the customers. As a DevOps engineer, you need to listen to both in order to prevent problems before they happen.
A DevOps engineer is a great listener!
Skill 3: Specific DevOps Tools
There are multiple popular tools specifically to increase efficiency of DevOps engineers. Understanding relevant DevOps tools well is crucial for any professional!
I’ve written an “Income and Opportuntiy” article on some of the most popular tools here:
Without understanding code, you cannot possibly become a great DevOps engineer. Yes, you are neither a developer nor an operator so you don’t need to lose yourself in the nitty-gritty details of programming.
However, you need to know your stuff. Because If you don’t know at least the basics of coding, developers and operators alike will run all over you!
DevOps engineers are coders too!
Skill 5: Basics of Scripting Languages
Likewise, SysAdmins are really great in scripting, Linux, SSH, Powershell, and many other scripting languages that help them keep a system running smoothly.
That’s why DevOps engineers need to understand the basics of scripting so they can talk the language of SysAdmins and SysOps engineers.
We already established that communication is important for DevOps—and scripting is communication.
Skill 6: Operating systems (e.g., Windows, Linux, Scheduling)
Technologies fade away. Fundamentals stay. If you learned the basics of operating systems 20 years ago, you’d have built yourself a skillset for life!
DevOps engineers know the basics of operating systems because it helps them easily keep up with new technologies and tools that arise in both the developer and operator fields.
DevOps engineers understand operating systems.
Skill 7: Distributed systems (e.g., Client/Server, P2P)
Yeah, you don’t need to be a distributed system master. But again, you must know the stuff that’s in, say, a 10 page Wikipedia article on distributed systems:
- What’s a client server system?
- What does peer to peer mean?
- How do computers communicate with each other?
- What are the basic technologies to create the WWW?
DevOps engineers understand distributed systems because they need to keep up with the latest developments in cloud computing.
Speaking of which…
Skill 8: Cloud (e.g., Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure)
Deployment is where DevOps engineers shine.
⭐ Make no mistake: Learning cloud computing is one of the most important, most sought-after, and most profitable things you can do as a developer! This is also true for DevOps engineers.
Cloud services such as storage, compute, scaling, and machine learning provide a comprehensive IT environment to a wide range of businesses.
This is where the applications get deployed, so as a DevOps engineer you must understand cloud computing very well!
You can find out more about the three biggest cloud providers — and related job roles in our Finxter blog tutorials here:
Skill 9: Testing (e.g., PyTest)
Before deploying software, you need to test it to find all bugs you can possibly find.
Testing is an integral part of any software engineering cycle because it helps you find bugs that both affect the future development of new features, as well as the deployment and operations of an existing software system.
You won’t be leading a stress-free life if you don’t spend lots of effort testing your application before launching it. This is one of the main responsibilities of a DevOps engineer as well!
Who said it’s going to be easy?
Skill 10: Team Building, Motivation, and Management
DevOps engineers only orchestrate but seldomly build themselves.
The building is done by developer teams that need to be managed. DevOps engineers help in managing those teams.
The operations is done by operators such as SysAdmins that need to be managed as well.
And management is only half of the job — every leader must know how to motivate their teams and reduce friction.
Much of this can be done by listening to the concerns of the implementers. A great DevOps engineers knows this and invests great effort in learning those soft skills.
Speaking of which…
Skill 11: Soft skills
Well, some of the skills mentioned in this article already are soft skills (e.g., listening and communication). However, there are more. DevOps engineers often have great presentation skills and they can figure out problems quickly.
They are sharp thinkers and they remain solution-oriented when bottlenecks in development and operations occur.
Really, don’t panic—you’ll learn many of the soft skills just by osmosis being in the field for a long time.
Skill 12: Agile and Scrum
Here’s a great excerpt on the relationship of DevOps and agile from Wikipedia:
The motivations for what has become modern DevOps and several standard DevOps practices such as automated build and test, continuous integration, and continuous delivery originated in the Agile world, which dates (informally) to the 1990s, and formally to 2001.
Agile development teams using methods such as Extreme Programming couldn’t “satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software” unless they subsumed the operations / infrastructure responsibilities associated with their applications, many of which they automated.
Because Scrum emerged as the dominant Agile framework in the early 2000s and it omitted the engineering practices that were part of many Agile teams, the movement to automate operations/infrastructure functions splintered from Agile and expanded into what has become modern DevOps.
Today, DevOps focuses on the deployment of developed software, whether it is developed via Agile or other methodologies.
Why not read the article on Agile — and checking out one of the many free courses online?
Skill 13: Security
Speed of deployment leads to risk in the operations phase: your application or system can get attacked by malicious hackers.
(Yes, some hackers are not malicious.)
Security is one of the pillars of a reliable system that is capable to survive and even thrive in the long term. Without it, your system will eventually fail.
There’s even a term for security for DevOps: DevSecOps. I know it’s not pretty but it delivers the message: security skills are needed and deeply desired by companies seeking DevOps engineers.
Here’s the definition from RedHat:
DevSecOps stands for development, security, and operations. It’s an approach to culture, automation, and platform design that integrates security as a shared responsibility throughout the entire IT lifecycle.
Skill 14: Automation
Automation is at the heart of any DevOps process.
It’s your bread and butter as a DevOps engineer, so give it the attention it deserves:
- Automate DevOps pipelines,
- Automate continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) cycles.
- Automate performance monitoring
- Automate configuration tasks for your cloud infrastructure
DevOps engineering is a lot about automation so don’t skip this skill set!
Skill 15: Customer Research and Customer Understanding
Make no mistake—being able to understand the needs and pain points of your customer is a skill.
As a DevOps engineer, you’re ultimately paid by the customers of your organization. They pay the stakeholders of your company who pay you.
So, DevOps engineers know on a high-level basis what their customer need. However, they are not marketing or sales people so a rough understanding is sufficient.
You cannot do everything as a DevOps engineer after all.
Skill 16: Software Engineering
Software engineering is a systematic engineering approach to software development.
Definition: Software engineering examines the design, development, and maintenance of software. It concerns the reduction of problems and issues that arise with low-quality code such as exceeding timelines, budgets, or quality of service (QoS). (source)
This is one of the fields where a detailed study can yield extraordinary results for your practical work as a DevOps engineer.
So, take a mental note to take a course or two on “software engineering”. A great introductory book on the topic is “The Art of Clean Code”.
Skill 17: Site Reliability Engineering (SRE)
Site reliability engineering applies software engineering principles to infrastructure and operations to create scalable and highly reliable software systems.
It is closely related to DevOps in that it helps deliver value to customers by focusing more on operations rather than the creation of a software system.
Related Tutorial: Site Reliability Engineer — Income and Opportunity
Skill 18: Understanding Developer Tools
DevOps engineers know the coding tools!
Skill 19: Understanding Operators Tools
A DevOps engineer needs to understand the basic tools used by SysOps and SysAdmins.
Here’s a list of the most relevant (Windows) tools recommended by SysOps expert Paolo:
- RSAT: Remote Server Administration Tools for Windows 10)
- Sysinternals Suite
- PingInfoView to ping multiple host names and IP addresses and watch the result in one table
- USB Disk Ejector, allows you to quickly remove USB (and firewire) drives in Windows.
- DeviceTool, a Device Manager for administrators. DeviceTool can enable and disable devices remotely – and run on Windows 10.
- Rufus, a small portable tool to create bootable USB Flash drives, includes an option to download the Windows.
- Microsoft WSUS Client Diagnostic Tool, designed to aid the WSUS administrator in troubleshooting client machines which may be failing to report back to the WSUS Server.
- RVTools, windows .NET 4.6.1 application which uses the VI SDK to display information about your virtual environments. Interacting with VirtualCenter.
- vCenter Converter, quickly converts local and remote physical machines into virtual machines without any downtime.
- Starwind V2V Converter, makes VM and virtual disk migration between different hardware sets easier by booting the migrated VM in Windows Repair Mode.
Skill 20: Learning to Learn
If you haven’t figured it out already, DevOps engineering is one of the most demanding jobs in any organization in terms of the skills you’ll build over time.
Nobody expects you to have all the skills from the getgo. Be bold and get started — and commit yourself to lifetime learning!
We’ve explored the following skills of a DevOps engineer:
- Skill 1: Communication
- Skill 2: Listening
- Skill 3: Specific DevOps Tools
- Skill 4: Basic Programming such as Python, Java, C++
- Skill 5: Basics of Scripting Languages
- Skill 6: Operating systems (e.g., Windows, Linux, Scheduling)
- Skill 7: Distributed systems (e.g., Client/Server, P2P)
- Skill 8: Cloud (e.g., Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure)
- Skill 9: Testing (e.g., PyTest)
- Skill 10: Team Building, Motivation, and Management
- Skill 11: Soft skills
- Skill 12: Agile and Scrum
- Skill 13: Security
- Skill 14: Automation
- Skill 15: Customer Research and Customer Understanding
- Skill 16: Software Engineering
- Skill 17: Site Reliability Engineering (SRE)
- Skill 18: Understanding Developer Tools
- Skill 19: Understanding Operators Tools
- Skill 20: Learning to Learn
You don’t need to master all of them before starting out—this would be impossible. Just keep them in mind as you gain practical experience and never stop learning!
Where to Go From Here?
Enough theory. Let’s get some practice!
Coders get paid six figures and more because they can solve problems more effectively using machine intelligence and automation.
To become more successful in coding, solve more real problems for real people. That’s how you polish the skills you really need in practice. After all, what’s the use of learning theory that nobody ever needs?
You build high-value coding skills by working on practical coding projects!
Do you want to stop learning with toy projects and focus on practical code projects that earn you money and solve real problems for people?
🚀 If your answer is YES!, consider becoming a Python freelance developer! It’s the best way of approaching the task of improving your Python skills—even if you are a complete beginner.
If you just want to learn about the freelancing opportunity, feel free to watch my free webinar “How to Build Your High-Income Skill Python” and learn how I grew my coding business online and how you can, too—from the comfort of your own home.
While working as a researcher in distributed systems, Dr. Christian Mayer found his love for teaching computer science students.
To help students reach higher levels of Python success, he founded the programming education website Finxter.com that has taught exponential skills to millions of coders worldwide. He’s the author of the best-selling programming books Python One-Liners (NoStarch 2020), The Art of Clean Code (NoStarch 2022), and The Book of Dash (NoStarch 2022). Chris also coauthored the Coffee Break Python series of self-published books. He’s a computer science enthusiast, freelancer, and owner of one of the top 10 largest Python blogs worldwide.
His passions are writing, reading, and coding. But his greatest passion is to serve aspiring coders through Finxter and help them to boost their skills. You can join his free email academy here.