DevOps. What’s in a name?

There is so much hype around DevOps. Personally, I’ve been doing it for a long time without knowing it. Then there was a name for it and I was pleased. I could now articulate what I do a little more crisply than “I build platforms and keep servers happy and write code and try to automate as much of my job away as possible”. It’s a safe way to kill a dinner party. Then again DevOps doesn’t play that well in many crowds either, but I can quickly see disinterest rather than rambling on.

I’ve been officially carrying the operations label for a long time. I’ve had a lot of great titles like “IT Professional”, “Principal Systems Administrator”, “Team A Manager”, “Systems Architect” and now finally “DevOps”.

This might be the first title that feels like it conveys something more real to me. It’s also a great way to make a lot of new friends in the technical recruiting field. All you have to do is add that word to your LInkedIn profile and sit back.

DevOps is only a handful of years old. Over the past year various podcasts such as the ship show, arrested devops, and the food fight show have begun lamenting the unfortunate “commercialization” or “co-opting” of the term. To be honest I’ve had a few conversations with recruiters and too many of them are asking things like “Which DevOps tool are you using?” It’s unfortunate that many seem to think of DevOps being something like puppet, chef, jenkins, etc.

Along with those concerns are some thoughts around the idea that there shouldn’t be a DevOps team or perhaps that it shouldn’t be used in a title. For example Jez Humble’s post on There’s No Such Thing as a “Devops Team” and Pete Cheslock’s post DevOps in Your Job Title Is Doing You Harm.

Both posts are well worth a read and I see much truth in them. I totally agree that DevOps is more about culture, approach or perhaps even a philosophy. That said, I do have a different take on it.

To me DevOps is just a term. It’s going to be misused. It feels very similar to the use of “Cloud”. In the end it’s just a name given to a concept. Any two individuals doing DevOps might not fully agree on it’s meaning.

We humans are wired to categorize. Most of us want to fit things into neat little boxes. Think about when you or most people see something new. The first question isn’t normally “What does that do?” Normally it is “What’s that?” It’s a request to help categorize. Give it a name and file it away.

I think that’s part of the reason tools are so easily tethered to DevOps. It’s easy to categorize them as either in or out of the DevOps realm. It’s a much easier way for many to understand rather than working through a lot of squishy cultural topics. Even worse is the inverse interpretation: if you use chef you have the DevOps in you.

Now the DevOps silo is a concern. I’ve often railed against various silos. My opinion is that a team or person called “DevOps” is really just carrying the label around if a silo is formed around the term. It’s a failure of that team or that individual. That doesn’t mean an entity called “DevOps” will always have to create a silo. The team or individual must act as an ambassador and carry the banner forward.

So if I take the term “DevOps” and use it as a way to start having the conversation it’s an enabler. It allows to shape the conversation. With that comes the responsibility to set the record straight rather than permit the perpetuation of the co-opting.

“DevOps” is a great concept and like many great concepts some people will misunderstand and misuse it.

Despite all that, I believe the interest in and overuse of the “DevOps” label is positive. For those of us with a true passion for the craft we are afforded an opportunity to push on the culture and break down silos. Ultimately it’s up to the true DevOps practitioners to un-co-opt the term and fight the good fight. Let’s embrace the term “DevOps” and own it.

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