You can solve the devops talent shortage — with compassion
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This article was contributed by Chris Boyd, VP of Engineering for Moogsoft
A majority (64%) of leaders across various IT functions struggle to find skilled devops practitioners, according to Upskilling 2021: Enterprise DevOps Skills Report. That’s not surprising considering the pandemic accelerated digital transformation and drove the demand for tech talent to an all-time high. Just last year, hiring managers were trying to fill more than 300,000 DevOps jobs in the U.S.
And the problem isn’t going away. The scramble for a limited pool of devops talent will continue as more businesses migrate their assets to the cloud and the tech world increasingly shifts to ephemeral machines. Enterprises need devops practitioners to keep up with rapid app and platform improvements, but this tech talent generally has its pick of job options.
Many hiring managers and IT leaders are bewildered by exactly how to attract and maintain devops talent. After all, they can no longer rely on traditional methods like hefty salaries and attractive benefits. In today’s world, genuine job fulfillment trumps just about everything else.
Here’s the secret to building your tech team: employers have to care.
But what does it mean to actually care? And what does that look like in practical terms?
Let’s dive into the specifics.
What do I know about devops talent anyway?
There once was an overarching message that employees should be lucky just to have a job. Maybe a conversation about job satisfaction and goal achievement would come up in an annual review. But that’s not the narrative anymore.
I left a 12-year stint at one of the world’s largest domain registrar and web hosting companies. I had a cushy job, an excellent salary and the unique opportunity to rest and reinvest. But I’m not good at complacency. I’ve been a lifelong tinkerer, and my cushy job no longer aligned with my desire to play with tough problems and undercover creative solutions.
To retain people, managers have to nurture employees’ desires and appreciate them in a way that can’t be manufactured. But, outside of preschool, no one is taught how to care. So, how can managers foster a supportive, stimulating environment where employees know they’re valued?
Know your people
Managers must understand their workforces. This simple directive is often overlooked because it’s time-intensive. But investing time in knowing each employee personally and professionally will bring meaningful rewards to both employers and employees.
Frequent touchpoints go beyond sending a signal to employees that managers are interested in them. They also help leaders identify their high-potential employees and determine what makes them tick. If you give your devops talent opportunities because you care about them and understand their professional passions, they are more likely to be engaged in their work and less likely to bolt to the next best thing.
I meet with every employee under me, regardless of seniority level. That’s when l hear that one person wants X and another is interested in Y. And I keep those interests in mind, tracking projects in the pipeline and aligning work with employees’ interests.
A promising technical lead on one of my scrum teams wanted to work on an upcoming project to productize an algorithm we were implementing into Moogsoft’s platform. I had an ideal project four months out in the roadmap. And I moved it up, delaying something on the engineering side. Did the switch create a headache for me? Absolutely, but ultimately, it was worth feeding this employee’s interests and demonstrating that I supported his development. And you can’t achieve that without investing time in getting to know your people.
Be transparent at all costs
In my eyes, there are simple reasons why people show up to work each day. And I gauge each employee’s happiness based on these three elements:
- Roles and responsibilities
- Who you work with and for
While most employees can deal with one strike (e.g. you like the company and the work but feel undercompensated), most can’t deal with two. I discuss job satisfaction, based on each element of work, and try to be as transparent as possible. Of course, I work to improve any lagging elements. But even if I’m stuck, employees know that I care about them and their work lives.
Being transparent is also realizing that a business is a business, and people are going to leave. That’s a risk you take as an employer. While leaders are always at an advantage when it comes to transparent communication, managers should encourage their people to talk openly about when they feel it’s time to pursue other opportunities. Maybe you can fix the problem. Or maybe it really is time for the person to move on, and you can create a transition plan or even help your employee find the right opportunity. Regardless of the specific situation, the more information that’s shared, the better.
Provide comedic relief
Devops teams don’t need to be reminded that their roles can be stressful. During an outage, they know that there’s an immense amount of the business’s money on the line, and everyone — from the board on down — is watching and waiting. It’s not helpful for me to highlight just how high the stakes are.
What is helpful is providing comedic relief. That’s often the best way I can help an engineering team perform at its best while fixing an outage. If the boss is having a good time, the team can also relax. And it’s essential to performance and morale that teams let their guards down and know their skills are trusted.
Even without a blood pressure-raising, service-disrupting incident, I want my team to get up in the morning excited to give each other crap on Slack or roast each other with memes while working. After all, no one — devops talent included — wants to stick around for an authoritarian leadership style that requires work to be a slog.
There’s a lot of talk about increasing employee engagement and strengthening workplace cultures. While I agree that these are essential to the modern workplace, can’t managers just authentically care and the rest will naturally follow?
Chris Boyd is VP of Engineering for Moogsoft
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