Development and Operations are two kinds of role facilitating the delivery of software systems. Most organizations building software at scale will employ people in both these disciplines. Dev and Ops aren’t completely siloed though. It’s common for the teams to overlap and achieve a higher throughput.
In this article, you’ll learn to distinguish the key differences between Developers and Operators, then the ways in which they overlap. It’s useful to appreciate their individual characteristics despite the trend of combining the two. This will help you work out which area to specialize in and understand the perspective of the “other side.”
The Developer Role
Development is the older and more visible role. People working in this field write code that creates functioning software. You’ll typically have a job title such as Backend Developer, Software Engineer, or Engineering Lead.
The everyday responsibilities of developers usually revolve around writing, testing, and reviewing code. They might also engage with stakeholders to plan out the roadmap and provide technical input on the feasibility of new ideas.
Developers are skilled with one or more programming languages. They should also have a working knowledge of the supporting technologies used in their organization, such as databases and containers.
Engineers need an awareness of software security principles too. They have to be conscious of where vulnerabilities typically creep in so they can create safe code. Similar concerns such as performance and accessibility have to remain front of mind too.
The Operator Role
Operators become involved later in the software delivery process, after code’s been created and tested by developers. They deploy new releases into production and monitor live environments for issues. When an incident occurs, operators are often the front line in the response. In this field you could have Systems Administrator, Release Manager, or Build Engineer as your title.
Responsibilities placed on the operations team can vary significantly between organizations. The role often has technical aspects, such as setting up and maintaining build pipelines, but these will be focused on your toolchain, instead of the product it creates.
Many operations teams heavily rely on automation. Automated alerting systems and deployment procedures can increase accuracy and consistency, reducing the workload on team members. This frees them up to focus on other tasks, such as assigning bug reports from users to developers who can resolve them.
Operators are also responsible for scaling services in response to changes in resource consumption. They’ll need to set up mechanisms that can provision new instances when demand grows, then ramp back down again in quieter periods. The operator ensures the service constantly meets the organization’s service level objectives.
The DevOps Overlap
Although development and operations roles exist in two distinct spheres, they overlap in several ways. Many developers will utilize systems created by the operations team, while operators will benefit from some programming experience so they can understand how developers approach a problem.
As an example, Operations staff might configure and maintain the pipeline that sends code out to production environments. They’ll also define the characteristics of those environments, such as the cloud provider that’s used and the hardware resources that are available. Developers need to know this information so they can write code that aligns with the intended deployment platform.
On the other side, operators need an awareness of what developers are looking for in their tools. The methodologies adopted by the development team can inform how the service should be operated, creating a feedback loop that results in an overall efficiency increase.
Nowadays this overlap is generally acknowledged through the integrated view of DevOps. The DevOps concept describes a set of principles that result in a smoother development experience, where quality code gets shipped more quickly. It aims to establish an holistic view of the delivery process that’s founded upon collaboration and automation.
DevOps brings developers and operators closer together, allowing information to flow directly between them. Developers are encouraged to ask operators about how the system will run in production and the ways it will be managed. This makes it easier to adopt new systems, such as observability tools that require the software export metrics in a certain format.
From an operations standpoint, closer collaboration with development provides a greater understanding of how the software actually works. This can inform more optimal operational decisions, such as the type of hardware that’s provisioned and the number of instances required. Operators can directly consult developers when an issue occurs, reducing the service restoration time.
The Shared Goal
Developers and operators are both ultimately concerned with delivering quality software. They tend not to be overly involved with the broader project and the business aims behind it. Both teams will have regular contact with the project manager, to ensure the service is still meeting user expectations, but defining those expectations is not within either of the roles.
Developers work towards the goal by writing performant code that’s secure, effective, and easy for others to review. Operators ensure the final product meets the quality threshold by providing and monitoring deployment environments. They’re traditionally found later in the process but DevOps is shifting operations work left, facilitating stronger collaboration with the organization’s developers.
DevOps establishes shared responsibility for achieving the service level objectives. It recognizes that the software product is greater than either of the individual teams. It’s easier to achieve goals such as 99.9% uptime and sub-500ms latency when developers and operators work cohesively, with an awareness of what’s happening on both sides of the fence.
Development vs Operations: Which Should I Choose?
Software developers, operators, and related roles are all in-demand and commanding six-figure salaries at major organizations. Your choice should primarily depend on the type of work you want to perform.
Development is the right choice when you want to be writing product code most of your working day. It’s more than just programming though – you’ll also need to be prepared to undertake code reviews, liaise with operations, and help push deployments through the pipeline.
An operations role can suit if you’re less of a hands-on developer and have more managerial skills. You’ll be responsible for overseeing live services and making adjustments to improve their availability. Close contact with development will be essential to relay customer tickets and request code changes that simplify service operation.
As the two fields are adjacent, it’s often relatively easy to move from one to the other if you decide your position’s not working out. Working in an organization that’s embraced DevOps will let you passively pick up knowledge about the other side over time. You could even be given the chance to shadow somebody in another role if you’re thinking of making the switch.
Developers and Operators: both are essential to modern software delivery. They each work to continually improve quality while maximizing throughput.
Developers do this by crafting code that creates the application’s functionality. Operators then turn the code into a usable service by deploying it to production, scaling instances to meet demand, and monitoring for problems. Developers and Operators will often work closely alongside each other to resolve any incidents that occur.
Both these roles are highly skilled positions that require a good understanding of the software ecosystem. The good news is there’s high demand for experienced DevOps engineers, whether you fall on the development or operations side. Learning either discipline will provide access to a wide set of opportunities; familiarity with both will give you the rare ability to fully appreciate how the two perspectives align and contrast.
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