"DevOps has this Dev-part which stands for "developing". Does it mean we can omit involving DevOps engineers and ask developers to do the full job?"
Spoiler — no.
Sometimes companies may not understand the difference between DevOps and development and think that these are the same thing with other words. However, these fields serve different functions and require distinct skill sets. It's like if you ask a copywriter to do the job of an SMM manager: despite sharing some skills and responsibilities, they have different areas of expertise and roles.
So can a developer substitute a DevOps engineer?
Let's explore the facts and clarify the difference.
Think like DevOps, act like DevOps
A DevOps engineer bridges the gap between development and operations teams within an organization or a separate project. Their job is to help streamline the software development lifecycle. To do this, DevOps engineers improve team communication and collaboration and implement automation and tools to enhance efficiency and reduce errors.
So what are the requirements for the DevOps engineer?
Well, a good specialist should have several options for resolving various problems and pick the optimal one. Of course, we do not claim that the developer cannot do it, but obviously, they don't always have sufficient knowledge to find the optimal way of achieving the goal.
As a rule, DevOps engineers are responsible for virtual server and software automation maintenance. The duties of a DevOps engineer pertain to the application infrastructure, encompassing processes surrounding application building, testing, and deployment. They play a significant role in the early stages of software projects, setting up automation for virtual servers or configuring build pipelines. In addition, once the team makes any modifications, DevOps engineers should automatically build, test and deploy the application.
Apart from this, DevOps engineers are responsible for generating scripts utilizing automated tools (e.g., Jenkins or CircleCI). These tools yield artifacts that engineers can use to develop automation and deploy fully operational applications for further testing or the final production product.
Unlike a developer, the DevOps engineer looks wider at the entire project. They should have the infrastructure, cloud computing, security, and other areas of expertise. DevOps focuses on the processes and tools to build, test, deploy and manage applications. Strong communication and collaboration skills are also necessary as DevOps engineers often work closely with the whole developing group: developers, operation teams, testers and others. So basically, DevOps engineers don't stop only at writing and testing code; their work goes beyond these responsibilities.
To sum it up, the DevOps engineer's goal is to reduce the time to market release and the failure rate of new releases and increase the application's productivity and efficiency.
What about the tools?
DevOps engineers need to deeply understand tools and technologies for automation, infrastructure management, and monitoring, such as Kubernetes, Docker, Ansible, and Prometheus. For sure, some developers may have experience of work with these tools. However, they often do not have the same level of expertise as DevOps engineers.
The touchpoint for both the developer and the DevOps engineer is IDE — Integrated Development Environment. Most developers use this primary tool or a more specialized one for coding. Still, the DevOps engineer doesn't have to deal with a specialized IDE for a specific programming language since they are not primarily involved in writing application software. Nevertheless, DevOps engineers can use numerous IDEs supporting multiple languages and aiding in code writing, such as Visual Studio Code.
The DevOps toolkit is usually represented with infrastructure-as-code tools, logging tools, cloud computing services, version control systems and automation and CI/CD servers.
The last one is another touchpoint for the developer and the DevOps engineer. They both engage with the CI/CD system, testing frameworks, and tools used for database connectivity with which the applications under development also interact.
Developing and DevOps: And the fundamental difference is…
…in three main points (if speaking strictly). Here they are:
- Focus. Developers typically focus on writing and testing code for specific features or components of an application. On the other hand, DevOps engineers concentrate on the entire software development lifecycle: from planning and development to deployment, maintenance, and monitoring. Thus, DevOps engineers need to have a broader understanding of the whole software development process supported with knowledge of tools and automation technologies, infrastructure management, and monitoring.
- Collaboration. As mentioned above, DevOps engineers interact with the whole project team to ensure the software is developed, tested, deployed, and maintained efficiently. While developers are an essential part of this process, they typically have a different level of collaboration with other teams than DevOps engineers do.
- Time management. Developers are usually focused on delivering features on time, while DevOps engineers ensure that the entire software development lifecycle runs smoothly and efficiently. DevOps engineers need to prioritize and manage their time effectively to ensure that all software development processes run smoothly.
As we see, developers and DevOps engineers share some skills and responsibilities. However, they have different areas of expertise within the software development lifecycle and, thus, cannot be substituted for each other.
When can a developer take a DevOps role?
Still, there are some exceptions, as in any rule. For example, the developer can perform the role of the DevOps engineer if the project is too small to single out a DevOps team. In such cases, there is not much work to do, so the developer can cope by themselves.
And vice versa: the developer can assist and share some responsibilities if we're speaking about a large-scale project where DevOps engineers are too busy to deal with some tasks.
For example, the developer can deal with a configuration of local deployment of the project: tools selection, their configuration, and writing scripts. For the initial project setup, the developer should be familiar with Docker/Docker-compose, Bash scripts, Vagrant, and other tools. It is worth mentioning that these tools can be widely used (for example, Docker) or specific to the project stack (npm, Maven, Ant, Gradle, and others).
The following stages might involve:
- Implementing the Version Control System (VCS)
- Selecting Gitflow
- Integrating it with the existing Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) processes in the project
The developer might also define policies on the VCS provider, such as restrictions on the approval process for pull requests.
In a "no-DevOps-project", creating a remote environment is also the developer's concern. Sometimes the environment is created manually, without the use of automated scripts. It leads to a high probability of problems with the correct deployment process building. The matter is that the developer may not have an entire picture of the project. They got used to their specific area of responsibility. When taking the DevOps task, the developer might overlook something in infrastructure, CI/CD, or other areas.
Why is it better not to…?
If a project commences without the DevOps engineer, the team often hastily attempts to resolve present issues by adopting a "do-it-now-and-sort-it-out-later" approach. While this may result in accomplishing objectives swiftly, later, it can lead to strategic issues (for example, related to dependencies).
Both the developer and the DevOps engineer are essential in software development, but they have different roles and require diverse skills. Developers focus primarily on writing code and building software applications. They typically tend to prioritize feature development over deployment and infrastructure concerns. DevOps engineers, on the contrary, are responsible for the overall delivery pipeline. They also have expertise in infrastructure and deployment tools, such as containerization and configuration management.
Although there may be some overlap in skills and responsibilities between developers and DevOps engineers, organizations need to have both roles represented in their teams.
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