If it’s time to add to your skill set and improve your DevOps career, a new programming language is always a good choice, but a fundamental understanding of your company’s business might be better.
Spending time to understand the “business side” isn’t just a nice-to-have – it can literally be the difference between remaining an individual contributor or moving into management. It’s so important that in our 2021 Global DevSecOps Survey, respondents ranked “subject matter expertise” as one of the top skills they’d need for their future DevOps careers.
If you plan to stay a pure technologist and don’t want to manage anyone else or engage in strategy development, you can stop reading now. But if you want to jumpstart your DevOps career, be prepared to put in a couple of hours each week on the following six areas of subject matter expertise. (This is all while staying current with your tech skills, of course.) Enlist your HR department, your manager, and your mentor(s) for information and start adding to your DevOps career right away.
Find out all you can about your company. Yes, you probably got a bit of this when you first started working there, but you could likely use a deeper dive or a refresher. If your company has a knowledge-sharing wiki or library that includes materials about the company’s history and background, make that your go-to. Do a web search. Really explore your company’s website. What’s on the home page? What are the major sections of the site, and what’s being promoted and/or explained to your company’s customers? (And do re-check from time to time; this isn’t a one-and-done process.)
If your company started out doing X and shifted to Y, when did that happen, and why? (If you’re on Slack or another company-wide communication platform, those can be great places to ask about the past and course corrections.). Soak up any history and as much of the culture as possible. Learn about the business you’re in. If your company manufactures widgets, become better-versed in the fundamentals of widget manufacturing. The web is your friend here; you can learn tons for free. Here are some questions to ask:
- Does the company make or create everything it sells, or does it partner with others?
- How does the manufacturing process work?
- Where are the plants?
- Is the company hitting snags these days because of shipping problems or shortages of parts? What’s it doing to address these?
- What are the major trends affecting the business now, and what’s projected for the next couple of years?
Search for analyst reports about the industry you’re in. And even if you can’t get the full reports without paying for them, you can soak up enough from the key takeaways or executive summaries to understand the most important trends. Find out which key publications – online or paper – your management reads to keep up with the industry. Subscribe, or at least read them from time to time.
Do some competitive research. You don’t need to create a hugely detailed competitive analysis, of course, but know your firm’s major business rivals –- who they are, what sets them apart from each other, and what differentiates your own company from the rest of the pack. Your marketing department likely already has this document.
Absorb all you can about your company’s external customers. Who are they and what products and services do they buy from your firm? If your company’s done focus groups, or surveys, or anything to do with finding out about customer preferences, read through at least the executive summaries to get the big picture. Again, the marketing department will probably have materials you can read.
Acquire essential business know-how. Basic communication skills – both oral and written – are key to doing pretty much anything on the job, no matter your role or seniority. It’s essential to be both concise and clear, and those are learned aptitudes, not bestowed at birth. As you progress in your career, you’ll need to be able to communicate with internal customers and make presentations to managers and others.
Seek out leadership, problem-solving, and negotiation skills to improve how you work with others. Those skills will also help you get to consensus in meetings as quickly as possible. Basic financial management is also key (Coursera courses, books, or a community collegeare good options); you’ll want to learn how to shepherd tech projects that come in at or under budget and understanding some level of finance will save you when talking to higher-ups who are all about the bottom line. Practice (or learn) time management skills. Yes, you depend on others for pieces of the projects you work on. But you should learn to use your own time most effectively and not be The Person Who Holds Everything Up or is hopelessly disorganized anytime someone asks you a question. This will also help you juggle multiple projects without crashing and burning or having to work 12-hour days. Bonus: These techniques can be very helpful in your personal life also.
Your DevOps career goal with learning all of this is to develop the knowledge and tools you need to think broadly about how tech can solve problems, make or save money, create new products and services, and delight customers.
The more you know about your company, your customers, and the business you’re in, the more you’ll be able to combine that knowledge with your tech smarts. Yours might be the next game-changer idea that results in your promotion or a nice, fat bonus. The sky’s the limit.