Why doesn’t a specialist understand another specialist? The additional role of DevOps in IT.
Many IT professionals engaged in software development face various forms of communication problems. A common example of this is holding meetings where disproportionately large groups are gathered to solve what is often a trivial issue. These meetings can escalate into interdisciplinary disputes or ‘combat meetings’, in which a dozen or more individuals may participate. Typically, most of them lack expertise in the subject matter, and merely listen, leading to unproductive work hours. During my time assisting teams as a consultant, I started to ponder the underlying reasons behind such prevalent situations.
What Lies at the Heart of the Problem?
In recent years, I have observed a trend towards specialisation among IT professionals. Financial reasons and a smaller scope of responsibility are usually the grounds to justify such decisions. While choosing specialisation itself is not a problem, the crucial moment arises when highly specialised employees begin to dominate teams. When most team members work in strictly delineated and significantly different fields, this can lead to difficulties in delivering the product. The balance between specialists and those with cross-functional knowledge becomes disrupted. Based on my personal observations, I see a clear increase in the number of specialists, accompanied by a simultaneous decrease in the number of people with technical knowledge, covering the entire project. The situation is further complicated by the ongoing high turnover of IT personnel, as well as the rapidly changing nature of the technology industry. Highly specialised individuals may be less inclined to take on other roles in the team, and may require longer on-boarding, making project implementation somewhat challenging in the case of staff shortages. Additionally, teams composed mainly from individuals with a very narrowly defined scope of responsibility, may encounter communication difficulties, when the problem extends beyond their expertise, leading to the creation of so-called „communication silos”.
Bridging the Gap Between Experts
Individuals in DevOps engineering positions, due to their knowledge of the software development process and all its components, can play a crucial role in eliminating these problems. When effectively utilized, they can provide additional value in the planning, design, component integration, and broad communication stages. They can also act as a bridge between different groups working on the project—from business, through to developers, testers, analysts, database experts, and more. When a DevOps engineer has previous development experience, they are often capable of efficiently stepping in to fill the temporary void left by a departing technical employee. Due to their continuous contact with most groups involved in the software development cycle, their integration into new responsibilities becomes significantly easier. This approach helps enhance the project’s overall stability, by limiting the decline in software production efficiency, and the risk of losing critical knowledge when an employee departs.
Striving for balance
The key challenge for IT teams is to maintain the balance between highly specialised experts and individuals with cross-functional knowledge in project and technology areas. This becomes particularly challenging as more people in the industry choose specialization. In the current situation, I believe that DevOps engineers play a particularly crucial role. Their capacity extends beyond basic problem-solving; they can take on additional responsibilities related to the comprehensive elimination of communication barriers and supporting teams in a broader way than just solving the basic problem of information exchange between development and operational teams. Furthermore, as projects grow increasingly complex each year, the demand for highly specialized employees rises correspondingly. I believe that DevOps engineers are well placed to ensure smooth communication for such teams, thus, saving time wasted on excessive meetings and endless email exchanges.
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