Thinking about a career in DevOps

Author: Crescent Consulting

Categorised as: IT, Job profile, Resources

Thinking about a career in DevOps


We chat to Hamish Watson, an iconic DevOps Consultant, living and working in Christchurch for over 20 years.  He shares with us the challenges and rewards of his career and discusses the future of DevOps. If you are aspiring to work in this space, then the information, advice and tips Hamish shares will be of interest to you.

So, Hamish, if you had to summarise what you do into a brief couple of sentences, how would you describe it?

I work with companies to help them deliver value to their clients by optimising their tooling, their delivery process or looking at better ways of working within their teams/departments.

Being a person who has worked with data for over 20 years and working with cloud platforms for the past 15 years, my main focus is on helping my clients realise the benefits of applying DevOps principles to both these areas.

Mentoring Engineers to automate the secure build of code that provisions infrastructure, which allows development teams to deploy applications in a cost-effective manner, is the best kind of day for me.

What excites you the most about the work?

My ultimate goal is to provide people with a better work-life balance. I achieve this by advocating for automation, standardization, and collaboration, which are the pillars of efficient and harmonious work environments.

At the core of what I do is caring about people – I want people to love what they do and be able to switch off and know that the automated deployment at 3 am does not require them to babysit it.

What have your biggest roadblocks been?

People and culture within organisations.

Tooling is important but you can build a website with a simple text editor if you want. You can have the best tools in the world, but you will fail if your teams don’t understand the process or the culture of secure automation.

Don’t just focus on the tools; focus on the empowerment of your people.

Getting senior management to understand that embracing true DevOps is a journey and it does not happen overnight, you need to build the culture first and that is quite hard for some people to get their head around.

What would you like someone who’s interested in a career in DevOps to know?

Diverse Skill Set: Engineers require a comprehensive skill set, including programming, system administration, familiarity with cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud, and proficiency in using automation tools such as Jenkins, Ansible, or Kubernetes. Knowledge of networking and security principles are good to have.

Understand CI/CD Processes: A deep understanding of Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment is fundamental in DevOps. Engineers must know how to automate the software release process, which enhances the speed, quality, and efficiency of development.

Tool Proficiency and Problem-Solving: Effective use of various DevOps tools like Git, Puppet, and CircleCI is crucial. Strong problem-solving skills are also necessary for promptly diagnosing and resolving software and infrastructure issues. If you are unsure what tooling to learn – look at job adverts…

Communication and Continuous Learning: Successful DevOps practices require excellent collaboration and communication across different teams, such as development and operations. The field’s fast-evolving nature also demands a commitment to continuous learning and adaptation

Integration of Security and Real-World Practice: It is pivotal to embrace a security-focused approach (DevSecOps) and apply automation across all processes. Gaining practical experience through real-world projects, open-source contributions, or internships is crucial for career success in this dynamic and impactful field.

What’s the best project you’ve worked on and why? What was rewarding about it?

I designed and coded the pipelines to deploy cloud infrastructure for an event management platform that was hosting 185,000 users on it.

The platform scaled up and down across the application and database layers as load came onto it. This saved the event company thousands of dollars on cloud platform costs, per DAY.

The best part was that the management team at that company was used to late-night emergency meetings when the platform failed to perform in previous years. The year I built out the platform, they had no such meetings.

The company was one where collaboration across all levels was encouraged – so this meant that everyone was in alignment which helped me greatly as we were all working towards a common goal and if I needed to talk to the CEO directly – I could.

Where do you see the future of the DevOps going – are there any trends you see coming up?

I think we are on the cusp of DevOps 2.0. Enough people have learned the basics of DevOps—where they at least get a consistent build of their code—to start realising the benefits of codifying their infrastructure and any manual and cumbersome tasks that introduce toil.

Going forward I see usage of AI in terms of GitHub copilot, people creating their own GPTs ( their own version of chatGPT) to automate and scale tasks that in the past required a lot of human input.

Any form of documentation can now be generated – we still need a human eye over it, but this means that even engineers can get documentation that is in realtime – any code changes will now update that documentation.

We will see more testing earlier in the pipeline—hopefully right when code is written. We will use Copilot to generate some of the code and some of the tests. This means that even before we commit to source control, we have already done vulnerability scanning and unit testing in the background.

I am a fan of Terraform – because it allows me to write code very similar if I am deploying resources in AWS, Azure, GCP or onto VMware. What I see is that the industry will move to more multi-cloud solutions.

They may host their infrastructure in AWS for lift/shift scenarios; they may do their user authentication via Microsoft Entra ID (formerly Azure Active Directory) and API management within Azure, as well as some analytics in GCP. All these resources can be built from the same paradigm – Terraform code.

I also see companies embracing FinOps – a process that combines systems, best practices, and principles to help teams make more informed decisions about Cloud spending. Cloud services are typically billed on a usage basis, which can lead to unpredictable and sometimes runaway costs if not monitored and managed effectively. FinOps provides frameworks and strategies to control these costs without sacrificing speed or innovation, making it particularly essential in dynamic environments like those managed by DevOps practices.

Now that monitoring & observability systems can utilise AI – we will see a renewed uptake of monitoring solutions which take massive amount of disparate data from many sources and present this as information across companies’ estates.

What books/podcasts/training/qualifications/professional development/etc. would you recommend for anyone aspiring to work in this space or is already in DevOps?

I use Pluralsight a lot to freshen up on technology and LinkedIn Learn.
I have used Coursera, Udemy as well as bought some cheap training modules on Kubernetes

Over the years I bought a few books:
The DevOps Handbook, by Jez Humble and Gene Kim
Continuous Delivery, by Jez Humble and David Farley
Site Reliability Engineering: How Google Runs Production Systems, by Niall Richard Murphy, Betsy Beyer, Chris Jones, and Jennifer Petoff
Database Reliability Engineering, by Laine Campbell & Charity Majors (I felt this book was so brilliant I did a number of talks about DRE)

Do the AWS or Microsoft DevOps Engineer certifications
Any of the Cloud provider certifications, as you will deploy to the cloud at some point and/or have to design/critique a Cloud-based solution.
Look at the Certified Kubernetes Administrator course – even if you just go over the learning material, as at some point you will come across Kubernetes.

What do you love about working in tech and being based in Christchurch? What’s your advice for anyone looking to relocate down here?

It is exciting and challenging, these days it is much easier to pick up skills and learn things.

Working in Christchurch is great because we have an amazing corporate community, that does collaborate. Most of my work has come from people within our corporate community.

I would recommend joining some user groups – they are free and normally have food and drink at them.

Join Canterbury Tech as this is an amazing way to network with people.

Talk to friendly recruitment people, like my good friends at Crescent as they are well-connected and always friendly.

Your solid reputation as a DevOps consultant precedes you, but so does your look. What’s your hair product of choice?

Hahahahaha – I did some marketing research work in 2020 whilst COVID was happening around who Hamish Watson was….

Big laugh
Big personality
and someone who wants to help everyone make stuff go.

During that time, I had to work from home for 1.5 years and decided that big hair was in there too…. and one day it will go, so why not celebrate it in all it’s crazy glory.

I use OSIS+ Flexwax when it gets longer, but normally, I don’t have any product in it.
It has been trained!!