The return of the Dull Stack Engineer.

Every day we get emails from recruiters who are looking for a devops engineer to help their customer.

When we ask them if they are looking for a developer or an operations person they have no clue what to answer. Because a devops engineer doesn't exist.

DevOps Engineer is not a title

The DevOps community has a long time ago established that DevOps is not a job title, it's not a Java developer running production, and it's not an Ops girl patching java code. Neither is it the person in charge of tooling. And it certainly isn't an engineer working in a DevOps team.

But for a lot of recruiters and some IT professionals that are still working in a a traditional top/down environment and who want to become more agile, a #devops engineer simply sounds better than a senior Linux engineer, which is what they typically are looking for.

The Myth of the Full Stack Engineer
And when that mythical all in one DevOps engineer that could both write code and design, run and manage platforms couldn't be found, they narrowed their search margin.

They started looking for a Full Stack Engineer, who pretty much needed to be capable of doing the same. Or not... Because most so called full stack engineers are actually MEAN stack engineers. Engineers that typically barely understand the stack he is really working with aka the Mean Stack... Which is the stack composed of MongoDB, Express.js AngularJS and Node.js.

What a full stack engineer really means is an engineer who has experience in all components of the stack that its application touches. From the Linux kernel, to the networking, the middleware and the database components, all the way up to the web server and the frontend application.

But how many people do you know that both have their names in the Linux Kernel, can performance tune a SQL stack, debug a Java Stack-trace and even build customer facing web applications ?

Indeed, we don't know that many people with those skills or experiences And the people that mark all the checkboxes have their experience stretched over multiple decades... They didn't do all of those things together.

So both the concept of the Full Stack Engineer and the #devops engineer have come with a common problem : those people really don't exist...

The Knowledge is in the team

Building cross-functional application teams, it is about getting people with all of those skills to collaborate with each other and understanding each other. It's not about that one human being doing all the things.

Hype Driven Development

The second pattern we've seen is the concept of hype driven, conference driven, or CV driven development. Three variants of the same problem.

A developer forgets about the operational requirements for the applications being built, forgets about the non-functional requirements and jumps on the latest and newest fancy technology he/she wants to learn. Either because he/she just heard about it at a conference, because the tool he/she wants to use is really really being hyped. Or just because they want to build experience with that tool so they can add it to their CV to get that next job they want to have.

Often tools need a couple of releases to mature before they are ready to use in production, and before they are stable enough to trust with your data. It's not uncommon that frequently used tools lack crucial functionality so it can be used in a production environment. Things like support for good metrics and monitoring, or consistent data snapshots for backups.

But they jump on the hype... We take the fancy new tool and act like the cool kids. The fact that this new tool doesn't even come close to solving the business need they have, the fact that it actually often widens the gap between developers and operations people isn't important to them.

We fall into the trap and forget the most important #DevOps principle: Collaboration to bring business value.

Boring is Powerful, Boring is stable

The container movement of the past 4 years is often sadly a good example of this tendency to be driven by hype. Many organizations have jumped on Docker and other container tools, thinking that a tool adoption will help them become more "DevOps" and use microservices to gain speed and innovate faster.

Bridget Kromhout has been quoted to say "Putting your monolith in a container does not make it a micro service" - yet it's the default adoption pattern for a lot of Enterprises. They believe that containers are going to save them and solve all their development problems.

This isn't what #devops is about. DevOps was never about fancy new devops tools. Have we all forgotten one of the key principles of agile is "People over processes and tools" ?
DevOps was from the start about bringing value to the end user, the business, the customer.

And yes new technology is fun, but it doesn't mean it's stable or performant. Like Jon Topper mentioned at DevopsDays London:

"Boring is Powerfull, boring is stable"

A platform that is boring often means that there aren't any bleeding edges around it. It often means that it is more stable. Think about an engineer who is on call. He wants to be bored. He does not want to being paged every other hour.

And here is the Dull Stack Engineer

So imagine a number of people at a conference discussing this problem, joking about those Full Stack engineers with their fancy new tools who fail to collaborate. And by accident saying "Dull stack Engineer"

This is when I realized that this is actually what we want. People who care about the business and collaborating with their peers, rather than jumping on the latest and shiniest new tooling. A Dull Stack engineer.

The concept being born on a swing at a conference in Bucharest, quickly started to live it's own life. More engineers started taking pictures of themselves on a swing and endorsing others for Dull Stack engineering on LinkedIn.

Building stable platforms that brings value to your business can happen with boring old tools, there's nothing wrong with your team if they don't go for fancy containers but stick with trusted automation in VM's or even bare metal.

Because DevOps is about collaborating with your peers, it's not about tools, and once we realize that... The on-call engineers might be bored again :)