In this interview, Martin Chikilian, lead director of engineering at Toptal, digs into current DevOps trends and whether DevOps is just a fad. Martin explains why the gig economy is so big for DevOps, why there are so many unfilled positions, and what continuous concepts mean for software.
Josiah Renaudin: Welcome back to another TechWell interview. Today I’m joined by Martin Chikilian, the lead director of engineering at Toptal. We’ll be discussing DevOps, the gig economy, and making early investments.
Martin, thanks so much for joining us. First, could you tell us a bit about Toptal’s experience with DevOps?
Martin Chikilian: As a hyper-growth cloud company, DevOps has been instrumental to Toptal's internal success since its beginning. We also saw our clients ask us for talent to support with anything from server setup to complex provisioning, virtualization, and orchestration. We've seen demand for this skyrocket recently and have now launched a specialized talent pool in response.
Josiah Renaudin: Let’s start with a pretty basic question just to set the table: How would you define DevOps, and in general, what are the key benefits software teams can reap?
Martin Chikilian: DevOps is a set of practices and cultural values created to help organizations improve their software release cycles, software quality, security, and ability to get rapid feedback on product development. When successfully executed, it can increase deployment frequency up to forty-six times and reduce failure rates by 25 percent.
Josiah Renaudin: Why do you think so many DevOps jobs are being taken by freelancers and those involved in the gig economy rather than full-time employees?
Martin Chikilian: The DevOps approach has only been around a few years and involves transforming the standard and resource-intensive approach to software delivery into a modern and more automated approach. There is only a handful of talent with the depth of expertise and quality to execute this to an enterprise level standard. As you can imagine, this talent is in very high demand. For the talent, an on-demand talent model like Toptal’s allows them to work with the most high profile clients and on really high impact projects while ensuring their skillset remains at the bleeding edge of technology.
Josiah Renaudin: To build on that, why do 60 percent of hiring managers have vacant DevOps engineering positions that they’re struggling to fill if this is such a booming industry? Is there just too great a demand and not enough education?
Martin Chikilian: Demand has been growing rapidly as businesses are playing catch-up in moving to the cloud. The best DevOps talent can make a tenfold difference to how rapidly you make this shift. However, we see that many HR departments aren’t equipped to source, identify, and attract this talent.
Josiah Renaudin: What are some of the best current resources to learn about new tools, practices, and concepts related to DevOps and the continuous industry?
Martin Chikilian: We have many good DevOps articles on the Toptal blog, and Toptal has hosted events all around the world that have focused on DevOps.
Josiah Renaudin: The heavier DevOps investments are coming, but how important is it to invest in this continuous area right now? Can companies get a major headstart on DevOps if they put in the time, effort, and money now, rather than wait until it becomes more democratized?
Martin Chikilian: A few organizations have made DevOps part of their day-to-day and it has paid off quickly. Companies that have not started yet are behind and should definitely be putting time, effort, and money into DevOps. Our clients who invest in doing DevOps correctly early on see huge dividends in flexibility, speed, and scalability.
Josiah Renaudin: Is there any chance at all that DevOps, continuous integration, and continuous testing are just a fad? Is DevOps here to stay?
Martin Chikilian: Cloud was once seen as a fad and now it's a billion-dollar industry, with players like Google and Salesforce plowing in even more investment. The need for having a reliable infrastructure in place for organizations to run their applications will not only remain there, but will become more and more critical to businesses. Nowadays, 99.9 percent uptime is not just a vision that people like to pitch as a buzzword. Meeting users’ increasing demand for reliable and responsive platforms is critical for any business to succeed.
Josiah Renaudin: Can you give us some details about the new, specialized DevOps talent program coming from Toptal? What are your goals?
Martin Chikilian: DevOps is a little like the Wild West—there are lots of people who claim to know all about DevOps but don’t know what it’s really about, which often results in it being applied incorrectly. Since those who do implement DevOps properly say they’ll never go back, and with the increasing demand of DevOps talent and technologies, we needed to stay ahead of the curve with specialized ways to vet our talent.
One of our aims was to curate a group of the best proven experts in DevOps to ensure clients have a great experience as they implement this methodology. The new DevOps specialization at Toptal enables us to do this and more, creating a scalable framework that will be used to expand upon new needs in the DevOps realm as soon as we become aware of them, or even before that when people are just starting to talk about what’s coming next.
Josiah Renaudin: Last big question: What has you most excited about the future of DevOps? Where do you see it growing and giving teams the most benefits, once it matures?
Martin Chikilian: DevOps tools, technologies, and initiatives are backed up by major players like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and others, and they’re investing more time and money like never before. Because of this, we can only think of our clients’ needs to stay ahead of the curve—that’s what motivates us to pursue the never-ending goal of providing the world-class talent they deserve. We want to help clients use DevOps to rapidly scale, accelerate project delivery, and adapt to the changing business and technology environment. Given the fact that these big players release tools and libraries on a very frequent basis to be used for multiple purposes, including virtualization and server and applications provisioning, among others, we believe we need to bridge the talent and knowledge gap as quickly as possible.
Toptal is an exclusive, global network of top engineers, designers, and finance experts, empowering companies to accelerate, adapt, and scale. Toptal serves thousands of clients, including Fortune 500 companies such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Emirates, Pfizer, Axel Springer, and J.P. Morgan, among many others, delivering expertise and world-class solutions at an unparalleled success rate. For more information, please visit www.toptal.com/enterprise.