I predicted something like DevOps would happen but not when or how.
Years ago I said that system administration would bifurcate into lower-level workers and higher-level workers, each group adopting different names, training regiments, and professional expectations. The analogy (which I first heard from Adam Moskowitz) was that in electrical work you have engineers that are highly educated and design complex systems; meanwhile you also have electricians who have less education but do their work by following the building codes written for them. System administration, I predicted, would make a similar split.
Now we see this happening. DevOps is, essentially, people that are working at a very high level (architect, engineer, designer) and highly skilled (automation rather than brute force). Choosing a new name enables them to break away from all the baggage that system administration carries with it. It's a fresh start. The term "system administration" has a confusing list of conflicting definitions that have accumulated over 3 decades: DevOps leaves that behind and starts with a definition that is more focused (albiet one that is still evolving). System adminstrators have a terrible reputation, just look at how we are portrayed on TV and film ("Nick Burns: Your Company's Computer Guy"): DevOps is starting with a clean slate and is making their own destiny.
I expected some kind of bifurcation but I didn't expect it to be so focused on SRE-like responsibilities. (SRE is the Google-invented term "Site Reliability Engineer". An SRE is a sysadmin that focuses on production systems and collaborates with the developers of the code being run, rather than the old waterfall or antagonistic/non-collaborative relationship that is traditional.) I guess that since I am an SRE I was too close to the situation to see it. Thinking back to my Invited Talks at LISA 2006 and LISA 2008 the seeds were there, I just didn't connect the dots.
Ok, now you know the background for what I really wanted to say. I was inspired recently because a mailing list I'm on people were mocking DevOps as "nothing new". The people on this list are all in the top 10th percentile of system administrators; the cutting edge that other IT teams hope to emulate. I felt compelled to remind them that when the other 90 percentiles catch up, we shoudn't mock them, we should say "welcome to the club!"
Alas, we (and by "we" I mean "me") have a history of not doing so.
- We'd been using Unix on expensive hardware for so long that when Linux brought POSIX goodness to the masses we mocked it, calling it 'Unix for kids'.
- We'd been using the pre-web internet for so long that when the web made it easy for everyone else to benefit from communicating electronically, developing communities and sharing knowledge, we complained that our clubhouse was no longer elite. We invented terms like "Eternal September".
- We've always had more bandwidth than we knew what to do with, but when the term "broadband" was coined to refer to high-speed internet access at home, we complained that the term wasn't technically accurate/specific enough.
- We'd been running our services out of remote datacenters for so long that when it got a name ("Cloud Computing"), we, well, we're still giggling when executives use that term.
I like to think of people on the cutting edge as the "advance team" that runs ahead of the crowd and clears the way.
When everyone else follows our lead we shouldn't mock them, we should declare victory.
So congratulations, DevOps folks! I'm glad that you are popularizing what some of us have been doing for years. I, for one, am a bit tired and ready to pass the torch.