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Is the SAFe DevOps Certification For Me?

Scaled Agile, Inc has a new certification course called SAFe DevOps. Is this course right for you, your career or your organization? Find out more below!

 

Welcome to Course Chats. This web series is designed to answer a simple, yet critical question: Is this particular certification course right for me? While this question doesn’t sound that difficult, it quickly becomes challenging when you realize that most agile-related courses hover around, or exceed $1000 per seat. That may not be too bad if your boss is paying for it, but when the bill lands in your lap, well here we are, then.

One more quick note: At no point will the information presented in this article be a substitute for actually sitting through the course under question. We are going to be taking a very high-level overview of the content and spending more time talking about how this certification fits in your career path. As such, some of what I’m about to post will be my own humble opinion.

In today’s article we are looking at one of the newest certification classes out there, and a really hot topic as well, Scaled Agile, Inc’s SAFe DevOps course. Without a doubt DevOps is, rightfully, the darling of the agile world these days. So what is this new certification that’s coming out of Boulder?

Let’s run through the details: This is a two-day course that will provide you with a solid understanding of what DevOps is, and how it plays in a corporate environment. During the course you will be taking a long look at Continuous Exploration, Continuous Integration, Continuous Deployment, Release on Demand and SAFe’s CALMR approach to DevOps. Additionally you will be exposed to value streams and how to execute an implementation plan for improving your organization’s delivery pipeline.

Sitting through the course comes with the opportunity to pass a new test and get the SDP, the new DevOps certification. Given the reach of SAFe, it will be a pretty good bet that this will be a powerful certification as agilists around the world realize the power of DevOps and get onboard with this game-changing approach to delivery. If you would like to get the entire course description from the Scaled Agile website, you can find it here.

That’s a great bit of detail, but let’s talk about the meat of this thing. Is the SAFe DevOps course right for you? I believe that in many cases the answer will be, ‘Yes’. Let me explain.


To start, if you are thinking about signing up for this course, don’t let the SAFe orientation give you pause. Naturally, the skills and knowledge will be welcome in any SAFe shop out there, but DevOps cuts across more than just development. Regardless of what style of agile your development teams are practicing, the skills and information presented during these two days will be valuable. I guess the best way to say it is that being in a SAFe shop isn’t a requirement for the usefulness of this course, but it you are in a SAFe shop, then you should think strongly about taking this class.

And the content? Well, before we dive into the specifics, let’s talk bigger picture things. Most DevOps learning occurs today at one of two extremes; either the content is a technical nuts-and-bolts thing that talks very low-level implementation details, or its a higher-level-abstract thing that talks about how to enable DevOps organizationally, while leaving the details to the DevOps team who will implement that transition.

SAFe’s DevOps course lands firmly in the second half of that spectrum. It won’t directly walk you through how to setup any server stacks or the latest cloud-based products, but it does talk about how to position your organization to insist that those things happen. I don’t consider this a bad thing, after all, how many people take Scrum Master courses in order to learn to code? Hopefully not many.

Does this mean that the SDP is only for management? Not even a little bit. Remember back in the days when very few people knew what a Scrum Master was? When you were one and you showed up in a Dev team, your first job was training. You had to show everyone how to do basic Scrum. For Scrum practitioners, that isn’t the situation so much anymore, but it still is for DevOps. In many organizations, the first person to hit the floor with a DevOps cert will likely become the go-to person whenever questions about DevOps crop up. Conversely, the person most people go to for DevOps answers, might be a good candidate for this cert! If you are living either of those situations, then this course is very much in your ballpark.

One more point before we dive into the content. If you haven’t yet read the excellent DevOps Handbook, by Gene Kim and others (Gene also was the author of the Phoenix Project) then you owe it to yourself to do so. The book and the SDP course both track along very similar lines. In my study of both pieces of knowledge, I didn’t find any locations where one contradicted the other in any significant way.


 Finally, on to content. This graphic is SAI’s DevOps Health Radar, used here with permission. Course attendees will become very familiar with this, as it forms the basis for the course content. Starting in the upper right and continuing clockwise there are four major domains: Explore, Integrate, Deploy and Release. Each domain has several subdomains within it that all form a repeating cycle of DevOps improvement.

DevOpsHealthRadar

Note that this cycle encompasses all three ways of work that both the DevOps Handbook and the Phoenix Project talk about:

  • The First Way: The Principles of Flow is housed in the Integrate, Deploy and Release quadrants of the radar.
  • The Second Way: The Principles of Feedback is mostly contained in both the Deploy and Release quadrants.
  • The Third Way: The Principles of Continual Learning primarily live in the Explore and Release segments.

Those of you who are familiar with SAFe will also recognize the four components of a Continuous Delivery Pipeline that SAFe talks about. These are: Continuous Exploration, Continuous Integration, Continuous Deployment and Release on Demand. Since each of these is such a critical part of any agile implementation, its nice to see each topic get so much attention.

This radar is used throughout the course to help practitioners understand how to guide and move their organizations toward the center of the radar, where Alignment, Quality, Time to Market and Business Value all live. The courseware falls out into segments based on the four major domains with sub-chapters talking about the sixteen sub-domains. This course is very strong on class participation and group-learning activities, ala Training From the Back of the Room, by Sharon Bowman.

 

There is one more major piece of content, in my opinion. Class attendees will be shown a telemetry-based method for digging into their entire delivery pipeline and easily identifying the parts of it that would offer the best opportunities for improvement. Even if you aren’t sure what your pipeline is, the class will cover methods for defining it. Once you have it mapped, you will apply metrics and make a decision on which part to improve first, then start at 12:00 on the radar with Hypothesize, proceeding through each quadrant until you come back around to the top. When you are back there you will keep on cycling through the process.


 Whew, this has gone on for a much longer word count than I expected! Is the new SDP certification for you? Yes, I believe that it is, if you are:

  1. A Developer who:
    1. Is involved in DevOps
    2. Has people regularly coming to you for DevOps answers
    3. Wants to grow your career in or into DevOps
    4. Is suffering under the old way of delivering software
  2. A Manager who:
    1. Interfaces with or runs a DevOps team
    2. Wants to lead your teams into a much more sustainable way to deliver software
    3. Is tired of shuffling on-call schedules during deployments and other pain points from how it used to be done
  3. A Leader who:
    1. Wants to reduce the risk inherent in any big-bang deployment
    2. Wants to protect not only your company, but the people in it
    3. Wants to attract the best, brightest tech people to working for you

And of course, if you are any of those roles working in a development shop that already practices SAFe, then, yes, this course is for you. After all, SAI has been preaching DevOps for a while now, the knowledge represented in this course is nothing new, only the certification is.

One short, personal note: My first introduction to DevOps was back in 2014 and it was old style. We did big-bang deployments that touched thousands of users all at once, and it was a flaming dumpster fire. The lady who was standing in as the release coordinator routinely clocked in 70-hour weeks at every single deployment. For weeks at a time. That's a horrible thing to do to any human being.

Since then I’ve helped many organizations do a better job at DevOps, and it’s hugely rewarding to see how far this discipline has come. Wherever you sit on your company’s org chart, you owe it to your company, the people around you, and yourself to get these skills under your belt. Don't worry about the SAFe .

Thank you all for your time, I hope this post has been helpful.

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