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What are the Options for Switching Your ITIL Career into Agile and DevOps

As more and more projects get into a DevOps mode of working, ITIL professionals feel insecure. The anxiety is natural as there is a lot of talk about how DevOps has made ITIL redundant and there is no longer a role for ITIL in DevOps projects.

Busting the ITIL Irrelevance Myth

Before I delve further into alternate ITIL careers, let me bust this myth that DevOps has replaced ITIL. Let’s talk about DevOps for a moment here. It is essentially made of two areas of IT – development and operations. While DevOps employs Agile project management for its development, it leans heavily on ITIL for managing operations. The whole DevOps premise is how a single team can manage both development and operations in an efficient manner.

Whenever anybody refers to DevOps, most often than not, they talk about its development side. More specifically, they talk about the various tools that are employed and their automation etc.

The other side of DevOps, which is operations is often ignored. Remember that operations makes up the other half of DevOps but it is not often talked of. The reason is that DevOps runs its operations on ITIL. And ITIL being mature as is, is not a problem area. Things are pretty stable with ITIL and operations in DevOps becomes an area that does not receive a lot of focus.

So, you should know that ITIL is here to stay. DevOps is incomplete without ITIL. In fact, DevOps cannot be effective nor function without ITIL. DevOps is a whole lot more than its pretty tools and automation. I am stating this as a DevOps architect and as somebody who has transformed several projects into DevOps ways of working.

Historical ITIL Careers and Today’s Reality

Now let’s talk about careers. In ITIL V3 we had 26 processes and every process employed at least one role. Incident manager, problem manager, change manager and so on. In 2010, I was working for a multi-national corporation as a service architect and we were transforming into ITIL ways of working. I had about 23 people working for me to manage the services. This included the likes of information security managers and asset managers.

To state simply, we can say that ITIL employed a lot of people to manage services. This was often the reason the framework in its entirety was called as a beast and many organizations shied away from full blown ITIL transformations.

The situation today is different. Very different. The underlying theme is lean and automation. We cannot imagine employing so many people in operations. Well, even in development, organizations tend to be frugal.

Now the million dollar question. We have so many ITIL experts, so many people who have staked their careers on ITIL. What do they do now?

ITIL was a big employer and even today many people work in the ITIL space. However, the reality is, as and when projects move into DevOps ways of working, the number of people working natively on ITIL processes or practices as its called now has reduced significantly.

Instead of focusing on the reduced ITIL jobs, let’s stay optimistic and look at the ground reality. ITIL brought in a large quantity of jobs, but what about the quality? Did everybody working in ITIL, find their jobs challenging and exciting enough to do it for the rest of their lives? Well, you know the answer. The answer is no. Most of the roles were repetitive and it did not require individuals to challenge themselves in coming up with a solution. Say for example, somebody working on fulfilling service requests – like giving accesses and creating mailboxes. Is that an exciting job function? No. That’s where moving out of the comfort zone, and upskilling to other jobs not only makes our working lives better, but it also pays better.

In the next section of this post, I will go through a few careers options that I believe are most apt for ITIL professionals.

Career Option 1: DevOps Engineer

One of the common roles that ITIL professionals undertake in DevOps projects is that of a DevOps engineer. While almost all ITIL roles are non-technical in nature, the DevOps engineer role is very much technical. You might ask me, then how is it that a non-technical professional can undertake a technical switch?

Two things that we need to remember. People in IT are on a constant journey of learning. Every year, we need to pick up new stuff, forget legacy skills and get trained on the trending topics. So, getting trained as a DevOps engineer may not look like a normal progression but it is not a hyperbolic switch as well.

Secondly, you need to understand what it takes to be a DevOps engineer. DevOps engineers need to work on several tools. So the training they undertake is on tools. They must understand how the tools work and based on the architecture, they need to configure the tools.

There is a wrong perception that DevOps engineering involves coding. I know many of us cringe upon hearing the word coding. The truth is that, to become a DevOps engineer you need not code. There is no coding needed. Wait! Don’t get too excited too soon. However, DevOps engineers are expected to script – in other words they need to write scripts. There is a world of difference between coding and scripting. In coding, you develop a new program using logic and coding syntaxes. Scripting is merely passing commands. Yes, you need to use logic but it is basically knowing which command to use at what juncture. If you can do that, you can script. All of us can script. It’s just that we need to set our minds into doing it.

If you are serious on becoming a DevOps engineer, there are two scripts that I urge you to learn. And you can do it within a week. Learn Shell scripting and learn PowerShell scripting. Shell scripting is more universal in nature for a majority of tools out there. PowerShell is limited to Microsoft toolsets. But given that we have several Microsoft tools ruling the market, I strongly encourage you to learn PowerShell as well.

If you get a good handle on DevOps tools and with a good bit of DevOps understanding, your next target will be that of a DevOps architect. This position is hot like lava and there are not too many quality DevOps architects out there.

Career Option 2: Cloud Administrator

While DevOps engineering deals with applications that are mainly related to application side of things like a code repository, code review tool etc, cloud administration is on the infrastructure side. Cloud deals with servers, networks, firewalls and all things infrastructure. Well, there is something called as cloud native which is a combination of cloud and DevOps tools. I will not go into that in this topic as its not relevant.

A cloud administrator is somebody who manages infrastructure. The role entails spinning up environments, working with accesses and it goes into security modules as well. To become a cloud administrator, an ITIL professional needs to undertake trainings and there are plenty available depending what kind of cloud interests you. The most popular is AWS from Amazon followed by Microsoft Azure. Then there are others like Google Cloud and Oracle Cloud. The list is practically endless with new ones popping up every other day. I would let you do your own research on which cloud to jump onto.

Managing infrastructure is mainly a GUI based activity. You have menus and options, and creating new infrastructure and managing it is seamless as long as you know what you are doing. However, it is recommended that you accompany your cloud knowledge with Unix commands and one of the scripting languages. It helps as some cloud tools behave better through commands than GUI – they are still old school.

You are expected to learn about infrastructure, like how servers interact with each other and some networking basics as well.

A cloud administrator has plenty of demand as most on-prem environments are moving into cloud and the demand for able cloud admins is accompanied by a fat paycheck. If you can administer well, you can take the next step towards becoming a cloud architect – where you can design infrastructure rather than follow architect’s lead in spinning up infrastructure on the cloud console.

Career Option 3: ServiceNow Administrator

The last technical role that I recommend is for an application that is closely associated with ITIL. ServiceNow is a premier service management tool and most organizations use it, making it an attractive career option for ITIL professionals.

The level of technical skill upgrade that ITIL professionals have to undertake is less compared to the DevOps and Cloud options. If you choose to be a ServiceNow administrator, then you probably can do everything on ServiceNow using GUI options and not a bit of coding. There is an option available for those with an inkling towards coding where you can get into the role of a ServiceNow developer which requires some coding skills to develop and customize functionalities and integrations.

ServiceNow offers career options as well. Once you are well versed with the application and the ITIL framework, you can look at becoming a ServiceNow architect which is a lucrative career option and there is plenty of demand in the market.

While I have restricted to exploring technical options to most logical and easier transition in terms of skill upgrades, there are several other options that can be explored.

Career Option 4: Scrum Master

If you are an ITIL professional who just cannot do technical, then there are a couple of options that you could look at  which are hot at the moment.

Read: Is a scrum master a version of a project manager?

Scrum master is a role that is much in demand and with most organizations moving into Agile from Waterfall, the demand for scrum masters is at an all time high. The role however expects you to understand the process of software development. For ITIL professionals, understanding processes comes easy. So to switch from operational to development processes is not a big deal if you ask me.

A scrum master is somebody who delivers development projects, not in a command and control style as project managers, but in a facilitative way. Think of an incident manager on a bridge trying to coordinate between various parties to arrive at a resolution. The role of a scrum master is similar. He needs to work with the team, and resolve any impediments that may crop up.

In my experience, I have seen a number of my ITIL proteges move into the scrum master role and they have excelled. The career options that a scrum master role provides is endless. Somebody who wants to go higher up the Agile ladder, who has a mindset of a service architect, can become an Agile Coach. An Agile Coach is somebody who defines, trains and implements Agile processes. A combination of Agile and some technical knowledge can take you a step higher to the DevOps architect role. If you want to define how a product would shape up, then there is another lucrative role called a product owner. As I said, there are endless possibilities.

Career Option 5: Agile PM

The last role that I am going to recommend today is that of an Agile PM. This is a cross between the waterfall project manager and an agile scrum master. There are organizations, despite having moved into Agile, want to retain certain level of control and not leave everything to agility. Such organizations want to have a typical project manager who is able to run projects in an Agile manner.

So basically an Agile project manager acts as a scrum master where needed, like removing impediments and running projects in an Agile manner. And then the Agile project manager retains functions that relate to managing scope, schedule and costs.

For ITIL professionals, this is yet another excellent choice where they can leverage on their project management skills and couple them with scrum master skills. I have also seen a natural progression of such projects becoming DevOps teams with the addition of operations scope. With operations moving in with development, the ITIL professional who has moved into an Agile PM role will have the breadth and experience of managing operations. And if I was a customer, I would like to have an Agile PM who is well versed with operations. Who else than an ITIL professional to do it.

The natural progression for an Agile PM could either be an Agile Coach, DevOps architect or even a program manager.

In conclusion, I want to assure you that the experience you pick up with ITIL is evergreen. You should know how to apply it into other areas of IT. And be willing to get upskilled. If you can do that, you are set for a great career.

If you have any ITIL career related questions, leave them in the comments section below.

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