Why DevOps is one of the most difficult jobs in a bank

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Investment banks are embracing ‘devops’ – the set of practices that operate at the boundary between operations and IT development to encourage better collaboration between teams and the faster release of new software and products. The jobs are plentiful (Morgan Stanley has 50 that mention the word, JPMorgan has over 300) – but good luck to anyone who takes a devops job in the finance industry.

Devops is designed to bring teams with very different priorities closer together: operations and IT development.

Operations teams are all about running stable and reliable systems. When something works well, they like to keep it that way, unless they can be persuaded that something really adds to the system’s security or performance, for example,

By comparison, development teams are all about change. They are tasked with writing new systems or changing existing systems to meet the needs of users or clients. Theoretically these are fully tested and reliable, but as the pace and complexity of change has increased, it’s become almost impossible to test a change fully.

Developers’ challenge when it comes to releasing new products is compounded by the fact that the new developments often require updated software tools, but that older versions of these tools are usually working with other applications. The newer versions always bring a risk of not working with the old stuff. This is especially the case when an old version didn’t do something that was required, so a programmer created a workaround. When the new version is loaded, that key workaround suddenly won’t work. And sometimes these changes haven’t been documented.

The role of devops, then is to act as a bridge between these two systems. In old-fashioned change management speak, it’s a bit like the difference between ‘run the bank’ and ‘change the bank’. The devops professional carries a huge responsibility for bringing the two teams together and getting it right.

Getting it right isn’t at all easy though. In banking today, it is nearly totally impossible for a bank to run a completely parallel system alongside their current live one in order to truly test from end to end and side to side. Devops jobs are therefore about preparing as best you can for a change and then crossing-fingers, and that can be very stressful indeed.

Graham Drew is the pseudonym of a consultant who works in banking

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