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A Rebooted Approach to DevOps Training

A new educational initiative to teach DevOps best practices aims specifically to prevent federal government employees from falling victim to the Airline Magazine Syndrome.

Never heard of it? That's what InfoZen President Raj Ananthanpillai calls the situation in which someone receives important and exciting information, whether by way of an airline magazine or a DevOps course. But a week later, for whatever reason, all the excitement and plans for implementation have disappeared.

In the federal government, “people try to do DevOps or agile and then they get bogged down or something happens and then it fizzles out,” he told Nextgov.

In an attempt to avoid the pitfall, Ananthanpillai said InfoZen’s initiative DevOps University plans to use real-world scenarios, hands-on experiences and training for agency employees at both the executive and front-line levels.

Agile capabilities, such as DevOps, a strategy connecting the development and operations communities, have become something of the gold standard for federal agencies creating and implementing quick, cost-effective innovative IT. But although entities such as General Services Administration’s 18F have had success with these practices, other agencies aren’t as lucky.

DevOps University is far from the only private sector program focused on honing these skills in federal government employees, but its specific approach is distinctive.

“Rather than being trained by somebody who’s essentially just going to go off of a sheet of music that says, ‘here is a subject and we're going to talk about the subject and after the end of the subject, we're going to do a test’ . . . the training is more of simulating what it feels like to be in a startup environment,” said Jeff Highman, InfoZen’s vice president of software development, in an interview with Nextgov.

Scheduled to begin in September, DevOps University is designed to focus on one specific discipline, continuous delivery, in which teams produce software on an ongoing basis.

The program is expected to involve two tracks, one geared toward the executive-level employee and one designed for those working on the ground floor of an agency (although individuals are encouraged to take both).

The leadership strategy course is meant to provide its participants with a real-world roadmap for using DevOps in federal agencies. It leads students on a progression from traditional practices, such as the systems development life cycle and the waterfall strategy, to DevOps practices, Highman said.

“If you give them a specific roadmap that says, ‘this is how you do it’. . . and give them a cookbook-type recipe, with all the ingredients and exact measurements and how you determine the final output, it makes it easy,” Ananthanpillai said.

The practitioner course is expected to involve no more than eight students for each session and is designed to be very experiential. Participants will be expected to develop a product, deploy it online and post its source code on GitHub, Highman said.

“If you've never worn glasses before, I could describe to you the concept of what glasses are, how they improve your vision, but you would never really feel what glasses were like until you actually put them on,” he said. “That’s what we're trying to build.”

In the future, they expect to add additional curricula and form partnerships with universities, Ananthanpillai said.

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