The evolution of the definition of DevOps

As we step into a new year, there have been several articles posted with predictions on the state of DevOps in 2017–my favorite being the post What does DevOps look like in 2017 by Helen Beal. So, as the future is being discussed in creative ways by many, I decided to take a look backwards into some interesting observations I made on how the very definition of DevOps has evolved over the last few years. I made these observations as I researched the history of DevOps for my new book The DevOps Adoption Playbook.

As we all know, there are as many definitions of DevOps, or at least opinions of what DevOps really is, as there are blogs and tech “experts.” So, to begin my research into the various definitions of DevOps for my book, I started with the definition listed on a (fairly) neutral source – Wikipedia. Here is the current definition of DevOps on Wikipedia, last updated in 2016:

DevOps (a clipped compound of development and operations) is a culture, movement or practice that emphasizes the collaboration and communication of both software developers and other information-technology (IT) professionals while automating the process of software delivery and infrastructure changes. It aims at establishing a culture and environment where building, testing, and releasing software, can happen rapidly, frequently, and more reliably.

What I found interesting was how this Wikipedia definition has evolved over time, as DevOps has matured. For comparison, here is the definition that was posted on Wikipedia back in 2013. I actually had access to this earlier version of the definition as this is the definition I used to define DevOps in my first book–DevOps For Dummies:

DevOps (a portmanteau of development and operations) is a software development method that stresses communication, collaboration and integration between software developers and Information Technology (IT) professionals. DevOps is a response to the interdependence of software development and IT operations. It aims to help an organization rapidly produce software products and services.

This evolution of the Wikipedia definition is indicative of the evolution of DevOps itself and how the industry views DevOps. Other than the replacement of the esoteric portmanteau, which had everyone going to, the key points to note are as follows:

  • Replacement of ‘software development method’ with ‘culture, movement, or practice’.
  • Addition of the reference to automation.
  • Change of the end-goal from ‘rapidly producing software products’ and ‘services to building, testing, and releasing software, which can happen rapidly, frequently, and more reliably’.

This is recognition of the fact that the goal of DevOps has changed from being just speed, to being speed, reliability, and quality (#faster and #better).

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention what I believe is the most concise definition of DevOps ever written; I saw this first on a T-shirt at the O’Reilly Velocity Conference back in 2013:

“DevOps—taking the SH out of IT!”

Interested in a Playbook for adopting DevOps at enterprise scale in your organization? Check out my new book – The DevOps Adoption Playbook.


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