The rise of the engineer – Putting DevOps to work

Here, Alberta Bosco, senior product marketing manager of Puppet, analyses how the changing focus of technology is affecting salaries and job titles.

How important or significant are job titles? What do they say about a person’s responsibilities and rank in an organisation? Do they have anything to say about the organisation itself and trends within the wider industry? The latest State of DevOps Survey by Puppet provides an interesting insight into those questions.

The survey of 3,200 technology professionals across six continents revealed a fascinating trend in job titles with a significant increase in the number of job titles containing engineer and a sharp decline in system administrators.

Engineering success

Since the beginning of this report in 2011, software engineer was the most commonly reported job title in the US followed closely by DevOps engineer. The number of respondents in the US with the title system administrator fell from 12% to 8%. This trend wasn’t confined to the US. DevOps engineer was the most commonly reported job title in Western Europe, ahead of system administrator, system developer and system engineer.

The changes in job titles were also reflected in salary levels. On a global basis, DevOps engineers and software engineers earned salaries in the $100,000-$125,000 bracket, compared to $50,000-$75,000 for system administrators. What does this suggest? There’s an obvious difference between an engineer and an administrator. At its most basic, one is proactive and dynamic while the other is reactive and focused on managing the status quo. This goes to the very heart of DevOps and its aim of combining infrastructure stability with the rapid, frequent and more reliable building, testing and release of software.

The shift away from system-based job titles in favour of engineer suggests more organisations are starting to look beyond administering their existing infrastructure towards building and implementing a viable DevOps strategy. In other words, their view of DevOps has moved beyond passive observer status towards active and interested participant.

This might also explain the changes in salary bands for managers. In the US, those with manager, vice president or director of IT in their job title saw their salaries fall from the $125,000-$150,000 bracket to $100,000-$125,000. The pattern was replicated in Western Europe, where they dropped to the £50,000-£75,000 band. This puts them on a par with DevOps engineers and software engineers.

Enjoying the benefits

Overall salary levels for IT practitioners (aside from managers) did not change much, with the most common annual wage in the US in the $100,000-$125,000 bracket ($50,000-$75,000 in Western Europe). There were more salaries in the higher bands, suggesting wages could be rising. This may be partly based on the already noted salary differences between engineer and administrator job titles.

The benefits of DevOps were also demonstrated by the fact that those who had increased automation of their configuration management were more likely to be earning higher salaries compared to employees with a higher level of manual configuration. This highlights one of the most noticeable benefits of DevOps and the move towards increased automation of software delivery; the less time people spend on manual work that can be automated, the more time they can spend on innovation and work valuable to the business or organisation.

Some things don’t change

Unsurprisingly, salary levels varied according to the number of servers deployed in an organisation. Survey respondents at companies with fewer than 100 servers were likely to be in the $50,000-$75,000 band. Those with 100 to 500 servers were most likely to be in the $75,000-$100,000, while those whose companies had more than 500 servers were in the $100,000-$125,000 band.

Experience is still a significant factor in salary levels. While 37 percent of respondents with five years of experience or less make under $50,000, 60 percent of respondents with more than 15 years of experience earn $100,000 or more.

The survey also sought to discover the salary levels of women in the DevOps space. In 2017, only six per cent of respondents identified themselves as female, up slightly from 2016, and a small number identified as non-binary. Although the sample wasn’t large enough to perform a robust and confident analysis of global salary data by gender, it does suggest female IT practitioners in the US most commonly earn annual salaries in the $100,000 to $125,000 band.

While that is commensurate with the most common salary earned by their male colleagues, far fewer women earned salaries above $125,000 than their male counterparts. Sadly, some things are taking too long to change.

Key findings

● Salaries are holding steady around the world.
● Software engineer and DevOps engineer are the most common job titles, the number of people who describe themselves as system administrator has fallen sharply.
● Manager salaries have dropped and are on par with IT practitioners.
● Salaries increase with the number of servers up to 2,000 servers, then level off.
● Women and underrepresented groups make less money than others.

Alberta Bosco is senior product marketing manager of Puppet

Owen Gough

Owen Gough

Owen Gough is a reporter for He has a background in small business marketing strategies and is responsible for writing content on subjects ranging from small business finance to technology...

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