AJ McCaw, August 8, 2023
Kubernetes is one of the hottest technologies in cloud deployments. Skilled Kubernetes developers and operators are in high demand, with many organisations struggling to fill their new positions. This can cause unexpected roadblocks for businesses pivoting to embrace the agility provided by modern ways of working facilitated by cloud native, container-based delivery.
With the market firmly on the side of applicants, organisations need effective methods of finding, attracting, and retaining engineers with this niche skillset. Kubernetes is a complex technology with considerable sprawl, accessing the right talent is instrumental in ensuring success.
This article will analyse the current availability of Kubernetes expertise and discuss some ways in which businesses can adapt and respond to demand.
A Canonical survey in early 2022 found that lack of talent is still the biggest challenge impeding Kubernetes adoption. This study found that 48% of survey respondents indicated they have trouble accessing the skills they need.
Although this is a slight reduction from the figure of 2021 (55%), it should be sobering that nearly half of all firms surveyed felt they were unable to implement cloud strategies because of insufficient human resources. There are far more companies that need Kubernetes than there is talent to go around. This means companies that don’t act now to attract new employees could be locked out of Kubernetes and the cloud native movement entirely. So, what can they do to reach the few skilled engineers available?
Businesses might be able to begin with the basics of any labor shortage: enhanced pay packages, better working conditions, and perks are always going to be effective in attracting and retaining top individuals. As of this article, the average annual salary for a Kubernetes-focused role is between $105,000 – $175,000, according to the Kube Careers job board.
Some employers might struggle to justify this kind of expenditure. However, being conservative with pay today could have dire repercussions in the future. Hiring lesser-skilled talent, or failing to make a hire at all, could allow competitors to take the lead while you stay stuck with legacy infrastructure.
The rush to find talent shouldn’t preclude proper checks of a candidate’s suitability, though. There are now vendor-led training courses and certifications which indicate commitment to thoroughly learning Kubernetes. On the opposite side of the equation, mentioning certifications like Kubernetes and Cloud Native Associate (KCNA) in your vacancies can demonstrate to applicants that you’re serious about hiring top talent. This helps to send a signal that your organisation prioritises quality and is leading from the front.
You might struggle to find staff despite the offer of a six-figure salary. There are so many opportunities in the marketplace that engineers are free to dictate terms and hold higher expectations of their employer.
Businesses should assess how they can increase their appeal to maximise their chances of success. Engineers are increasingly overlooking pay, to seek companies that have a good development ethos. It pays to be seen as a “cool” organisation, using modern technologies and workflows to create an engineering-led mentality.
Many DevOps experts want a healthy degree of autonomy in their role. Allowing engineers to choose their working tools and methods can make people feel more engaged and valued.
Fostering a sense of control and achievement improves your chances of retaining key individuals over time. Retaining staff is almost always easier and more effective than hiring a replacement. Each time a team member leaves, you lose knowledge of your systems that will take time to rebuild, no matter how proficient a new hire becomes.
Making your Kubernetes roles as effortless as possible is another way to attract new staff. Automating cluster setup and maintenance activities prevents engineers from feeling trapped in repetitive, menial tasks. Allowing top talent to focus on the most meaningful work is an effective method to promote engagement and job satisfaction.
Thankfully, tooling around Kubernetes has improved considerably over the past few years. The learning curve and maintenance burden is less taxing than it once was, so it is advisable to capitalise on the ecosystem growth, by employing automation, wherever you can.
Appvia Wayfinder helps teams to effectively manage clusters, providing high-level abstractions over multiple clouds. Wayfinder orchestrates clusters on Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS), Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), and Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS). It provides self-service access for developers, supported by centralised policies to enforce consistent security rules and config values.
Using Appvia Wayfinder, you can set up workspaces that group multiple users with the infrastructure they can use. The designated Wayfinder administrator then applies global settings to the namespace, such as cloud credentials and network routes. This creates a streamlined Kubernetes experience for developers and operators alike, cutting down the time spent writing YAML files and running kubectl commands.
Another way to address the skills shortage is to up-skill existing members of your organisation. This can be an effective way of gaining more Kubernetes engineers without hiring. An engineer promoted from within has already proven their ability to work effectively in your teams, making it more likely they will remain reliable in a new role.
This approach is not without its own costs and risks. Up-skilling often takes engineers out of productive work for extended periods without guaranteeing a satisfactory result. An intensive training regime can prove overwhelming or provoke burnout. Too relaxed an approach raises costs with each day the candidate is learning instead of contributing to the business. In the worst case scenario, they could prove less adept in their new role than the one they transitioned out of.
Many organisations are also concerned about the prospect of employees leaving after investing resources to up-skill them. An unscrupulous employee could recognise that their new skills have further empowered them in the marketplace, giving them more incentive to try new opportunities.
You can often offset this risk by requiring candidates to commit to working for the business for a fixed time after their training. This may, however, create additional tensions in the workforce and lead to complications on both sides if the up-skilled employee’s performance doesn’t meet expectations.
The broader impact of removing a person from their current role should also not be overlooked. Finding a replacement developer, database administrator, or operations lead could be just as costly and time-consuming as hiring a dedicated Kubernetes engineer from the get go.
Ultimately, you should decide whether or not to up-skill based on your organisation’s circumstances. Smaller businesses may not have enough talent to tap into, making this an unrealistic option. Larger firms need to bear in mind that while up-skilling could be a pragmatic approach to the skills shortage, success isn’t guaranteed and the risks are real. Nonetheless, up-skilling is an increasingly popular choice because it’s often the most immediate solution when you’ve been unable to attract new top-tier talent from outside.
Lack of manpower is a common challenge. Today’s focus may be Kubernetes, but tomorrow’s could be something altogether different. With cloud native methods evolving each year, it is important that you plan your response to changing standards in advance.
Even if your organisation is not using Kubernetes today, evaluation of whether you’ll need it in the future is necessary. You can then craft a plan that unlocks access to talent, instead of running into deficit headfirst when you start to adopt new technology.
One way of building in passive resilience to change is to regularly provide time for existing engineers to learn new skills. This kind of anticipatory up-skilling can be the most effective long-term approach, allowing team members to evaluate new technologies as they appear. They’ll gain a degree of familiarity that can be helpful when selecting employees to enrol in retraining.
Experimentation opportunities are also a good way to keep engineers committed to your organisation. They get to enjoy the learning process in a relaxed environment while helping assess the real-world impacts of emerging technologies on your business.
Kubernetes is a relatively young technology that’s seen a surge in adoption over the past few years. This has created a highly competitive landscape for businesses looking to hire and retain talent so they can embrace the platform themselves.
With the labor shortage likely to persist into the near future, firms can use a variety of strategies to access the Kubernetes expertise they need. Some will choose to make themselves more compelling employers by offering extra perks or newfound freedom to engineers. Others may source talent from within, promoting and up-skilling existing employees in roles that are easier to replenish.
The key takeaway is that organisations shouldn’t be constrained by existing practices and employee relations. Now is the time to do what is necessary to access and retain new talent so that you can stay ahead of your competitors.