Why Startups Need DevOps Early, Especially Now


Click to learn more about author Pato Echague.

Building a tech startup is an exciting yet challenging process to navigate. Finally, developing your dream into reality is thrilling. Still, the fear of making a misstep around engineering efficiency or product-market fit can be very stressful — especially when you consider that 90 percent of tech startups fail. One of the common mistakes startups make is not investing in a comprehensive and robust DevOps team in the beginning.

Engineering is typically a startup’s first batch of hiring, especially those startups without an engineer-founder, but most startups don’t focus on building a comprehensive DevOps team until much later on. An early focus on DevOps, specifically quality automation folks (QA) and software reliability engineers (SRE), can dramatically change your company’s trajectory.

Quality Automation Engineering

Many startups avoid hiring a QA engineer or team in the early days because they would rather spend capital on engineers to build out the core product, or they don’t have many customers, or they expect those core engineers to do the testing. However, these concerns are rooted in viewing QA as a tactical function, which it is not. It’s a strategic one.

Startups that succeed are usually the ones that iterate fast in search of product-market fit. That’s where having a QA engineer can help. They build systems and tests that put guardrails around the rest of the engineering team, who will be moving fast to find that product-market fit. At the speed engineers are moving, there can sometimes be mistakes, which can cause things to break. However, with a QA engineer around, it won’t disrupt hours or days even when things fail. The productivity benefits that a QA engineer brings outweigh the financial costs.

The best time to hire a QA engineer is when a company still has few customers, as this should be the point in the company’s life when their product rapidly increases in its surface area. As you rush to achieve product-market fit, each step on the journey will bring a batch of new features. Having a QA engineer on board means that the quickly expanding product will always go through testing. This, in turn, ensures that as you gain customers, they won’t be experiencing bugs that can ruin their experience.

Software Reliability Engineers

An SRE is a position that was first created by Google, which came up with the role to address site reliability challenges. An SRE’s focus is on availability, performance, capacity planning, system design advisor, monitoring, and alerting. While some may see an SRE as an opposing role to DevOps, this is not the case. Both roles complement each other, as the SRE creates an environment that is more predictable and debuggable for DevOps teams.

Once a startup has gained paying customers, the demands for “five nines of uptime” start flooding in, and the bar for site performance and resilience continues to increase. This is why an SRE is a critical role for startups to have in their early stages.

Experiencing downtime is damaging to a startup and not just financially. It can also be a significant blow to your reputation — not something many startups can afford to take early on. Credibility is key to the success of a startup. If there are any technical issues that impact accessibility, they often take time to repair, and time is not something many startups have. Downtime can also lead to contractual breaches that can escalate into much bigger problems.

An SRE is a crucial role to fill in the early days of a product or feature’s design. Before code reaches production, engineering teams should lean on the SRE to help formulate the service level agreements (SLA) and service level indicators (SLI) upon which they’ll model the code and solution. Setting these performance indicators allows for the engineering team to determine the best architectural model or design paradigm.

Comprehensive DevOps: More Important Than Ever

Having a comprehensive DevOps team from the beginning has always been important for a startup to be successful. But today, it’s more critical than ever, as companies are experiencing new challenges and demands they never previously had to meet.

As more people rely on technology to carry out their everyday personal and work tasks, companies need to update their features and products to remain on top of customer demands. Having a comprehensive DevOps team means that a company’s engineers can operate quickly yet efficiently to meet these demands. A QA engineer will ensure test coverage for all new features going out, and an SRE will ensure that your team meets key performance indicators for each new feature.

As people and companies continue to adapt to a new normal, the goalpost for a successful tech startup remains on the move. A robust DevOps team available early in your startup’s life equips you with the skills and tools needed to meet those challenges and become

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