5 DevOps tips to speed up your developer workflow

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TL;DR: From learning YAML to scripting with Bash, here are a few simple tips for developers who want to speed up their workflows.

From CI/CD to containerization management and server provisioning, DevOps gets a lot of buzz in tech today. You could even say that it’s a buzz … word.

As a developer, you might be part of a DevOps team, but you’re focused on building great software, not necessarily provisioning servers and managing containers.

Even still, a lot of what developers, DevOps engineers, and IT teams handle in today’s software development life cycle is focused on tools, testing, automations, and server orchestration. And, that’s even more true if you’re a team of one or engaging in a big open source project.

Here are five DevOps tips for any developer looking to work smarter and faster.

Tip #1: A little YAML can make frontend work easier

Initially released in 2001, YAML has become one of the defacto languages for a lot of declarative automation—and it’s commonly used in DevOps and development work for an array of frontend configurations, automations, and more.

YAML, which stands for Yet Another Markup Language, is a superset of JSON and is notable for being a human readable language. That means it focuses less on characters, like brackets, braces, and quotes ({}, [], “).

Here’s why this matters: Learning YAML (or even stepping up your YAML skills) makes it easier to store configurations for your own applications, like your settings in an easy-to-write and easy-to-read language.

For this reason, you’re likely to come across YAML files anywhere from enterprise development workflows to open source projects—and yes, you’ll see plenty of YAML files on GitHub (it powers a product we’re pretty fond of: GitHub Actions, but more on this later).

Whether you can apply YAML directly to your day-to-day dev workflows or leverage different tools that use YAML, there are some pretty big benefits to getting started with this language—or stepping up your YAML skills.

Looking to learn more about YAML? Try the Learn YAML in Y Minutes guide.

Tip #2: A few DevOps tools to keep you moving fast

Let’s clear up one thing first: “DevOps tools” is an umbrella term that covers everything from cloud platforms, server orchestration tools, code management, version control, and dozens of other things.

So when we talk about “DevOps tools,” we’re really talking about technologies that make it easier to write, test, host, and release software, as well as reduce any worries around unexpected failures.

Here are three “DevOps tools” that can speed up your workflows and let you focus on building great software.

Git

You’re on the GitHub Blog, so we’re pretty sure you’re familiar with Git as a version control system and distributed source code management tool. It’s a mainstay of developers and a popular DevOps tool.

Here’s why: Git makes version control easy and gives teams a straightforward way to collaborate, experiment with different branches, and merge new features into the main software branch.

Learn how Git works >

Cloud-hosted integrated development environments (IDE)

I know, I know, saying cloud-hosted integrated development environments, or cloud IDEs, out loud is a bit of a mouthful (thank you, marketing). But these platforms are something you should start exploring immediately, if you haven’t already.

Here’s why: Cloud IDEs are fully hosted developer environments that let you write, run, and debug code—and they make spinning up new, preconfigured environments fast. Do you need proof? We launched our own cloud IDE called Codespaces earlier this year and started using it internally to build GitHub. It used to take us up to 45 minutes to spin up new developer environments—now it takes 10 seconds :mindblown:.

Cloud IDEs give you a super simple way to quickly spin up new, pre-configured development environments (and disposable development environments). Also, since they’re hosted in the cloud, you don’t need to worry about how powerful the computer you’re coding on is (friendly shout out here goes to the intrepid folks who have started coding on tablets).

Picture this: Your laptop fries itself (which has happened to me once or twice). You might have versions of npm, tools for connecting to your cloud provider, and any number of other configurations that you just lost. If you use a cloud IDE, you can spin up an environment in the cloud with all of your configurations, and that’s a magical thing to see.

Learn how cloud IDEs work >

Containers

If you don’t want to use a cloud IDE, dev containers are something you can use locally or in the cloud. Containers have exploded in popularity over the past decade for their utility in microservices architectures, CI/CD, and cloud-native application development, among other things. By nature, containers are lightweight and efficient making it easy to build, test, stage, and deploy software.

Learning the basics of containerization can be really handy—especially when it comes to testing your code in a lightweight environment that imitates your production environment. If you need to upgrade a library or try using an application on the next version of Node, you can do that really easily with containers before you hit production.

This can be especially useful for ”shifting left,” which is an important DevOps strategy. Catching issues or problems before you ever hit production can save a lot of headaches. If you can find those issues while you’re writing the code, that’s even better. Any problems will eventually mean more work, so the earlier you can catch them the better. After all, catching a problem before you get to the compiling stage can save you a headache or two.

Learn how containers work >

Tip #3: Automated testing and continuous integration (CI) to stay one step ahead

In any conversation around DevOps, you’ll probably hear about automated testing and continuous integration (CI). Yet while automated testing is typically part of a good CI development practice, it’s not strictly a requirement (but it should be … or at least part of your continuous delivery phase).

Most teams have some basic unit testing as part of their CI process, but stop short of testing for security vulnerabilities, automated UI testing, integration testing, etc.

Even still, these are two things that can help you step up your workflows by: (A) making sure your code works with the main branch; and (B) catching things like security vulnerabilities and other problems, so you can lessen your DevOps team’s workload.

Here’s how:

Using GitHub Actions to run automated tests

From ordering pizza to triggering an alarm, there’s a lot you can do with GitHub Actions. It all comes down to workflow automations.When it comes to setting up automated tests with GitHub Actions, you can either build your own action or leverage pre-built actions in the GitHub Marketplace.

[Learn how to build your own GitHub Actions workflow automations.]> Pro tip: Using Actions workflows that run on pull requests is a great way to check for security vulnerabilities, problems in your code, or anything else before you merge to the main branch. Doing this means you’re one step ahead and helps keep your main branch clean.

[Want to learn more about GitHub Actions? Check out our guide.]You can also configure your workflows to deploy to ephemeral testing environments. This means you can run your tests and deploy your changes to an environment where you can test your application. You can even configure your workflow to automatically tear these testing environments down after you’re finished.

All this means you’re testing things as much as possible before it’s time to go to production.

Using GitHub Actions to create CI pipelines

CI, or continuous integration, is the process of automatically integrating code from multiple people for a given project. A good CI practice means you can work faster, make sure your code compiles correctly, merge code changes more efficiently, and be sure your code plays nice with everyone else’s work.

The most powerful CI workflows are the ones that test all of the things you care about every single time you push your code to the server.

If you’re working on GitHub, GitHub Actions can do this for you, too. There are plenty of pre-built CI workflows in the GitHub Marketplace (and you can always build your own), but there are a few things to keep in mind when you start incorporating CI into your development flow. These include:

  • Run the necessary tests: Think about what build, integration, and testing automations you ideally need. You’ll want to consider things that may have gone wrong with releases in the past, and see if you can add a test for that in your CI.
  • Balance the time it takes to test your code with how fast you’re pushing new code: Let’s say you have teams pushing new code every five minutes (hypothetically), but the tests you’re running take 10 minutes to execute … that’s not great. It’s always best to balance what you’re checking and when with how long it takes, which might mean trimming your ideal list of tests down to a more realistic number, at least for your CI builds.

Get a tutorial on creating a CI pipeline with GitHub Actions >

Tip #4: Server orchestration tips for flexibility and speed

If you’re building a cloud-native application (or really even just using a few different servers, VMs, containers, or hosting services), you’re probably dealing with a few environments. Being able to make sure your application and infrastructure play well together means you can rely a little less on an operations team trying to get your software to run on existing infrastructure at the last minute.

That’s where server orchestration comes in. Server orchestration—or infrastructure orchestration—is often the job of IT and DevOps teams and includes configuring, managing, provisioning, and coordinating systems, applications, and core infrastructure needed to run software.

Pro tip: There’s a suite of tools that allow you to define and update the infrastructure you need to use.

A big advantage of infrastructure automation is improved scalability—and defined environments means it’s easier to tear down and rebuild an environment when something goes wrong (instead of starting from scratch, but we’ve all been there).

There’s another big advantage: If you want to test something, you don’t have to worry about asking the operations team to go and set up a server for you. You can instead do that as part of a workflow. You don’t have to worry about manually provisioning hardware or system requirements.

How to get started: Don’t try to replace everything in your environment with automated infrastructure automation. Instead, look for a part that might be easy to automate and start there—then the next piece and the next piece after that.

And definitely never start in production. Instead, begin with your testing environment. Once that works, move to your staging environment (and if that works, you can trust it’s good for production).

Tip #5: Repeatable tasks? Try scripting them with Bash or PowerShell

Picture this: You have a bunch of repeatable tasks that you’re executing on a local basis, and you’re spending way too much time working through them every week. There’s a better—and more efficient—way to handle this. How? Scripting with either Bash or PowerShell.

Bash has deep roots in the Unix world, and it’s a mainstay of IT and DevOps teams, and more than a few developers too. PowerShell is comparatively newer. Designed by Microsoft and launched in 2006, PowerShell replaced the command shell and earlier scripting languages for task automation and configuration management in Windows environments.

Today, both Bash and PowerShell are cross-platform (though most people with a Windows background will use PowerShell, and most people familiar with Linux or macOS will use Bash out of habit).

Pro tip: Bash and PowerShell have different ways of working. Where PowerShell works with objects, Bash passes information around as strings. Even still, whatever you choose is largely up to personal preference.

One of the more useful things I’ve done with Bash and PowerShell, for example, is building a script that pulls down the latest version of the code, creates a new branch, switches to that branch, pushes a draft pull request up to GitHub, and then opens VSCode (sub in your editor of choice here) in that branch.

It’s a series of small steps to make your life much easier. It’s something you might do once or twice a week, and if you can script that—it gives you more time to focus on what matters: writing great code.

The bottom line

There’s a big difference between an IT pro, a DevOps engineer, and a developer. But in today’s world of software development, a lot of core DevOps practices are becoming everyone’s job. Plus, any developer that can learn a few DevOps tricks can have an easier time working independently (and more efficiently at that), and continue to focus on what matters most: building great software. That’s something we can all get behind.

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