Work Today: What DevOps and the On-Demand Economy Have in Common

DevOps is a new approach to software development and delivery. The "gig economy" (or on-demand economy), composed of freelancer workers, is a new way to structure work. These two trends may seem to have little in common. But they do. Here's how.

Christopher Tozzi, Contributing Editor

August 16, 2016

4 Min Read

DevOps is a new approach to software development and delivery. The “gig economy” (or on-demand economy), composed of freelancer workers, is a new way to structure work. These two trends may seem to have little in common. But they do. Here’s how.

As someone who writes about DevOps on a freelance basis, I spend a lot of time thinking about both the DevOps scene and where freelancer workers fit in to the modern economy. And recently, I’ve begun recognizing how each of these new systems share some core ideas. They include…


One of the main selling-points of DevOps is its ability to deal with scale in software delivery. Using tools like containers and methods like continuous delivery of new code, admins and programmers can ensure that apps and infrastructure adequately meet shifting demand. DevOps means that if you suddenly have more users, you simply spin up more containers to handle them.

The gig economy works in a similar way. It allows companies to add more workers on demand by contracting with freelancers.

I’m not saying we should think about freelance workers as resources that are as disposable as Docker containers. But there is a deep similarity here.


Breaking software delivery down into small, interchangeable pieces — in other words, making it modular — is another core tenet of the DevOps mindset. This strategy frees programmers from the burden of having to do “full-stack” development, which requires them to know about all aspects of the app they build. Instead, a programmer can focus on only the particular part of the software delivery pipeline that matches her particular expertise.

The gig economy makes work modular, too. Rather than hiring a full-time employee and assigning a broad range of responsibilities to him, employers can find freelancers who specialize in each of the tasks required to complete a goal. That approach can be better for employers and employees (or freelancers) alike, since workers can focus on doing what they’re really good at, and only that.

Eliminating bottlenecks

Part of the reason why DevOps has become popular is that it promises to eliminate bottlenecks in software delivery. Because DevOps makes software delivery continuous, a problem in one part of the delivery pipeline doesn’t mean that the entire development team has to halt its work until the problem is resolved.

Freelancers can deliver similar value. When workers work a per-project basis, a glitch with one worker’s assignment doesn’t delay everyone else. That is less likely to be the case when a large team of full-time employees is working side-by-side on many interrelated tasks.

Faster delivery

DevOps promises to get new software to users faster. That’s one of its main benefits.

In a similar vein, freelance workers can help companies deliver products and services faster. That’s not because freelancers necessarily work faster or more efficiently than full-time employees. But they do usually work on a contract basis, with fixed delivery deadlines and payment contingent on their ability to meet those deadlines. That doesn’t hurt when it comes to getting workers to complete assignments on time.

Plus, companies who work with freelancers can find workers who are prepared to complete a task whenever they need it. Full-time workers may not have that flexibility, since they could be overwhelmed with other work, on vacation or otherwise preoccupied in ways that can cause delays in the delivery pipeline.

The differences

The parallels between DevOps and the on-demand economy are not endless, of course. In some ways there are important differences between these two trends.

For example, the DevOps mindset emphasizes constant communication between all members of the team. When it comes to work, however, constant communication is harder to achieve if the work is done by freelancers working on a contract basis. They are less likely to have constant and ongoing communication with one another or with the full-time staff at the company they contract with.

I also don’t mean to suggest that either DevOps-based development or freelance-based work is the best fit for everyone. It’s not. There’s still something to be said for full-stack developers. And the gig economy has all sorts of discontents for employers and employees alike. Those issues will have to be worked out if Intuit was right in its 2010 prediction that 40 percent of workers will be freelancers by 2020.

Still, the popularity of both DevOps (which 88% of enterprises say they have or will adopt) and the gig economy (which is growing quickly) shouldn’t be overlooked. Both movements are exerting significant impact across the channel. If you want to understand why, look at what they have in common.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.

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