KPMG's Lead DevOps Engineer Ariane Gadd addressing the crowd at our recent tech meetup in our London office

Q&A with Ariane Gadd, Lead DevOps Engineer at KPMG

Following our recent tech meetup ‘What on Earth Does KPMG Know About DevOps?’, we caught up with Ariane Gadd, Lead DevOps Engineer at KPMG, to find out a bit more about her career, the business, and what we can expect for the future of DevOps. If you missed out on the event, but would like to know more about a tech career at KPMG, please contact Sourcing Partner Calum McMahon via Calum.McMahon@kpmg.co.uk.

Tell me a little about yourself and your career. What drew you to DevOps?

I joined KPMG on the Technology Delivery Graduate Scheme. During the scheme, I was approached to join the Infrastructure Team as one of KPMG’s first DevOps engineers. I started out in a team of just three, where I was given a lot of investment to develop my skills and support to learn on the job.

Four and a half years later, our team sits at over 100 and I’m responsible for leading my own team to deliver some of KPMG’s most exciting DevOps projects. I’m currently leading a team on a big migration for one of our clients, which I’m really enjoying.

So, you joined KPMG on their graduate scheme and have been with the business ever since. What attracted you to the company, and what keeps you there?

One of the things that I really like about working in DevOps at KPMG is the variety. We have access to such a range of projects here, so there’s always the opportunity to learn and develop your skillset. I work with different developers and different tools, and I have the independence to choose which I use when. To an extent, that means you can shape your development.

If I think a new tool will help me with a project, I have the scope to go out and learn about it in a safe environment where someone else can probably field any questions I have. We’re constantly learning from the work we do and from each other, but there’s also the opportunity to develop formally through courses. All of our certifications are paid for and we can apply to go on any course that is relevant to our work.

Beyond that, one of the things that keeps me there is the culture and, in particular, the team I work in. It’s a really collaborative, fun environment with great leadership. Everything is flexible, from the hours you work to the tools and methodologies you use. And we’re encouraged to share knowledge, to seek help from each other, and to work together.

It’s the sort of environment you might expect to see in a start-up rather than an international accountancy firm like KPMG. For me, there’s something quite unique about it – on the one hand, you have this huge business with all these impressive clients and their diverse challenges; on the other, you have this very intimate, autonomous, and collaborative way of working. It’s the best of both worlds.

What should everyone in DevOps be looking at right now? What trends do you think will shape the industry in the coming years?

I’m particularly interested in the future of Cloud in DevOps, and how we’ll make use of the managed infrastructure that the big Cloud providers are offering. Using Cloud in this way will also enable us to harness Big Data, AI, and ML. At KPMG, we optimise Cloud in all of our offerings – for example, we use server-less technology and managed infrastructure, and we’ve also been using Data Lakes and Machine Learning to deliver competitive edge.

Beyond Cloud, I’m also interested in how the automation of security tools will affect DevOps in the coming years. Security is an important part of DevOps – hence the emergence of DevSecOps – and automating security tools will make measuring and responding to security incidents far easier.

At KPMG, we have our own DevSecOps team because we have to think carefully about controls for the client, and we automate as much as possible as a result. I’ve also been given the opportunity to expand my security knowledge, which has been great from a career development perspective.

What are the biggest challenges DevOps as a practice faces?

It can be challenging to get clients to fully embrace a DevOps culture. There are so many benefits to delivering this way – cost, delivery, performance, resilience, speed, scalability – but clients can be reluctant to adopt the methodology if they don’t understand all of the facts. Part of our role as a partner is to show clients just how DevOps can revolutionise how they do business – and to take them on that transformative journey.

As a methodology, one challenge that DevOps sometimes faces is ensuring that security measures are embedded from the beginning. We work closely with the DevSecOps team to make security a core part of our delivery, and they have full visibility and controls for what we do. We use a lot of automation, such as automating controls and alerting, to make the process as collaborative as possible.

You were recently nominated for ‘Most Influential Women in UK Tech’ by ComputerWeekly.com. What advice do you have for women wanting to follow in your footsteps?

For anyone, my advice would be to be passionate about DevOps, to read up on it, and to become a DevOps evangelist. Learn as much as you can, and contribute too, by going to networks, conferences, and meet-ups – some of my favourites are the AWS Summit, Women in DevOps, and ones for specific tools such as the Google Cloud Summit.

For women specifically, I think it’s important to have confidence in your capabilities. So many women question themselves, but lack of confidence doesn’t show lack of competence. It also doesn’t matter if you don’t know everything, or if you make mistakes, as long as you try and learn from it. I’ve found that the more open you are to being helped, and to helping others, the easier it is to work to DevOps.

Who has influenced your career in DevOps over the years?

Our management team, particularly Chris Astley (Director, Cloud Practice Lead at KPMG UK) and Alan Richards, has been a big source of support for me over the years. Chris approached me on the Graduate Scheme about joining his (newly built) team to do DevOps. At the time, I had no prior experience or knowledge of DevOps and it felt like quite a big step for me.

I would have really struggled to make that leap if it hadn’t been for the team’s support and encouragement. They gave me the autonomy and the freedom to learn practically, as well as investing in formal training. Being able to learn on the job and the space to learn from your mistakes is so important in a technical role.

What does the future of DevOps look like at KPMG? Are you working on any exciting projects at the moment?

We’ve been doing more with analytics and Big Data recently, as well as ML. We’ve also been working on some big, and quite complex, migrations and transformations to the Cloud for our client base. A lot of big businesses still have their data centres on premise, so translating that all to the Cloud can be a good challenge.

We’re lucky because the challenges we often get to take on are quite unique – for example, we were once involved in building a custom solution that hosted customer data for a large international bank, which at the time was the first of its kind!

Interested in finding out more about a career at KPMG, or in DevOps? Please get in touch with Calum.McMahon@kpmg.co.uk.

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