Engineers on OKRs: Using OKRs for improving skills

In part one of the Engineers on OKRs series DevOps Engineer Stilian Cvetkov explains how IT professionals can use OKRs for improving their skills and getting better at what they do.


The IT field is constantly growing and hungry for talent. Most of us IT professionals look for ways to become better at what we do or even learn something new altogether. The constant drive to get better and produce higher quality results separate ambitious professionals from the rest.

So fellow IT professionals might be interested to learn how OKRs can help you achieve this. To explain how I'll need to take a step back and start with first principles.


OKRs in everyday life


"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." ― Les Brown

Let's forget about technology for a bit and go into the field of sports. Champions know better than anyone that in order to become better, they need to set goals and objectives that are not 100% achievable, but even if they fail – they will be better than they were before taking on the journey.

I bet your favorite athlete is known not only for talent but also for striving to pursue goal after goal. Isn't that the main point of development – striving to get better? But of course, this implies the athlete also has a clear sense of what they want to achieve next. After all, it's impossible to improve if you don't know where you want to get to or how to get there.


OKRs in IT

Ok, let's get back to IT now. We have the keyword "goals." But how do we make this work in IT? Traditionally, as IT professionals, we get anxious when we hear the words "procedures" or "policies." Why? Because we know it generally means the kind of bureaucracy that always seems to get in the way of what we were really hired to do. 

We've all had to go through the ritual of filling in seemingly pointless forms or creating reports you know won’t even get reviewed. OKRs are often mistakenly associated with this kind of bureaucracy. But it is a misconception. OKRs are nothing like this.

OKRs are best understood as goals that you set for yourself.

By achieving these goals you become better than you were before setting them. Also, the habit of regularly thinking your goals through brings a certain self-awareness. This is especially true when combined with keeping an occasional record of your efforts and the results they bring compared to what you expected to achieve.

OKRs in practice

The easiest way to put the benefits of using OKRs into perspective is to provide a personal example. I have years of experience in the field of IT, but I lacked hands-on experience with Kubernetes. I did have some knowledge on the matter, but it wasn't sufficient to achieve meaningful results at work. So here is what I did – I did some research and got a piece of paper. I looked at the blank piece of paper, which represented the lack of vision I had at the time. Based on my research, I started by writing a simple goal: "Get better at Kubernetes".

You can tell how vague this objective is without key results to go along with it, right? This is where the research came to play. I laid down four key results for a 3 months time period:

- Fill in the gaps with the prerequisite knowledge needed to take on the adventure (get comfortable with YAML, revisit containerization and virtualization fundamentals);
- Obtain the Certified Kubernetes Application Developer certification;
- Obtain the Certified Kubernetes Administrator certification;
- Obtain the Certified Kubernetes Security Specialist certification;

So what do we have here? Achieving all of this in 3 months is ambitious, but who said it's impossible? Even if I achieve 50% or half of the objective, I would still have a strong fundamental knowledge of the prerequisites and be a Certified Kubernetes Application Developer.

Key Takeaways

The most important takeaway is that the fastest and most sustainable way to get better is to put in the hard work in a systematic way. Everything starts with knowing where you want to get to and what you need to do to get there.

Adopting OKRs can help you tremendously, including helping you to plan and keep track of your journey, just like it helped many other IT professionals and me. Adhering to your OKRs can be as demanding as we make it to be. The most important thing is to keep up the hard work and maintain focus, and your goals will naturally come to you in due course.