DevOps has become an integral part of modern software companies, which is why hiring top DevOps engineers is critical. Due to the demand for new services in the healthcare, financial, and manufacturing sectors, more companies are speeding new applications to market and adopting advanced DevOps practices along the way.
But hiring DevOps engineers is difficult. A DevOps engineer is a highly specialized role that requires a nuanced interview process. Since the DevOps team sets the pace for automating workflows, creating better infrastructure, and increasing overall company performance, your hire needs to be well-versed and passionate about all of these elements. It’s even more crucial to consider these things if you’re starting to build a DevOps team from the ground up. It’s vital to make the right hires upfront so that you have a strong, unified foundation to build from, which will keep your engineers happy in their roles and your company thriving.
In this article, we’ll share some tactical insights for hiring top DevOps engineers.
1. Beware of fundamental knowledge gaps.
Nowadays, most engineers can spin up cloud infrastructure with large amounts of complexity in AWS. But do they understand the underlying fundamentals of computing infrastructure? This understanding is the basis for any good DevOps hire.
Here are some of the underlying fundamentals to cover in your interview process: how servers work and boot (even if you’re running containers, they’re still running on a server somewhere), networking technologies (TCP/IP fundamentals, routing, IP addressing), encryption, basics of how databases work, and data stores.
This knowledge is important because when things go wrong (and they will), it’s likely either a configuration issue or another low-level problem that will require debugging and a deep understanding of how the underlying technologies used to create advanced services operate.
2. Formal technology training is not a replacement for experience.
While formal training can help engineering candidates get started (certificates/certifications, classes, boot camps, online courses, etc.), it doesn’t usually provide enough knowledge for one to become a top DevOps engineer or to assume full responsibility for the operations of a production platform.
In DevOps, you may get someone who can build the platform but doesn’t have the experience necessary to lead, operate, and debug, especially during major incidents when stress levels are high. Since this experience is rare, there’s a senior DevOps engineer shortage in the market.
There are many top DevOps engineers who have no formal training or engineering education but have honed their skills over 20+ years tinkering. A thorough technical interview is needed to help uncover the technical skills each candidate has.
3. Beware of “know-it-alls.”
Technology changes very quickly and past skills can quickly become irrelevant. It’s better to find passionate learners and tinkerers (people who like to explore, figure things out, make it work, test, etc.) than candidates who are stuck in their ways. Since there isn’t a single best tool for every job, the best engineers spend time at a higher-level view searching for the right tools.
A great way to assess a potential candidate in an interview is to ask them what the best tool for X job is, and see if they say “it’s Y and that’s it.” See if they ask more questions, ask them for recommendations, and encourage them to share any assumptions they may have.
4. Communication skills are extremely important and shouldn’t be overlooked.
While it may not fit the stereotype, the best engineers are actually great communicators. They aren’t afraid to pick up the phone or schedule meetings to figure things out. They know how to write clearly, listen closely, and ask questions to better understand the requirements of the business.
DevOps engineers will also need to present to the larger engineering team and it’s helpful to have someone who is comfortable doing that. Moreover, DevOps engineers work closely with the development team, and when they can communicate well, it makes everything run better.
5. Beware of being turned off from particular personality traits.
There’s no “best” DevOps engineer trait set. You may come across candidates with a wide range of personality traits and interests. Some DevOps engineers are very opinionated, others not. Some are extroverted, others are extremely introverted.
Your hiring goal is to find the right person who aligns with your mission, has the right skills, and who has good communication (as mentioned in the previous point). While aligning to the mission of the company and the company culture is important, remember to focus on what matters tactically from a work perspective and look for problems such as having inflexible opinions or so much introversion that communication is difficult.
6. Beware of senior people who don’t want to roll up their sleeves and do minor tasks.
Unless you already have an established DevOps team, your new hire will need to jump in and be ready to tackle myriad tasks, major and minor.
This is especially important on small teams where there are still plenty of little jobs to do that are important (like reviewing logs, cataloging backups, creating checklists/runbooks, writing documentation, etc.). This is one reason why you should aim to build DevOps teams with a mix of both experienced and junior engineers.
7. Think twice if you notice frequent job changes on a DevOps engineer resume.
Beware of frequent jumps in employment, as they can be a red flag indicating a lack of commitment from a future hire. While candidates may have perfectly good reasons for a short tenure at a previous job, it’s important to dig into those reasons.
Use this opportunity to understand the reasons why people left previous roles. This can offer insights into the way the DevOps engineer thinks, and perhaps highlight some of the aforementioned issues (e.g. “know-it-alls”, lack of communication skills, and more).
8. Develop a competitive DevOps compensation plan.
Make sure that you’re offering a salary that is competitive with other companies when hiring top DevOps engineers. Start by researching industry standards for DevOps engineers. Account for a variety of factors, including how much experience and specialized skills a position requires. Don’t simply rely on blanket averages.
Ideally, you should try to offer a salary that is at the higher end of the salary range, but at the very least, your salary should be market average. Assume that your job applicants are applying for other positions and know what their colleagues are earning.
If your salary is on the lower end of the salary range, you can compensate by offering additional perks and benefits. Equity is one benefit, but another is flexibility, not just in work location, but daily schedule too. You may also have to sell applicants a little harder on your company culture and professional development opportunities to provide an edge.
With all this in mind, if you’re struggling to find the internal team that’s right for you, the team at OpsLogic would love to understand what you’re working on and introduce you to our DevOps as a Service model to see if there’s a way we can help. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post was co-authored by Rob Bernabé Jr. and Jake Peters.
Rob is the Founder & Director of OpsLogic, a group of DevOps, Cloud & Automation experts who excel at providing exceptional solutions and top-notch service to customers.
Jake is a Partner at OpsLogic, advising clients with his CTO perspective on infrastructure strategy, risk management, business processes, team structure, and other areas of technology, data management, or operations.