5 Expert Recommendations when Hiring a DevOps Engineer

By Flux7 Labs
February 4, 2016

As DevOps adoption grows, the demand for DevOps engineers grows with it and a field of highly diverse applicants. Here at Flux7, we are frequently asked for best practices and tips when sourcing and hiring a DevOps Engineer. While we highly recommend “breeding” DevOps experts in-house, when our customers do feel the need to hire a DevOps resource, the following are our top five recommendations:

  1. DevOps is a concept, not a technology. You are not building a new team, you are building a center of excellence (COE) to instill change, and the two are very different. A COE must stay small and strive to instill the knowledge in the company. The new hire shall have this concept clear: they are not a do-er of day-to-day work but rather an agent of change whose job is to improve things via process improvements and automation. Success is defined by others’ comfort with using and managing the process.

  2. The individual must have the following non-technical skills:

    1. Ability to learn big picture and technical details. Technologists who jump in to “work” without learning about the company first are more harmful than helpful.

    2. Ability to explain their past technical decisions with apt business and technical reasoning. The decisions he/she will make will not only shape future budgets, scaling and the HR needs of your company but also your go-to-market strategies and ability to compete in the market; hence strong decision-making capabilities are critical. We suggest that, at the interview, you ask them to walk you through a design decision they made in the last 90 days. What were the factors considered? What did they decide? Did it work (and ask them to quantify the benefits)?
      In the interview, look for clues that show the candidate understands all the factors involved in DevOps decision-making, including skills (e.g., no matter how much he/she loves GO, your company may need the automation to be in a more common language, like Python, because you have multiple engineers who know it), timelines, reliability and sustainability.  

    3. Ability to create a succession plan. DevOps becomes a key role as companies grow and, as we recommend keeping your DevOps COE small, having a success plan in place at all times is pivotal for business continuity. It is common for us at Flux7 to get SOS calls from customers whose DevOps engineer left them in the dust and they now have to relearn the entire process. This is tedious, cost prohibitive, risky and an unexpected burden on timelines that a solid succession plan could help avoid.

    4. Ability to coach others in executing tasks. Having a teaching or tutoring experience can be a big plus here. The candidate needs to be an influencer/relationship builder to get the team on their side/way of thinking.

    5. Ability to handle push-back and ability to criticize others in a candid manner is critical. During the interview, push hard on their past decisions and see their reaction to the criticism.
  3. The engineer must demonstrate KISS (keep it simple stupid) philosophy in their past work. Having an enthusiast elitist in a DevOps role can be worse than not having anyone in this role. Ask them for examples of their past decisions where simplicity won over complexity. The decision itself is less important than the approach taken. This feeds straight in to building something that others can learn and take over with ease.

  4. Business shall be front and center. The candidate should be able to articulate clearly what business value they provided their past employers. If they cannot explain it, they are just a technologist that will think of DevOps as tools rather than a transformation. Successful companies using DevOps always view it as a transformation where tools are a means to the end.

  5.  DevOps Engineer candidates should have a quantitative focus that is clear from the candidate’s past works. Look for clues like “the website got faster” vs “the load time reduced from 7s to 4.3s.” DevOps success results must be quantified because it becomes difficult to justify the impact of the investment otherwise. As a result, finding and hiring people for your COE who can effectively elucidate quantitative results through the lens of the business, while fostering a DevOps culture through the skills discussed here, will be the resources you want on your team.