Finding a DevOps match for your team

24/04/2017   Recruitment advice  

Bringing the right engineer together with the right team is an art form. There’s many an article out there on ‘finding the best talent in DevOps’. However, most of these articles are all about what interview questions to ask, what tests to set and what behaviours to look for. But these posts overlook the important fact that skilled engineers with experience in DevOps processes and tooling are in high demand, and therefore any team looking to get such a person onboard should look at the hiring process as a mutual opportunity to see if there’s a match, not just a chance to grill an applicant.

Here are some of our tips for finding the right kind of DevOps practitioner for your requirements as a business, while providing a positive and informative experience for the engineer along the way.

Know your DevOps

DevOps is a powerful term, but through its popularity and lack of concrete definition, it is hard to quantify what it means in action for any individual company. For an engineer looking for a new role in this area, ‘DevOps Engineer’ or ‘working in a DevOps team’ are phrases they’ll see on 9 out of 10 adverts.

But without clarification, saying you’re ‘doing DevOps’ is pretty meaningless, and can refer to a wide spectrum of technical roles. For example, at the moment, the DevOps focused roles we’re currently working on range from looking for a software engineer who has infrastructure experience, through to a cloud-focused role that requires programming expertise.

To attract good people, you need to be clear on what ‘DevOps’ looks like in your organisation. A good engineer will want to hear a lot more than just ‘we’re doing DevOps’ - they want to picture what’s happening, where the organisation want to be, and where they’ll fit in. If you can’t articulate this well as a hiring manager, strong engineers are very likely to look elsewhere.

But by the same token, if what you’re hiring for isn’t DevOps - don’t say it is. If by some miracle you manage to get a good DevOps Engineer onboard, they will not be there for long, and you’ll probably miss out on an application from a great SysAdmin that would have actually been perfect because you dressed the role as a DevOps position.

Needs, Wants and Nice to Have

Working on CI/CD pipelines and automating all the things can lead to an endless shopping list of tools and technologies, and we do still see some organisations being overly prescriptive with the tools they look for. While there may be some genuine operational requirements that you need to fulfil, approaching how your ideal candidate should look with some flexibility to their tools and experience is a powerful signal that you have a mature approach to hiring. By this, we mean that you look at hiring as an opportunity to help your organisation fulfil long-term goals - and not just the right-now goals.

Hiring someone who already knows every single piece of tech you use inside out, while they might get up to speed a little bit quicker in the short term, is likely to look elsewhere to find a challenge in the longer term - and you're back where you started.

You should be looking for wider systems thinking, and not only focusing on their exact tooling experience. Tools change, but good engineers are always useful. For example, if you think you need someone with Ansible and are looking to reject someone's CV because that person has only used Puppet and Chef, ask yourself honestly whether they could probably do the job just fine given a little initial support before writing them off.

This approach will not only open up a wider pool of potential engineers for your team, but hiring someone with a long-term view means you have a better chance of finding someone who will be with you a while if they have a chance to learn and develop their skills. And for the engineer, they get to be a part of a team that is genuinely invested in supporting their professional development - which is harder to find than you might think.

Be Open

While, of course, you want to sell what you’re doing, honesty is important. DevOps is a journey, and even those organisations leading the charge in technological innovation are always learning and iterating. Talking openly about what's going well, and what challenges you're facing is an incredibly powerful tool for hiring.

Many hiring organisations seem to be stuck too rigidly to the idea that the interviewee is there with the sole ambition of impressing the mighty hiring organisation enough to hire them - when in fact, they are also there to see if it's somewhere they'd like to work. For this reason, these organisations seem to have a compulsion to convey themselves as the best engineering team that's ever been created - even if it's not accurate.

You should be hiring to help solve problems you have, not problems you wish you had.

Sell the realities of working in your team. Perhaps that reality won't appeal to everyone, but with this approach, you'll find the right engineer for your team.

Step away from the computer

Of course, working in a DevOps culture requires a highly technical skill set. But if you’re hiring someone you need to make sure that the right person has the interpersonal skills to add value to your organisation.

A primary customer of a DevOps engineer is usually the software engineering team, so it can be a mutually useful exercise to get them involved in the interview process. Even if that’s not possible, you can to some extent replicate this by posing a problem, and seeing how the interviewee engages with the issue, and how well they can formulate that into a technical strategy.

This gives you an insight into how they would interact with the team and the value they could add. And for the engineer, this conversation gives them a real insight into what the day-to-day experience of working with them will be like, and the value they could add. Even if the tools and experience are a perfect match, if the team aren’t going to communicate well, any efforts towards a true DevOps culture are pretty much guaranteed to fail. And it’s better for both parties to find that out early!

Much as defining DevOps itself is a bottomless pit of conversation, so is hiring for engineers who know about it. These are just some of the factors we see often in organisations with excellent hiring strategy, and that we feel make an important difference for hiring success for both the organisation and the engineer.

Read more on good hiring practices in this excellent guest post on hiring engineers from Mika Boström.

If you have any insights you'd like to share, we'd love to hear them. Send us a message or tweet us @LinuxRecruit!