CXO

10 questions DevOps engineers can expect to be asked in a job interview

Interviewing for a DevOps job? Here are some questions you'll likely have to answer.

DevOps engineers ranked no. 2 on Glassdoor's 2018 Best Jobs in America list, with more than 3,300 job openings nationally and a median base salary of $105,000.

While most companies remain in the early stages of adopting the workflow, the majority said they believe it will save them time during the development process, with about a third adding that they plan to invest in DevOps this year, according to a recent GitLabs survey.

"DevOps management requires a strong cultural and organizational change for its implementation, which enhances collaboration, communication, and, ultimately, complete integration between the old development and systems areas," said Sophie Miles, CEO and co-founder of CalculatorBuddy.com. "Despite this lack of formalization and the integration of the areas of development and systems, DevOps requires a certain organization for teamwork to be productive. It is one of the fundamentals of this methodology: Collaboration."

SEE: Job description: DevOps engineer (Tech Pro Research)

Are you applying for a job as a DevOps engineer? Here are 10 questions that you may receive during the interview process, and what employers are looking for in your answers.

1. Do you think DevOps is required in the current environment to sufficiently deliver and support software?

Asking a candidate to define DevOps, who benefits from it, and whether or not it is a necessary process allows interviewers to see the candidate's basic knowledge, said Todd Loeppke, lead CTO architect at Sungard Availability Services.

"I am interested in hearing their explanation of why DevOps is relevant or important in today's environment," Loeppke said. "There has always been a tension between getting features to market (product/developer viewpoint) and products just getting thrown over the wall (operations viewpoint). This creates a divide within an organization and often delays implementation. With today's speed of innovation and the real possibility that the competition will surpass your application or feature if it is delayed, I am looking to see if the candidate understands how the use of DevOps allows companies to break down these internal tensions and stay ahead of the competition."

2. What is your favored development lifecycle, its pros and cons, and the actors and tooling involved?

This question gets the interviewee comfortable, as they are talking about something they know: Their existing day-to-day job, said Ian McClarty, president and CEO of PhoenixNAP Global IT Solutions. If they see problems with the way their current company implements it, that can be discussed, along with the pros and cons of different processes.

"It is a very high-level question, but it can expose a common understanding or lack thereof," McClarty said. "It also allows me to quickly zone in on any high-level knowledge gaps. That initial conversation can also be quite telling of the interviewee's general attitude."

3. What DevOps tools do you use, and why?

This question can gauge experience managing a development and deployment system with a set of tools, said Steven Jiang, CEO of Hiretual. "DevOps is a rapidly changing industry—this helps reveal if the candidate is knowledgeable of the latest technologies and trends," he added.

Interviewers can follow up by asking the candidate how these tools work together in their daily routine. "This is to verify that the answer to the first part is true," Jiang said. "There is a big difference between knowing about new tools and actually using them day-to-day. In the meantime, we can see their comprehensive and systematic understanding of the DevOps environment as well as the candidate's regular workflow."

4. What are your best practices for making a DevOps process work?

Asking questions about a candidate's deployment strategies allows you to see their thought process, Loeppke said. "While the end goal might be continuous delivery or deployment, it is important to realize that it will take some incremental changes and lessons learned to get there," he added. "I am looking for a candidate who has a passion for getting features to market quickly by using automation throughout the process while maintaining a highly available service to the customer."

SEE: IT leader's guide to making DevOps work (Tech Pro Research)

5. How do you keep on top of the latest tech, and what process do you take to identify what you need when the shelf tools aren't enough?

These questions get to a candidate's curiosity and attention to detail and rigor, said Joe Burrow, technical recruiter at EDITED.

6. What would your rank as your top three technical skills?

This question is designed to find a candidate's focus and discern their depth of knowledge, said Emily Burke, HR manager at Nuspire. "This can help us target later questions based on their expertise and help us start to decide where their skillset would be most useful within the company," she added. "Often, we will ask them to expand on these areas to get more information about what they know. In addition to their conversation with the hiring managers, this can also help us see where we need to train."

7. Technical questions

DevOps engineer job candidates can expect a number of technical questions during an interview, Burke said, to determine their capabilities and the types of technology they have experience with. These might include the following:

  • Why types of version control software are you familiar with?
  • What automation tools have you used?
  • What code platforms have you used?
  • Are you familiar with big data concepts?
  • Can you provide me with some examples of processes that you've been able to automate and thus making more efficient through scripting?

The key to these questions is the detail, according to Nick Piette, chief evangelist at Talend. "Individuals who are vague and lack attention to detail raise a red flag from an experience standpoint," he added. "It's easier to read up on the methodology and best practices and have book smarts than it is to have the technology experience and street smarts. Asking about both during an interview makes it harder to fake."

8. Tell me about a time you've successfully convinced other engineers to change their workflow.

"Since DevOps is more a paradigm than a job title, we like to find out how candidates would approach other engineers as their customers and address their pain points by selling them on the solutions they've developed," said Sean Abbott, senior automation architect at CarGurus. "You've determined a good solution that will save your developers time and energy, but it requires them to change their process, which can be difficult to ask of developers. How do you go about selling them your solution?"

Responses to these types of questions are critical in determining whether a candidate will be able to master engaging with engineers in a way that balances a positive environment and making essential improvements to workflows, which is a key part of the job, Abbott said.

Asking about a time when the candidate had a disagreement or conflict with a coworker, and their approach to resolving it, is also a good indicator of success, said Brandon Murdoch, director of infrastructure at MX.

9. How do you motivate developers to follow best practices?

Similar to the question above, interviewers are looking for how a DevOps engineer will work with teams, particularly because those in these positions are not typically given authority over those teams to force them to make better software, said James Hall, a software engineer at Bloomberg.

"Different people go about this problem in different ways, but I like to see that someone who understands why I ask that question, and understands the precarious position DevOps is usually in," Hall added.

10. How do you adapt when things don't go as planned?

Problems are inevitable, and projects are going to fail sometimes, said Louis Sheridan, senior delivery engineer at PrecisionLender. Learning how a candidate deals with failure and conflict and what they learned from the experience is valuable.

"Because the work we do changes so frequently, we want to make sure the members of our team can learn and easily adapt when things don't go as planned," Sheridan said.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/nortonrsx

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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