5 Character Traits To Avoid When Recruiting DevOps Pros

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I can guarantee that if you are involved in recruiting new IT employees for your organization this year, then DevOps skills will be on your priority list. The problem is that I can also guarantee that many resumes and LinkedIn profiles will be awash with the word DevOps. After all, according to Puppet Labs, a DevOps engineer today can earn upwards of $100,000 – so if you are a job seeker in IT, then it makes sense to ensure that your resume includes DevOps skills. This means that recruiting the right IT professionals for your business is a difficult task. There are lots of articles and blog posts which state that DevOps is about culture (even I state that culture is critical), but how do you recruit someone with ‘the right culture’? From my experience, talking to AppDynamics customers and from my time at Forrester Research, here are 5 essential character traits to identify and avoid during the interview process.

1. Inside-out focus

DevOps is about continuous delivery (fast release cadence) of new applications and features, while maintaining quality. For success though, you need to ensure that candidates understand that their role is to maintain or improve the products and/or services delivered to customers. Therefore you will want to assess whether they understand:

  •       The high level demographics of the customers in your market.
  •       The current products and/or services that customers in your market need and why.
  •       The potential future products and/or services that customers will need with sound justification.
  •       The brief history of the industry that your business operates in.
  •       The products and/or services that your business provides.
  •       The Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) for these products and/or services.
  •       Past projects they have worked on which have directly improved the products and/or services delivered to customers.

The more questions the candidate can answer in the above areas, then the more you can be comfortable that they have an outside-in focus and really understand what it takes for the company to be successful. Unclear or poorly explained answers here hint that the candidate has an inside-out focus – or they may have IT skills but really don’t know how these specifically apply to your market, company and customers.

2. Tech Geek

Putting this character trait down as a negative may be a little controversial.  The right technology is definitely needed to enable a DevOps approach. So of course you need to hire professionals who understand (and I mean really understand) automation, monitoring and analytics technologies, as these are key to DevOps. You want to make sure that they have experience with Application Performance Management (APM) solutions – ideally AppDynamics – and automation tools such as Puppet and Chef plus container technologies such as Docker. But you want the candidate to understand how and why these technologies are important to your business specifically.

When I refer to a tech geek, I mean ensuring that who you are hiring doesn’t just have a long list of technical accreditations. These qualifications state that a candidate understands a technology but don’t answer whether they understand technology in context. Ask the candidate about non-IT professional accreditations; for example, one of my friends took a weekend course in investment banking in order to land him an IT job with a leading investment bank.

3. Staying with the herd

When working in an enterprise it can be all too easy to stay within your team silo. If you are an infrastructure engineer then you will tend to spend time with your infrastructure colleagues, a developer, then you will spend time with developers. It’s natural human behavior, and enterprises have organizational structures that promote this. ‘Staying with your herd’ feels safe as you have common interests, goals and purposes for existence. But DevOps rewrites the herd rules. In the DevOps enterprise, what feels safe is risky and what is risky is likely to be safe for your career.

Therefore you want to look for professionals who have stood apart from their herd in their roles so far. So infrastructure engineers who have concrete examples of working with developers and vice versa. But don’t stop there; the best DevOps professionals are those who have examples of working with business colleagues such as marketing and product teams. These are gold BizDevOps skills.

4. Fear of code and scripting

This character trait is aimed at infrastructure engineers specifically. I have to admit, I was once one of these infrastructure engineers back in 2003. I did not want to code or script as I felt I did not have the patience to acquire this skill. I was wrong. I started working for a company called Vistorm in the UK and one of our specialties was to automate Citrix Presentation Server and VMware ESX builds. So I learnt fast and what I found was that while initially learning the rules – variables, functions etc was time consuming and required practice and patience – once mastered I could deploy quickly in most environments (and use the same scripts).

Today scripting and coding are part of the basic requirements for an infrastructure engineer. During the interview process you should qualify your candidates scripting or coding experience with the aim of finding out how comfortable they are with this essential skill.

5. Technobabbler

WANS, LANS, DNS, DHCP, AD, HTTP, SSL, JVM, WLANS, CIFS, EPROM, FLOPS, J2EE, JPEG, KB, MAC, MIPS, NAS, SAN, P2P – Acronyms – we love them in IT! It feels like if we can’t “acronymize” something then it’s not important! But this technobabble confuses business colleagues. They want to know what benefits or impact does this have on the business and our customers. A key DevOps skill is being able to take a technical concept and explain it simply, so that anyone can understand. This is a hard skill to develop but communication is an essential soft skill for DevOps.

In the later stages of the recruitment process, invite a business colleague into a candidate interview so as to uncover the technobabbler. At any stage in the interview when technobabble is used, encourage your business colleague to ask the question “Sorry, I don’t understand, can you please explain in simpler way?” This will quickly assess your candidates communication skills. Also put in the interview room a whiteboard and marker pen, as those who are great at communicating will likely use the whiteboard to explain concepts simply.

There are many more character traits to avoid, but what do you think about these? Any more which are essential ones to be avoided?

John Rakowski

John Rakowski

John Rakowski is Director of Product Marketing for Application Performance Management (APM) and analytics at AppDynamics. Prior to his current role, John was the lead analyst for APM and IT Operational Analytics (ITOA) at Forrester Research helping clients with their APM and analytics strategies. Earlier he worked at Fujitsu and Capgemini architecting and implementing systems management technologies for enterprises in the financial and utilities sectors plus UK government. John has more than 10 years of experience with systems management and monitoring technologies. You can follow John on twitter at