Insight and Analysis for the CTO
What are the top DevOps interview questions? How to crack a DevOps interview? As the discipline becomes more necessary in the enterprise, more people will be asking these questions.
Here, five experts provide their top DevOps interview questions, what answers they expect to hear back and the type of person they are looking for.
What DevOps tools have you worked with? Why is DevOps important and what does it represent?
Gordon Cullum, CTO at Mastek, when interviewing engineers for a DevOps role, will usually ask about tooling stacks.
His DevOps interview questions are: “What tooling stacks are you familiar with and can you tell me some of the pitfalls and conundrums you’ve come across when using those tools?
He then expects them to talk about tools like Puppet, Jenkins and Kubernetes, and their experience using them. Ideally, a candidate will be familiar with all the most popular tools.
The most popular DevOps tools, according to edureka!, are mentioned below:
• Git: Version Control System tool
• Jenkins: Continuous Integration tool
• Selenium: Continuous Testing tool
• Puppet, Chef, Ansible: Configuration Management and Deployment tools
• Nagios: Continuous Monitoring tool
• Docker: Containerisation tool
“I just want to get some kind of feeling that there’s something beyond just the academic reading there, that they’ve actually used these tools and come across issues with them and know how to get around them,” says Cullum.
“What I’m looking for is a can-do mindset and a continuous improvement mindset. So what we’re looking for in engineers is just because that’s the way we’re doing it today doesn’t mean that’s the way it’s going to work well tomorrow. And that’s what DevOps is all about, probably a bit of a misnomer actually, it’s continuous improvement.”
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What about more more senior people? With these individuals he asks the typical “trap” question: what does it mean to you?
And he’d be looking for those who embrace the high quality, rapid delivery culture, change, bringing ops and delivery together and making IT and business work as a unit.
“I’d be looking for all those kind of things in the answer,” he says. “But, I’d also be looking for evidence that the person has gone through some of the pain points of the resistance to change, and how they’ve made that happen, either from a bottom-up point of view, from tooling and process, or from a top-down view, coaching and mentoring from a culture and attitude type approach.
“It depends who I’m interviewing, more often it’s quite senior people and I stick to the abstract and the concepts. But I do ask about tooling, because there are lots of very common favourite tools out there now.”
Describe what DevOps has helped you achieve — both in a work environment and personally.
One of the top qualities Mark Quinn — director of engineering at Mojo Mortgages — looks for in someone is their ability to self-learn.
“They need to constantly want to develop themselves,” he says.
“Do they do their own personal projects? Do they spend a lot of their own time researching and playing about with things?”
These are his top DevOps interview questions, because these are great traits to have as a DevOps engineer, although they apply to software engineering in general.
“Being able to do that sort of stuff and making yourself do that, having the drive to do that is a key quality. It’s not specifically DevOps engineers, but definitely a good trait to have in anything.”
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For a DevOps-specific interview question, Quinn believes it’s important to have a broad knowledge as opposed to a specific knowledge.
“Having a broad knowledge of AWS, Azure and Google is so much better than a really specific knowledge of just one,” he explains.
“It’s unlikely that companies are going to use more than one — so you’re really narrowing your job search if you’re going to focus solely on AWS, for example.
“That broad knowledge helps quite a lot and that goes into CICD tools [continuous integration and continuous delivery].”
Are you a team player? What is your motivation for working in DevOps?
Utsav Sanghani, senior product manager at Synopsys, looks at the hiring process from an angle of productivity.
During his interviews, he looks at how productive the individual is, while exploring the team that he or she was a part during their prior experience; rather than focusing on process.
If it’s an engineer who is fresh out of college, looking at junior DevOps roles, “I try to understand their thinking and motivations,” he says.
“Are they trying to be process enablers, are they trying to improve productivity across the organisation and increase release throughput,” he asks as his top DevOps interview questions for graduates?
With the candidates who have had ten years of experience managing release processes and have worked with the big software firms, often, they’re trying to get a refresher in terms of the new technologies and so they’re coming to a smaller company.
“As part of that,” explains Sanghani, “they should talk about the percentage improvement in productivity, the percentage improvement in throughput rate, how some of their decisions ensured that security, compliance and architectural review, which are very important components of any software development life cycle.
“As business decision makers in the organisation decide to move from X to Y; are they comfortable with helping us make that migration; are they flexible, how portable are their skills,” he asks as his top DevOps interview questions for senior figures?
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What skills do you possess? What use cases of previous projects can you provide?
“Be clear about where your skills lie,” says Annie Andrews, head of technology at Curo Talent.
As a recruiter, she finds that people fall into two brackets: they’re either developers that have stretched into the infrastructure part (so they’ve learnt how to script infrastructure) or they’re infrastructure individuals who write script who have learnt how to do some development.
“You’re typically weaker on one side of either dev or ops. And I like people to be really clear about which side they’ve come from, unless they really are amazing across the board,” Andrews explains.
She also says that being able to demonstrate awareness of what happens across the whole life cycle is impressive in an interview.
Again, an infrastructure individual will know a huge amount about how to configure; Windows or Linux, for example. These people know how to write the script, but if they also know the rigour around how do to proper development — all the processes around source code control management and proper rigorous testing — that stands out.
It’s exactly the same from the development side. These individuals are skilled, they know how to write some scripts and can run fast deployments.
“But, do they really understand how to configure servers properly and securely, or how to deploy infrastructure in the best practice way,” asks Andrews?
“You typically are weaker on one side or the other, so build up your skills as much as you can and be clear, at least in your own head, of what you’re capable of and what you’re not,” she advises.
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Tell me about past failures or challenges and how you’ve overcome them from a software development and/or technical operation side? Are you an effective communicator?
“I’m looking for people who when they come across a problem, they take on the responsibility of solving it,” says Nigel Kersten, VP of ecosystem engineering at Puppet.
He is particularly impressed if this problem-solving exercise involves learning a new skill.
Learning fast is also a tremendous attribute and one of Kersten’s top DevOps interview questions — can you adjust to the rate of change.
“If you’re in a role where you’re job is DevOps, whether that be your title or just the function you do, the rate of change and tool proliferation is so fast that you have to be up to the task,” he explains.
He references Kubernetes, which didn’t even exist that many years ago but is now central.
The DevOps engineer is becoming a more common presence in the enterprise. But, what exactly does the role entail and how can you become one? Read here
This pace of change won’t slow down and there’s going to be more and more technological innovation. Because of this, Kersten thinks the most important attribute for anyone in this field is a base level of technical competency and strong desire to learn.
“I want people to be able to see a problem; research it enough so that they can solve it themselves and then learn the programming language, framework or operating system that is required to actually go and solve the problem. I’m looking for that sort of initiative,” he says.
Kersten also highlights the importance of communication skills. And this is a favourite topic of his as a philosophy graduate who works in tech.
He believes that the state of communication amongst most tech graduates is atrocious — “it tends to take them years before they’re even competent enough to write an email describing what they did that week.”
“I have a feeling that more humanities and more English and liberal arts education for our technical folks would make them much more functional at their jobs. This is totally biased but I find that the people who are self-taught and have a certain level of expertise, that have either had a job or education where they’ve had to learn to be really good communicators and have a sense of people and empathy, those things are huge value-adds for these roles.
“All the most successful people I’ve seen in this space are just really good at communicating and they’re really good at understanding people, because fundamentally the tech is never that hard, the people are the difficult bit,” he concludes.
DevOps vs Agile. How do these two disciplines work in the enterprise, and why are they crucial in moving forward in a collaborative, customer-focused way? Read here
So, based on these top DevOps interview questions and answers, there are a number of standout preparation tactics that must be covered for any hopeful candidate:
• Familiarise yourself with a range of tooling stacks
• Gain practical experience, for graduates
• Don’t be afraid to speak about failure and how you overcame the challenge, for more seasoned individuals
• Think outside the box — why is the tech important, rather than the how
• Understand where your skills lie
• Know the whole life cycle
• Take responsibility
• Learn fast and embrace change
Nominations are OPEN for the Tech Leaders Awards, organised by Information Age and taking place on 12th September 2019 at the Royal Lancaster, London. Categories include CIO of the Year, CTO of the Year, Digital Leader of the Year and Security Leader of the Year. Recognise and reward excellence in the tech industry by submitting a nomination today
Nick Ismail is the editor for Information Age. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and cyber security. More by Nick Ismail
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