Interviewing candidates is an opportunity to get to know who they are and what they can do. When making a DevOps or site reliability engineer (SRE) hire, you certainly want to ask questions about their technical aptitude. But DevOps cultures require more than hard skills — soft skills matter as well, so your interview questions should address both.
As a specialist recruiter for these roles, I’ve been on the other end of the interview for years. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about the types of questions (and the answers received) that lead to long-term satisfaction for employers and applicants.
Today, I wanted to share with you the DevOps/SRE interview questions that should be on your list.
1. How would you describe a successful DevOps team?
This may be a good starting question and can set the stage for the rest of your time together. If the applicant has experience as a member of a DevOps team, they should be able to share some big-picture ideas about success. Ideally, the applicant will touch on themes around accountability, removing obstacles, collaboration, communication, and workflows.
2. What does DevOps mean to you?
You can set the tone by asking the applicant to talk about what DevOps means to them. DevOps isn’t one role; it’s a set of principles. It’s important that they make this distinction. The candidate should be able to express their perspective and provide details on any DevOps cultures they’ve been part of.
3. What are your favorite DevOps tools, and why?
There are lots of tools used by DevOps/SRE teams. Although the candidate may not necessarily need experience with the specific tools you use, you need to know that the candidate is aware of them and how they work. Look for answers around control systems, continuous integration, continuous testing, configuration management and deployment, and continuous monitoring tools. A follow-up could be to ask how these tools work together in a DevOps environment.
4. What do you think are the core skills needed to excel in a DevOps/SRE role?
By asking this question, you’re prompting the interviewee to basically tell you about the “perfect” DevOps/SRE hire. Add some additional context by asking about both hard and soft skills. When the candidate talks about a particular skill, encourage them to talk about their level of acumen for that skill. It’s a time for the candidate to elaborate and state their case.
5. What is understanding and expertise in both the software development and the technical operations sides of DevOps?
DevOps is, after all, the combination of development and operations. A well-rounded candidate will be able to speak to both sides of DevOps. You can’t expect an applicant to be 100 percent proficient in all aspects, but you need to know they have experience with both sides and can offer examples and specificity for development and operations.
6. Can you explain why proper instrumentation and measurement are critical to the DevOps process? How would you use them in workflows for development and deployment?
With this question, you can learn more about the candidate’s technical prowess. DevOps relies heavily on automation and other tools, so ensuring the candidate understands this is crucial. Candidates should be able to illustrate the elements of a workflow and how automation plays a key role.
7. What process or technology would you recommend to improve a DevOps culture? And how would you evaluate its effectiveness?
This question allows the candidate to describe their experience with processes and technology. It would also show how current their knowledge is. It gives them a chance to go into detail about what they’ve learned along the way that could be valuable to your DevOps culture.
8. What’s the process you use to diagnose and fix problems?
A big part of DevOps/SRE teams is solving problems. Allowing the candidate to highlight the steps and protocols they’ve followed to find and resolve issues gives you insight into how they would work on your team on a daily basis. It’s also great if they discuss performance metrics and the importance of any particular tools they’ve used.
If they provide specific scenarios, it shows their depth of knowledge in the field and how they handle stressful situations. Knowing that they can remain calm and collected in the world of “problems” is vital to ensuring a hire will be a good fit for your team.
9. Can you provide me with some use cases for DevOps in the industry?
Lots of industries are using DevOps; it’s not found only in tech companies. Even if the candidate doesn’t have experience in your specific industry, they should still be able to articulate why and how organizations in the industry should use DevOps principles. Their answer to this question will disclose how much homework the applicant did on the application of DevOps in your industry.
10. What soft skills do you think are essential for the role?
Many of the questions thus far have focused on the candidate’s technical skill set, but soft skills are also important. A successful DevOps/SRE hire should talk about the importance of communication, collaboration, curiosity, comfort with change, and a continuous improvement mindset. The best DevOps/SRE hires can articulate how these soft skills help them add value to a team.
Are you asking the right questions?
Every interview is different, but the questions presented above should be a good starting point for a conversation about DevOps principles, cultures, workflows, tools, and more. Hiring for these roles can be difficult, and you certainly want to be strategic in how you recruit and interview.
Partnering with my firm, Harrison Clarke, can provide you with a team of recruiters who hire only for these roles. If you’d like to learn more, contact me today.