How to Hire a DevOps Engineer
The competition for engineering talent is at an all-time high, especially in tech hotbeds like New York. Here in NYC, the tech sector is thriving like never before, and companies large and small are setting up shop and building out teams of engineers. Many of these new teams, particularly those in startups and growth-stage companies, are open-source based, and working in lean, agile development environments. As these companies grow, they develop a need to scale their infrastructure to support an increase in customers or traffic. Enter, the traditional ‘DevOps engineer’. So hot right now. Everyone is looking to hire one, and most are spinning their wheels trying.
Now, it’s important to note that ‘DevOps’ is not a discipline in itself, but a movement focused on increased collaboration between development and IT. Technically, a DevOps engineer can be someone with any number of backgrounds, but essentially they are someone who can work collaboratively with other engineers ranging across the tech ecosystem.
By running a basic search in a job search engine, you’ll notice that most ‘DevOps’ titled roles are calling for the same thing: a senior engineer with a strong background in Linux systems, a knack for programming, using modern languages like Ruby and Python, and experience implementing tools like Puppet or Chef for Configuration Management. Great. As a recruiter, and a non-technical person, those skills are easy enough to identify, and tangible enough to evaluate within minutes of meeting a prospective candidate. Here’s the problem: there aren’t many of them out there.
Because the core DevOps tools (Chef, Puppet, etc.) are relatively new, the pool of candidates who have had the opportunity to master them is small. Until recently, only the most forward-looking of engineering teams opted to implement these modern configuration management tools, and complimentary tools (Hudson/Jenkins, Foreman, mCollective, etc.). This has not only created a bottleneck in an already competitive candidate recruiting landscape, but a catch-22 for many prospective engineers who lack exposure to the technologies required by many of the companies they’d like to work for.
The result of these conditions is 200+ open jobs- the majority of which have been open for more than two months (some as long as seven or eight months). With this comes significant salary inflation for those qualified to fill these positions. My team has seen several instances this past year where candidates in NYC who have been courting multiple suitors have generated offers of more than $40k above their current salaries.
So, if your team is looking to onboard a DevOps engineer, and you can’t afford to compete with the top tech firms in your area or wait months on end, what can you do?
At Workbridge Associates, my team and I have overseen many successful DevOps hires by clients who have decided to employ someone who is more junior than they had in mind, but with some training, can grow into the role. In these cases, our clients bring on someone who is eager and grateful for the opportunity to expand their technical depth. After all, the DevOps ethos is predicated on cultivating a collaborative technical team. In the past two years, we’ve noticed that junior hires in the DevOps market have resulted in candidates who stay longer. What better way to build a true DevOps team than to develop it in-house versus bringing in a hired gun?
Of course, every team has different needs, but here are a few things to remember if your company is actively looking to bring on an elusive DevOps engineer:
- Be realistic. Every CTO thinks that their product is great and should attract top talent. It will become apparent pretty quickly if this is the case or not, and it’s crucial to adjust accordingly.
- Be creative. If you’re not having success bringing in the ‘finished product’ right away, it’s time to explore other options and weigh training costs.
- Sell the candidate on what you can do for them. Beyond salary and benefits, the best candidates want to know how they can increase their technical capital. Make it clear from the first interview how your team can help the candidate grow their skills.
- Talk about the long-term role that the candidate will be able to take on with your company. This is a concern I’m hearing more and more. Many senior DevOps engineers are hesitant about roles that require them to do a lot of upfront automation, because there are cases where once that initial work is done, they have essentially automated themselves out of a job and are relegated to ‘keeping the lights on’, so to speak. This is dissatisfactory. Give prospective candidates a long-term picture of how they will fit in.
While these points may be common sense for some hiring managers, there are a surprising number of companies that are behind the curve. The tech hiring market has shifted in favor of the candidate, and it’s going to remain that way for the near future. Those who recognize that shift, and adjust, will continue to hold the edge in hiring.