A Q&A With Michael Race, Head of DevOps, Salt Digital Recruitment
When it comes to hiring for DevOps, there’s much to consider, especially if you’re looking for someone to manage containers and serverless infrastructure. There’s no doubt that it’s a talent-driven market — DevOps professionals are in demand.
In this competitive environment, how do you make the right choice about who to hire? According to Michael Race, Head of DevOps at Salt Digital Recruitment, patience is a must. But even if you’ve got time on your side, you still want to make hires that prioritize security, can advocate for tools and methodology, and have experience creating DevOps environments.
We sat down with Michael recently to get his perspective on hiring for containers and serverless. Michael — who’s helped dozens of companies fill DevOps roles — shared his thoughts on where security fits in, what he likes to see in a candidate, as well as red flags that may crop up.
Q: Michael, can you give an overview of hiring trends you’re seeing that are reflective of security in operations or development roles?
Michael Race: I’ve seen security steadily become more prevalent not only in job descriptions, but also in the conversations around where DevOps environments are moving.
For a while, companies were trending toward the latest microservices tools like Kubernetes, Mesos, and Docker. These tools usually demanded a heavier development background. However, now that security and SecOps are catching people’s attention, a heavier Ops background is often more appropriate to these requirements. Security and SecOps are naturally becoming a hotter topic as DevOps evolves.
We aren’t quite there yet in terms of a consistent employer demand for security skills in Development and Operations professionals (at least not as much as continuous integration/continuous development [CI/CD] or containerization), but there is a good chance there will be more demand as DevOps refines itself over time.
Q: What are the newest trends in skills for containers and serverless infrastructure? What’s on the horizon?
Michael Race: Right now, the ability to introduce new methods and approaches is the most sought after skill. New trends or tools seldom matter as much as having an individual who can champion new methodologies within a company. However, when it comes to tools, Red Hat’s OpenShift is gaining more traction in the market, as well as AWS Lambda. Exposure to these tools is nice to see, but knowing these tools alone should never be seen as a silver bullet when hiring a DevOps Engineer.
Any of the tools and products — whether they be Docker, Kubernetes, Mesos, OpenShift, or Rancher — have their respective nuances. So the real demand is having someone who understands how to leverage any one of them effectively. It seems as though many companies have gotten over the initial concern about containerized infrastructure and development, and that it’s moving beyond fad to reality.
Q: How competitive is the hiring environment?
Michael Race: The current environment is very competitive. DevOps is becoming the core of companies’ tech departments — and it makes or breaks a company’s ability to keep up with their competition. Therefore, DevOps Engineers won’t have any problem staying employed anytime in the foreseeable future.
Since the heart of DevOps is to continuously improve, it’s a market that, in my view, won’t create a bubble as much as it will produce a stronger and more enduring position in the corporate landscape. Salaries are more competitive than ever as are perks such as PTO and working from home.
The DevOps Engineer is becoming such a valued hire that anyone with relevant expertise can have their pick of employers.
Q: What do you look for in a good candidate for a DevOps role?
Michael Race: It always depends on what a company needs. Some companies need an Ops specialist who might be newer to DevOps and can learn on the job. Other companies may see scaling infrastructure as a top priority, which makes a seasoned hire more appropriate.
I see the best candidates as the ones who can effectively explain DevOps, containers, or serverless in layman’s terms. That is usually what companies need most as DevOps Engineers need to collaborate with cross-functional teams that are not always involved in technology on a day-to-day basis. If they’re able to explain what they do, it not only shows a mastery of the subject, but will make them effective champions within their companies.
Q: What three attributes are most important to you?
Michael Race: Every company has different priorities, so it’s difficult to single out three attributes. However, most top tier candidates can:
- Successfully introduce a DevOps methodology. The first thing I’ll ask a candidate about is their successful experiences introducing DevOps methodologies. If a company is hiring their first DevOps Engineer, it’s essential that the person they hire is ready and experienced in introducing new ideas, perspectives, and tools to the environment.
- Reflect on, understand, and benefit from past mistakes. When making a hire, you want someone who has a few war stories, a perspective on what works and what doesn’t, and ideas on how to navigate conflict. I look for someone who can honestly explain where things have gone wrong in the past.
- Draw on genuine intellectual curiosity. A real intellectual drive about learning new things and constantly improving oneself simply comes with the territory of being a successful DevOps Engineer.
Q: What do you need to hear from a candidate in order to be comfortable hiring them to manage containers?
Michael Race: I like seeing someone who has worked with containers in the past, and has a sincere opinion on how to leverage them effectively. It’s a big help for companies to have someone who may have a few personal war stories as a point of reference when introducing microservices to their new team.
Q: What red flags should companies look out for in hiring for DevOps, especially when security is a priority?
Michael Race: It’s tough to lock down any particular experience or skills that might be a red flag because every environment, business, and culture is unique. But companies need to look for a healthy respect for security. They need someone who understands that security is not a buzzword to put on a resume. Personally, I think listening to one’s instincts is invaluable when assessing where someone sees security fitting into a DevOps environment.
Q: What piece of advice would you give to a company that wants to make a critical DevOps hire?
Michael Race: The most important thing is to be patient. Although it is tempting to make a fast hire — especially when a company has an urgent need to scale their infrastructure — hiring someone who isn’t a good fit usually leads to wasted time. I often work with companies that made a hire, found it didn’t work out, and are now looking to go through the process all over again to find a better fit. Patience is key — keep waiting until you find someone you’re confident about.
More About Michael Race
Michael Race builds and scales teams in the DevOps space at Salt Digital Recruitment. Along with growing some of the most innovative DevOps and SRE organizations, Michael also co-organizes various meetup groups such as nycDevOps and contributes articles to DevOps.com on a regular basis. You can find Michael on LinkedIn or at various DevOps and Cloud tech events.