A smiling man is sitting at a desk. A woman sits opposite him. He is interviewing her for a DevOps job.
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5 DevOps interview questions and how to answer them

6 Nov 2018

DevOps is a thriving sector, but how can jobseekers prepare for a DevOps interview? Kevin Casey is here to help.

It’s hardly a well-kept secret that now is a great time to be on the DevOps job market.

As the culture and practice of DevOps spreads, companies are hiring to build out their teams. And they’re really hiring. At the time of writing, a national search on Glassdoor for ‘DevOps’ turns up more than 37,000 open positions. You’ll find similar numbers on LinkedIn.

Just because the market is hot right now, it doesn’t mean you’re going to breeze your way into a new gig. You’ll still need to ace that interview (often multiple interviews) and that means careful preparation.

Study the company and be sure you understand the specific requirements of the role. For DevOps interviews, you’ll also want to think about how the interviewer is going to gauge the depth of your understanding of DevOps.

You can certainly find examples online, including company-specific interview questions for various DevOps-related positions, such as DevOps engineer or site reliability engineer (SRE).

Glassdoor users sometimes post questions from actual interviews. You can also find example questions on Quora or GitHub. These are all great places to start, but questions posted online don’t always come with reliable advice, if any, on how to best answer those questions.

Moreover, because you can’t actually predict the exact questions you’ll be asked in an interview, a better strategy might be to prepare for particular types of questions and, better still, seek out trusted expertise and advice on how to develop honest and authoritative responses.

A framework of critical DevOps interview questions

To give your DevOps interview prep a serious head start, we built a framework of critical DevOps interview questions and invaluable insights on crafting answers to them.

First, we talked to New Relic’s own solution consultant, Eric Mittelhammer, who has deep experience building and working in DevOps teams. We also connected with Jim Johnson, senior vice-president at national recruiting firm Robert Half Technology, to find out the kind of questions companies are currently asking DevOps candidates during phone and face-to-face interviews.

We also asked Mittelhammer and Johnson to share their expert advice on how to develop smart answers to these questions that will help you stand out from the pack.

1. Can you describe a previous success within your DevOps experience?

Being able to illustrate your big-picture understanding of DevOps with a particular project or team experience is incredibly useful in an interview setting. It lets the hiring team know that you’re the real deal, rather than someone who’s just littering their résumé with a bunch of DevOps-oriented catchphrases and hoping for the best.

Even if you haven’t had significant real-world DevOps experience, try to put your past experience in the best light and ensure that you can connect your individual contributions to the broader team and business.

“Bring up projects in which you’ve been a key player,” said Johnson. “How did you help your team succeed? What technology and processes did you use? What value did this project bring to the business? Touch on the project as a whole but also emphasise your main contributions and how your team worked together.”

2. What skills have you learned to help you better succeed in a DevOps role? How did they help? 

At just about any career stage or experience level, hiring managers in DevOps environments tend to look for people who show a commitment to continuous learning and skills development.

One tool might be the best solution for a particular process or problem today, but there’s no guarantee it will still be right for a problem that arises tomorrow.

Take the time to reflect on how you’ve added new skills and experience over time, whether it was learning a new programming language, building a sandbox project to learn a new cloud platform or taking advantage of educational opportunities offered by a previous employer.

Johnson said: “Be prepared to talk about any certifications or skills you’ve gained, why you did so and any results that may have come from it. The employer will want to know how dedicated you are to your professional development. It also shows that you went above and beyond to meet a challenge or fill a need for the business.”

3. If there is a new technology or process you’d recommend for improving our DevOps strategy, how would you evaluate said improvement?

Candidates may overlook the importance of measurement to DevOps, thinking it’s something to consider after they get the job. But a high-functioning DevOps team is definitely going to want to gauge how you measure the efficacy of tools and processes.

Johnson said: “DevOps transformation relies heavily on a team’s ability to implement new tech and processes. You should explain how you go about researching, evaluating and trying out new technologies and strategies, and how you would explain to stakeholders how this will improve the project and create value for the business.”

It’s pretty likely the interviewer is going to want to hear about how you’d evangelise the value of DevOps to the broader organisation when necessary. They’re also ensuring that, when it comes to things like selecting a new tool, you’ll be more thoughtful than throwing some spaghetti against the wall to see if it sticks.

4. How would you go about diagnosing and fixing problems in production?

You should expect questions on process and practice. The interviewer will want to know how you go about solving problems in your day-to-day job. Mittelhammer advises focusing on the importance of metrics and using the proper tools to monitor the metrics that matter most to the organisation so you can act when necessary.

“Candidates should talk about which performance metrics are important to them and why. They should discuss both user-focused timing and latency metrics, such as response time and Apdex score as well as application-wide quality metrics such as error rate and throughput,” he said.

“They should know how to use their tools to alert them to critical conditions on these metrics, and then describe how they can use them to drill down to find out what specifically is causing the problem.”

5. How would you take our company’s DevOps strategy to the next level?

If you’re going for a mid-level or senior position, the interviewing team will likely ask for your thoughts on the next phases of its DevOps transformation. This is definitely a big-picture question, but you’ll want to specifically connect your skills and experience to this particular position and organisation.

Johnson said: “The hiring manager wants you to think strategically and apply your previous experience to the challenges they’re facing. It would be beneficial to explain that you understand DevOps is a culture as well as an efficiency process, creating a collaborative environment across teams. Discuss any improvements you’d make to the collaboration factor of their DevOps strategy in addition to any technologies you’d recommend to the team.”

The importance of this question lies in the fact that successful DevOps teams and the executives and managers responsible for building them know that there’s no completion date for a DevOps journey. It’s about continuous evolution and improvement.

You’ll want a thoughtful answer that offers specific ideas on what that continuous evolution and improvement might look like for the particular team or company interviewing you.

By Kevin Casey

Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-sized businesses.

A longer version of this article originally appeared on New Relic’s blog.

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