As we close out 2021, we at DevOps.com wanted to highlight the most popular articles of the year. Following is the twentieth in our series of the Best of 2021.
Most of us are not FAANG, and we shouldn’t act like we are. Instead of using that, I’m going to use the term we used to use to refer to them: “Web Monsters”, which isn’t 100% accurate, but includes more than just the five FAANG members (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google) for this article. At some point, we are going to need a new term. Web Monsters doesn’t clearly include Apple or Citi, but FAANG clearly excludes Citi and eBay. But this blog is about something else, so please accept my apologies for that lack of clarity. Assume that ‘Web Monster’ means “Big, popular high-tech company that pays well and looks good on a résumé.”
There are several angles to “Not Web Monsters” that we can address, but I’m mostly going to focus on DevOps hiring, with a nod to irrelevant sales/marketing techniques. Hiring is an easy target because Web Monsters offer resume-building, pay and benefits that are super attractive in the industry, so they can (right now, at least) reject 99% of applicants and still have a good selection of candidates to choose from. Most organizations cannot compete in even one of those areas, though a few can when it comes to salary and/or benefits.
We in IT have long had a bad habit of asking our applicants to be more qualified than the average employee. It’s pretty ridiculous at times; things like asking for a candidate to have more years of experience with a technology than the technology itself has actually existed. What happens when you ask for the impossible? Honest, qualified applicants self-select out, and only those who don’t realize the technology hasn’t been around that long and liars end up applying. That’s just bad hiring policy, even if you are a Web Monster. But at smaller organizations where each hire has a larger impact on the organization, it can be devastating.
It seems worse in DevOps. In fact, all of the hiring items listed here seem worse in DevOps because DevOps is actually a nightmare mish-mash of skill sets. No two people define the job the same because “the job” covers everything from cradle to grave for an application. There is no part of app dev that “DevOps” couldn’t touch. That’s problem number one. Define the responsibilities of the role clearly, don’t ask for everything that it could be. As a rule, an Ansible specialist is not going to be a DevSecOps expert, and you shouldn’t expect them to be. I think, at a minimum, we need to split hiring along my traditional emphasis lines… DevOps and DevOps. If you are writing code and using Checkmarx while GitLab is building the results and you configured it to roll out to test … you’re not a DevOps engineer, even though there’s a bit of ops in there. Your strengths need to be in development and app configuration. Your job description needs to focus on that.
Could there be roles that need it all? Yes, particularly in the SRE or chaos engineering space; I could see that. But they are certainly not entry-level roles, or even close. Knowledge in the breadth of technologies required to touch the entire DevOps toolchain is developed over years and with a healthy curiosity. And, of course, the person you are hiring should have a similar skill set to those doing the job today. Which is a good sanity check against the “Throw in the kitchen sink” syndrome.
Next up is take-home tests and shared coding during interviews. We know that you have a vested interest in landing the best people, but if you are doing coding exercises with people who are primarily DevOps, you are wasting everyone’s time. Most DevOps jobs are done with PowerScript and/or bash with YAML files. Other languages used occasionally have no more place in a core job interview than other occasional bits. “It’s about how you think” is a common refrain. I would argue that an assignment that takes an applicant hours to complete (or in several cases I know of, days) is not an efficient way to evaluate the way a prospective employee thinks. And, in at least one case, I’m pretty certain the interview solved an actual problem that employees didn’t—or couldn’t—solve. Ask the candidate questions about how they’d solve problem X. Ask them convoluted questions. They don’t need to get to code level to show you how they think.
And finally, my nod to bad marketing: Unless you actually are doing the volume of one of the Web Monsters, the fact that Facebook is a customer of vendor X is totally irrelevant. In fact, like the government, most vendors can mark one or more of the Web Monsters as their customers, just because Web Monsters are so big they try a lot of different tools across many different teams. So having them as a customer should be irrelevant, but if it isn’t considered irrelevant, should be expected.
The team you have today is rocking it. Hire more people like them. You know what works and what you need. Get back to customizing hiring processes to deliver more of what you need and stop over-asking. There are more great people out there looking for roles; don’t scare them off by asking for irrelevant experience. Stick to the core. What are they going to do daily? Require that, then probe for other useful items at interview time. And get more good peeps in the seats!