How to spot a DevOps faker

IT leaders share 7 tips on weeding out DevOps job candidates who may be more hype than substance. Whether you're a job seeker or a hiring manager, heed these lessons
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IT metrics

The growth of DevOps careers – as illustrated in these eye-opening stats – is certainly good news for IT pros with relevant skills and experience. If you’re a DevOps pro, you’re popular in the job market right now and in a command position at the negotiating table.

That popularity also means that some job hunters are probably getting a little, um, creative with their resumes and LinkedIn profiles in hopes of getting a foot in the door for a DevOps role.

There are certainly legitimate strategies for transitioning to a DevOps career from various IT backgrounds. But exaggerating or outright fabricating DevOps relevant skills and experience isn’t one of them.

Still, it might be tempting for some folks: The high salaries commanded by positions like DevOps engineer, site reliability engineer, and other DevOps-relevant titles further boost the appeal of these roles. And let’s face it: Simply adding the word “DevOps” to your LinkedIn profile or other online personas is probably going to make you show up in recruiters’ search results.

[ Are you a DevOps job seeker or a hiring manager? Get our free resource: The Ultimate DevOps Hiring Guide. ]

That presents a potential challenge for recruiters and hiring managers looking to fill open positions. How do you sniff out the folks who are faking their way through the screening and hiring process? Perhaps even more likely, how do you tell when someone isn’t necessarily faking it but is exaggerating, or simply has a skewed perception of how their background lines up with your open DevOps job?

We posed these questions to several IT leaders who have been around the block a few times. Here’s their advice on how to weed out the candidates who might look and sound good – but who may be more hype than substance. 

And if you’re job hunting and trying to assess whether your potential boss and teammates really know DevOps or just talk a good DevOps game, you should consider these points, too. No one wants to work for a micromanager in agile clothing.

Be mindful of candidates playing keyword bingo

It’s a smart job-hunting practice to tailor your materials to particular positions. But there’s a difference between highlighting legitimate skills and experience relevant to a job and merely peppering a resume and online profiles with keywords – DevOps, automation, CI/CD, Agile, configuration management, orchestration, and so forth – in hopes of getting a hit.

So when that perfect resume crosses your desk, it’s OK, advisable even, to wonder if it’s too perfect. (In fact, we’ll extol the virtues of skepticism a bit later in the post.)

“This one is very hard as they could have changed their resume [or] LinkedIn profile to jive with the job description they are applying to,” notes Robert Reeves, CTO and co-founder and Datical

There’s a simple way to see how often someone changes their online profiles: “You can put their LinkedIn profile URL in the Internet Wayback Machine to see how it has changed over time,” Reeves says.

Some change – even significant change – can be perfectly normal. But if last week they were pitching themselves as a business analyst and this week as a site reliability engineer, your radar should be chirping.

Keep in mind, too, that if resume keywords are more than an initial signal in your recruiting practices, you’re setting yourself up to be duped.

“If you’re trying to hire based mostly on resume keywords, you’re probably doing it wrong,” says Anders Wallgren, CTO and co-founder at Electric Cloud.

Pose the right questions, tests, and screening material

Our experts generally agreed that unearthing a DevOps faker can be similar to smoking out someone who’s overselling their programming knowledge or any other IT skills, for that matter.

“I don’t think DevOps is easier to fake than development,” says Nate Berent-Spillson, senior delivery director at Nexient.

You can ask candidates to do DevOps-related challenges or tests in the same manner as you probably check up on a developer’s fluency with a particular language or framework.

“Giving some hands-on exercises for both coding and DevOps is effective in weeding out fakers,” Berent-Spillson explains. “You can tell if someone knows their way around Jenkins, or is comfortable on the command line, just by watching the way they drive. Same thing for Dev: Live coding shows how comfortable they are with the tools.”

Similarly, good questions in a phone or in-person interview should help suss out the exaggerators, including those who simply fattened up their resume with keywords in lieu of substantive prior work.

“Ask questions such as: ‘What has been your favorite failure?’” Reeves advises. Don’t stop there; keep probing. “Follow up on ‘What did you learn?’ Then, ask ‘What changes did the organization make to ensure it didn’t happen again?’”

Be wary of the perfectionist

"You have to keep digging until they stumble a bit."

Embracing failure is a key part of DevOps culture. DevOps engineers "realize that failure is an opportunity to learn and improve,” Reeves says.

Berent-Spillson likes asking candidates how they would apply DevOps to an existing legacy system or process. 

“If they start to zero in on the rate-limiting step and making improvements there first, I know they understand what makes DevOps effective,” he says.

He also advises focusing on problem-solving as a core skill in the hiring process.

“You also have to keep digging until they stumble a bit,” Berent-Spillson advises. “You can’t just ask high-level questions or did you do x or y. You have to make them analyze and solve problems.”

Watch out for a focus on tools

"Anybody can bone up on DevOps tools, but that’s really not what DevOps is about."

Perhaps one of the biggest red flags that you might be dealing with a DevOps faker: They can speak at length, even eloquently, about tooling and technical skills but go blank when you bring up matters of culture, teamwork, and more.

“DevOps is as much about culture, visibility, and transparency as it is about technical skills, so anyone who says they are a DevOps Engineer and doesn't speak to those aspects and only lists their technical qualifications is perhaps just trying to pass your resume filters by including ‘DevOps’ on their resume,” Wallgren says. 

Maybe you’ve met someone acting their way through an initial programming challenge or another screening task: So too can someone Google their way to at least a cursory knowledge of popular tools and platforms.

“Can the person speak to their mistakes and learnings in their career?” Wallgren asks. “Do they focus only on their technical skill with Product X, or do they talk about how and why Product X was the right approach to the problem that needed solving?”

Reeves notes that tools and technical skills are certainly important on DevOps teams. But soft skills are equally critical.

“Anybody can bone up on DevOps tools, but that’s really not what DevOps is about,” Reeves says.

Berent-Spillson concurs: “If they just want to talk tools, they don’t get it.” 

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a variety of publications. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his story, "Are You Too Old For IT?" He's a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards.