Questions DevOps hiring managers should be prepared to answer

20 questions DevOps hiring managers should be prepared to answer

Fostering a diverse, inclusive work environment is more important than ever—especially for DevOps teams, where candidates often call the shots. Here's how one situation went wrong, and some questions to keep your hiring on track.

How to build an inclusive workforce
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Making any team more inclusive doesn’t happen by default. You need to be intentional about it. Inclusivity is especially important if you’re building a DevOps team responsible for increasing communication and collaboration across the board to ensure quality for internal or external customers.

I witnessed this first-hand during a recent interaction involving my daughter, who was being recruited to join a new development team. I was at my daughter’s house in Berlin, sitting at her kitchen counter sipping an awesome glass of Chardonnay and watching her make pasta. Besides being an excellent cook, she’s a techie, a pretty awesome data wrangler, and a freelancer in high demand.

Her phone rang. (Actually, I think it barked.) She looked at the number and said, “Sorry, I’ve gotta take this—it’s about a gig.”

I settled in and listened to her side of the conversation. Here’s how it went:

“Tell me, in your own words please, if/when this product is released, how is the world going to be a better place?”

Good girlshe’s asking if they have a vision!

She looked at me and frowned.

“Do we have access to the customer?”

Her frown deepened.

“Tell me about the team—do they get together for lunches or dinners?”

She held her hand over the phone and whispered at me, “17 guys, no women on the team. They don’t socialize with their boss.

“So, 17 guys. Any women on the team? Any from out of the country?”

She held her hand over the phone again: “He’s talking about Agnes the cleaning lady now!"

“Agnes? Let me replay this just to make sure I got it: You have one cleaning lady on the team who comes in mornings, lunch, and evenings to pick up after the guys?”

She looked at me and did that thing where she crosses her eyes, then whisper-screamed, “I’d be the second woman, after the cleaning lady, on this team!

“OK. Tell me about the benefits.”

She looked at me, held the phone away, and whispered, “Free all-you-can-drink craft beer. Quick, what’s that per month in dollars?”

I jotted numbers on a napkin: somewhere between 3-8 beers a day, let's just say 5 beers a day, at $6 a beer … I whispered back, “$600 a month.”

“Would it be possible, instead of craft beer, to be comped an additional $600/month? I don’t drink beer. Hmm … OK. No, I’m not interested in free running shoes every two months, either, unless this can be comped. Hmm ... no. OK.”

She looked at me and crossed her eyes again.

“How is code deployed?”

She made a question face.

“OK ... hmmm ... may I see the CI console?”

Good girl, trust and verify. If the team doesn't know the URL or have it easily bookmarked, they aren't paying attention to it and don’t care about getting better.

She frowned.

“When do you do your deploys?”

She whisper-screamed, "ONCE A MONTH, ON FRIDAY NIGHT!"

“No thanks—sorry, gotta go. I am really not interested in this position at all.”

After she got off the call, I held up my glass, clinked it with hers, and we drank to her having cleverly weeded out a bad opportunity.

Long story short: If you want an inclusive organization, you must work for it. Be prepared to tackle the questions my daughter asked, and more. She’s not alone: Her savvy engineering friends are learning quickly how to spot the potentially toxic organizations. Developing an inclusive, top-talent team means you can answer questions like the ones she asked—and provide the answers recruits want to hear.

Don’t do what this guy did (or didn't do): He did not ask her why she wasn’t interested. If he had, he might have learned what needs to change to attract top candidates like her. The tables have turned these days: Instead of the boss interviewing for the best employee, employees are interviewing for the best potential opportunity.

Everyone remembers being interviewed. Potential recruits will certainly share both good and bad interview experiences, and word will get out quickly whether your organization is one to pursue or to avoid, so start your journey now.

I’ve included a list of questions below that candidates might find helpful to determine which organizations value diversity and inclusiveness. If any of these questions help during your interviews, let me know—I would love to hear your stories!

Questions candidates might ask

  1. Tell me, in your own words, how this product/service makes the world a better place.
  2. Tell me what life is like working here.
  3. Describe a typical day for the person in this position.
  4. What values does your organization hold, and how do you live those values?
  5. Personalize a few questions for values—for example, what does a "sustainable pace" mean at this company?
  6. If you could change one thing about the job/team/organization, what would it be?
  7. What would “setting someone up for success” mean for this job/team/organization?
  8. How large is the team? What is the background/experience of team members?
  9. How many team members have been here for more than 3 years?
  10. What is the onboarding procedure for this position—first day, week, month? What support do you offer?
  11. Does the team get together for lunch or dinner? (Do they have enough of a relationship to enjoy socializing with one another outside of work?) 
  12. How and why are teams formed and reformed? (This question can offer insights into PMO organizations.)
  13. Do employees have access to the customer?
  14. Tell me about the relationships employees have with stakeholders, suppliers, and partners.
  15. Is adaptive development supported? Is shared learning used and encouraged?
  16. What are the biggest challenges?
  17. When and how is code deployed?
  18. What current tools do you use? May I see the CI console?
  19. What safe-to-fail systems are in place to help us learn? Is failure tolerated?
  20. What are some of the things you wish you were doing? How long will you remain in this position? (Don’t accept a job with a boss who is about to leave.)

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About the author

Catherine Louis - Catherine Louis is a Certified Scrum TrainerTM, independent Agile coach, founder of CLL-Group.com, PoDojo.com, and founding member of Tech Ladies®.