How to “Hire” into a “DevOps” Market

Let’s be clear. I’m mostly writing this so that I don’t have to have another bullshit conversation with a high-level agency “technical” recruiter that doesn’t really know what the hell DevOps really is. But before you misinterpret what’s to come as a horn-rimmed trash session on recruiters (only a motif, I promise), consider that had you not read to the end, you would never have learned how to hire more efficiently, effectively, and ethically.

Boston, We Have a Big Problem

Aside from the occasional scuffle at a Java meetup, I’m in the Greater Boston Area, and Boston isn’t exactly known as a shining example of the tech boom. Sure, we have Facebook, Amazon, ZipCar, TripAdvisor, Chewy, RaizLabs, and Pivotal amongst others. We also have Oracle, IBM, Salesforce, and a plethora of other institutionalized madness from the Fortune 500 which typically drags our communal technical proficiency rating down year after year. We also have some of the most dedicated, seasoned professionals which you’d be hard-pressed to find in Silicon Valley during a fictional OSCON meets AWS Re:invent meets RSA all rolled into one.

Our problem is hiring. Everyone everywhere does not have the problem quite like we do. Its potency is not diminished in the DevOps space simply because its a generally applicable point to make for any highly skilled market. When something is as culturally intertwined as True DevOps mindset is in high performing teams, traditional recruiting approaches will always fall flat on their face. What people are calling DevOps positions right now are a loose collection of uninformed guesses, buzzwords, poorly crafted hiring pitches, philosophical paradoxes, voodoo, and outright corporate misunderstandings.

Recruiter, Know Thyself

What’s required is simply a sea change in recruiting mindset: the fastest way to qualify people is for you to qualify yourself. I don’t mean credentials, I mean the way you ‘smell’. Not by your morning shower and shave, but by what real practitioners need to hear from your mouths in the first 30 seconds: “I’ve really been thinking about how to right-fit you and a few of my clients,” or something equally real and challenging. How about “I’m interested to know what kind of work you’d like to be doing…” or “Which do you like better, people or code?” (that one is for all you recruiters looking to place the even more elusive ‘DevOps Manager’ position, which as it turns out is just a normal technical manager that’s passionate about coaching and improvement and customers and building future leaders.)

Or you could just leave us really good hires out of it, focus on the email overload flowing from opaque B2B recruiting firms currently choking your inbox (yes, I have recruiter friends and we talk), and then you’d be bidding for the lowest common denominators and margins, not the highest ones. Good luck with that approach, it leads to burnout and we DevOps people know a million ways to get burnt out. But unless you’re ethically fine with placing unqualified people with unqualified teams for a buck, the first option is better for you and for everyone you churn through week after week.

Be Transparent..to a Fault

Recruiters and hiring managers, there is nothing worthwhile to hide from someone like me that isn’t abundantly already transparent through what you don’t know about the organization you represent. I don’t have to ask questions about the org, just about you and your relationship with actual decision-makers, and what you don’t understand or know enough about to hire on behalf of True DevOps teams properly.

To get over cursory technical qualifications, ask people for examples of their work, or better yet look for them first; the simple act of a prospect answering you with examples of their expertise (or simply knowledge to-date) in particular areas is something unqualified people can’t do and unmotivated people simply won’t do. If your candidate hasn’t used any of a dozen or more social platforms (like Stack Overflow, Medium, LinkedIn, etc.) to publish their own stuff, encourage them to so you can pass it along to the real decision makers.

Once these minimum-viable qualification hoops are behind us, bring something to the table. Have a spine and a brain and a perspective about the challenge you’re looking for my help to solve in an org. Understand the broader issues the organization you’re representing is having, then ask us which ones we think we actually have the desire and a real shot at helping to move forward.

Suspend disbelief for a moment…

Drop the bullshit. Tell us who your client is when we ask, how many and which positions they have open, how many other candidates you’re playing off each other for some high-dollar plot of glory, and for god’s sake be prepared to describe your client’s *engineering culture* like it was your own family. Go to a meetup every so often, or better, help to organize one. Sit through and listen, stop emailing from your phone through the presentations. Absorb what’s happening, how people respond to certain topics, and if you don’t find yourself startled awake by clapping, you may just learn something.

Against all corporate recruiting conventional wisdom, when a potential candidate comes at you with such Maslowian questions as “Can you tell me a bit about their culture?” and “What challenges there would I even be interested in?”, definitely don’t talk about benefits packages (that are mostly all the same at a certain level anyway) and please don’t use things like “occupational environment”, “team synergy”, or “interpersonal skills”. Please be real, explain to us what you do so we can understand if you do it better than anyone else we will talk to that week, and leave the qualification script at the door.

You’re selling you to us first, then you earn the right to sell your client to us. If the order of those two things is in reverse, it’s equally transparent where your placement priorities lie.

Hiring Managers: Who’s Doing Things Differently?

Off the top of my head, I can think of a few folks in the local Boston DevOps meetup that are good examples of how to place highly qualified practitioners:

  • Dave Fredricks, Founder, eninjia.io
    This guy is legit. Hard working, constantly advocating, and an early organizer of DevOps Days Boston, amongst other dedicated individuals.
    .
  • Sam Oliver, 3yrs self-employed recruiter, now FTE at PathAI
    This woman really rolls up her sleeves, as a co-organizer of the Boston DevOps meetups, and smartly carved out the “we’re hiring” pitches from the “let’s talk tech” conversation that this crowd is known to like as separate things. #listening
    .
  • Kara Lehman, Principal Recruitment Consultant, Huxley
    Her stock is climbing with me. We first chatted it up in 2017 and when I asked her what she was doing at the nerd-fest of a meetup at Pivotal, she said that she “needs to understand this thing called DevOps better”, which is far more enlightened of a response that about 99% of other local recruiters.

If your name isn’t in the above list, nothing personal, I’m writing this at 10pm on a Monday. Let’s have a conversation where I vet you out and then maybe I’ll write about you too. In the mean time, prepare yourself because it will be me who’s interviewing you.

Apologies and Thanks

If you got this far, my gift to you is my true gratefulness for feedback you may have and maybe a retroactive apology for saying things harshly. We need to cut through bullshit, especially the corporate flavors of it, and this is my personal blog anyway.

Recruiters: if you “can’t do these kinds of things” in the position you’re currently in, consider that you would probably earn far more by taking a new  approach (like the one in this article) on your own and making 100% commission on your own closes instead of a measly 50k/year plus.

Also, you can also reach out to me via LinkedIn and let’s talk about your challenges in hiring, training, managing, or fostering a DevOps-minded team. I’m much nicer in person than in this post.

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