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4 Vital soft skills to highlight in your DevOps interview

By Christine Wright, Senior Vice President, Hays U.S. on November 28th, 2019

Even the most talented DevOps Engineer can’t automate good human interaction.

Today, soft skills are among the most sought-after skills by technology business leaders. According to a recent report from the DevOps Institute, 69 per cent of C-suite leaders and 55 per cent of managers say it’s a “must-have” for DevOps roles, beating out knowledge of specific automation tools.

In the U.S., the average salary for a DevOps Engineer exceeds $120,000, and employers want to get the most value for their money.

“The DevOps Market today is continuing to evolve,” explains Shannon McKinney, Area Recruitment Director for Hays U.S. “We’re finding that employers are looking for the ‘right match’ when hiring in the DevOps space. DevOps means very different things from one employer to the next. Hiring managers are looking for specific tools, cloud technologies and the right culture fit before bringing candidates onboard.”

Be sure to highlight these key soft skills during your next interview.

Empathy

Empathy and compassion are at the heart of the entire DevOps movement. A great DevOps professional can put themselves in the shoes of a software developer or a systems administrator, understand their unique challenges, and design processes that work for competing groups and objectives.

Empathy allows DevOps professionals to make the most of incident post mortems. Incident post mortems empower teams to learn from mistakes and improve in the future. But handled poorly, IT post mortems can lead to tense conversations more focused on assigning blame than producing insights.

How do you demonstrate this soft skill during your interview?

Highlight how you’ve used empathy and compassion to create a positive and productive work environment.

For instance, a popular interview question among hiring managers is: Tell me about a time you experienced conflict in the workplace.

Employers ask this because they know conflict is an unavoidable part of working together, so they want an idea of how you’ll manage it. Look for a professional example of conflict (e.g. “A member of another team disagreed with how we should approach a problem for a specific product”) and highlight how you looked at the issue from the colleague’s perspective to arrive at an acceptable compromise.

Effective Communication

The myth of the lone programming genius is long gone. If you want to succeed as a technical professional in today’s enterprise environments, excellent communication skills are a must.

A common misconception is that a great communicator has to be a social butterfly. Not at all. You can be a reserved individual who also knows how to relay important information to numerous stakeholders.

For instance, a DevOps professional must be able to:

● Communicate new workflows to both developers and IT operations teams, who likely use different tools, processes, and terminology
● Communicate challenges to senior managers who want concise updates regarding a product’s release
● Make requests to other areas of the business who may be involved in a product’s release like legal, marketing, or compliance

An excellent communicator knows how to relay information using the right language to these different groups.

For example, your senior leadership team needs key takeaways and timelines. Delve too deep into technical jargon and you’ll frustrate a key stakeholder group whose support and buy in you need.

On the other hand, your developers need clear, detailed information to do their work properly lest they send you a deliverable that doesn’t line up with the request.

How do you demonstrate this soft skill during your interview?

While the entire interview is a demonstration of your communication, there is an opportunity to link your communication skills to your technical skills.

Thanks to the relatively recent development of the DevOps school of thought, many interviewers ask questions to gauge an interviewee’s level of understanding of the role. They may ask you:

● What are the most important tools or skills for a DevOps professional?
● What are the best practices of a successful DevOps implementation?

These questions are an opportunity to demonstrate how important communication is, whether it’s about communicating clear requirements to a development team, giving the IT operations team enough notice for an upcoming release, or keeping senior leaders abreast of a project’s status.

Leadership Skills

Everyone has an opinion on what constitutes a good leader, but chances are all of those opinions have these traits in common:

● Vision
● Integrity
● Humility
● Collaborative attitude

A great DevOps leader needs these leadership traits.

For starters, they need a vision for how they want to improve workflows. Depending on the level of your role, you’ll need to explain why you’re replacing an existing tool or process and how this fits into the big picture.

In addition, you’ll need to demonstrate integrity by giving credit where credit is due, take accountability for your mistakes, and be transparent.

Finally, a strong leader practices humility by collaborating with experts on the team.

How do you demonstrate this soft skill during your interview?

When discussing your leadership experience, focus on how your actions brought together the talents of a disparate group of people to achieve a great product. At the end of the day, this is the entire purpose of the DevOps methodology: To use a company’s existing talent to efficiently create amazing products. It takes the right tools implemented by the right people.

Problem Solving

Problem solving is one of the most in-demand skills among employers, especially in DevOps. These individuals aren’t just troubleshooters. They’re big picture thinkers who take the time to properly identify and define a problem, gather data to avoid making assumptions, and consult with experts from diverse backgrounds to find creative solutions.

DevOps professionals are constantly identifying and solving problems. If you’re joining a company with a relatively young DevOps culture, you may be building the company’s toolkit yourself. Selecting the right tools and prioritizing which to implement first relies on clearly articulating pain points and finding the best solutions.

How do you demonstrate this soft skill during your interview?

Problem solving questions are a great opportunity to show off both your soft and hard skills. For example, the interviewee may ask you to choose the best configuration management tool and explain why. In your answer, you can talk about how the best tool (e.g. Puppet, Chef, etc.) depends on specific circumstances, and how you would go about selecting the appropriate resource. As a result, you demonstrate your familiarity with different tools, your ability to define a problem, and your ability to find an appropriate solution.

Matching soft skills to your hard skills is how you land that coveted DevOps role

Progressing up the career ladder means demonstrating the value you’ll bring beyond your technical work. In DevOps, this means showing how you’ll proactively identify problems or areas of improvement, consulting with subject matter experts, bringing out the best in people, and achieving optimal outcomes for the business and its customers.

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