DevOps hiring

A holistic approach to hiring for in-demand positions

Free O'Reilly Report: DevOps HiringTraditional recruiting is broken. The biggest problem is that goals and incentives of candidates, hiring managers, and recruiters are often misaligned. For instance, taken to the extreme, a headhunter’s best candidate is one who survives at a new job just long enough to collect the finder’s fee before being placed at another company. Clearly, this puts the recruiter at odds with both the candidate and the hiring manager.

The current unemployment rate for “computer and mathematical occupations” is 2.9%. It’s been dropping, and is now lower than the 4% level that is considered “full employment.” This means that every software engineer, database administrator, and “DevOps engineer” who wants to work—and, apparently, some who don’t—are all gainfully employed. Not surprisingly, salaries are also going up.

Given this information, it’s easy to get caught up in the hysteria of the so-called “war for talent,” with its violent language of “headhunting” and “poaching.” A natural reaction to this situation might be to have more recruiters send even more unsolicited emails to candidates through LinkedIn. However, this default recruiting tactic has diminishing returns: the higher the volume of recruiter spam on LinkedIn, the more engineers will ignore it or delete their profiles altogether.

Is there another way?

In early 2013, I gave a short talk at devopsdays in New York on hiring people for DevOps organizations. I shared some practical approaches for finding such people (e.g., not on LinkedIn). When I revisited the subject for a recent report for O’Reilly, I realized that this approach was fundamentally different from—and more effective than—traditional recruiting. I call this “DevOps hiring,” and this holistic approach to recruiting can be used to hire for in-demand positions in any part of an organization (not just the so-called “DevOps engineers”). This goal misalignment is similar to the unnatural and dysfunctional silos that exist in many organizations—conditions that DevOps attempts to remedy through the application of the four pillars of Culture, Automation, Measurement, and Sharing (CAMS). What if we apply CAMS to building a hiring process that emphasizes a common goal for all the participants?

Luckily, all three groups involved in the hiring process share the desire to be or to work with highly productive and engaged people. A culture of engagement is both a key component and the goal of DevOps hiring. Although most of the people in our field have jobs, most of them will not be “actively engaged in their work.” While this is quite sad, it also provides the context for the hiring manager to start the conversation with the candidate.

What does the candidate love to do, and does she get to do it every day at her current job? What is the candidate best at—what are her strengths—and does she get to apply them every day? Where does the candidate see herself in 5 or 10 years, and is there someone at her current workplace who has taken an active interest in her career? By focusing the discussion on these topics, not only will you be distinguishing yourself from the vast majority of recruiters, but you’ll also have a chance to understand what really drives the candidate and how that aligns with your company’s needs.

The DevOps fundamentals of Automation and Measurement are not about blindly automating and measuring “all the things.” In fact, it’s critical to know which things are counterproductive to automate and misleading to measure. One of the ways in which DevOps hiring differs from traditional hiring is that we never automate the initial email to the candidate, choosing instead to research the candidate and craft a highly personalized message. It is time consuming, but significantly more effective then any automated or non-personalized message. This approach is also more in line with the culture of engagement that we’re seeking in DevOps hiring.

Given the competitive nature of recruiting, it’s not surprising that most recruiters and hiring managers hoard candidates, even those whom they won’t be hiring. In DevOps hiring, we apply the last core DevOps tenet of Sharing by actually sharing candidates between organizations. Such introductions—with the candidates’ permission, of course—clearly demonstrate that the hiring manager prioritizes the candidate’s engagement instead of a short-term need to fill a role. It also builds long-term relationships with other hiring managers, who are likely to reciprocate the sharing.

Want to learn more about DevOps hiring? Read my free O’Reilly report.