./ops_recruitment.sh

A shell script for recruiting an Operations (Ops) team.

Welcome.

I’ve been thinking for some time now about writing about Ops recruitment since there is little to no practical advice on it. After joining a knowledge sharing group of great in-house start up recruiters (DBR Recruiters) I decided it was time to bite the bullet.

A little about me;

A lovely photo of me in my natural habitat.

I’ve been working in Ops recruitment for quite a while both agency side and internally for companies.

You can find me on:
Twitter: @samcnix
LinkedIn: samcnix

Sometimes I actually talk about tech recruitment.

In my time working in recruitment I’ve read roughly twenty thousand CVs and spent fifty thousand minutes speaking to Ops candidates. So I’ve learnt a bit in that time.

The aim of this blog is so that by the end of reading it you will have gone from a clueless recruiter hopelessly keyword searching from a job specification, to being well on your way to being mistaken for a Sys Admin.

Defining Ops

An accurate representation of how I felt first getting into Ops recruitment.

Perhaps one of the most challenging parts about recruiting Ops is how it is continuously evolving.

Job titles frequently change, tools are being created everyday and new approaches are being constantly imagined. If you’re a technical recruiter in any space involving open source then you’ll probably relate to this.

Wikipedia’s definition of Ops is a good demystifier if you have no idea what Ops is;

Information technology operations, or IT operations, are the set of all processes and services that are both provisioned by an IT staff to their internal or external clients and used by themselves, to run themselves as a business.

I’m going to be defining some words that will be useful to you in the following section.

DevOps

No doubt as a start-up recruiter this word will be plastered all over your job specifications. DevOps is a controversial subject and the buzzword to kill all other buzzwords.

Here’s what you need to remember about DevOps;

DevOps is the collaboration of Development and Operations teams.

This isn’t the textbook definition, as it’s not restricted to just Operations teams, but you’ll confuse yourself less if you approach it this way.

DevOps has slowly crept it’s way into job titles and specifications since the concept arose. To cut a long story short, it’s a methodology/culture and not a tool.

There is also a nice blog post here which describes it in some more detail.

You might experience a kickback from candidates about including it in your job specification — There is nothing wrong with this (assuming it’s actually practiced in your company), as it helps to attract candidates with experience in these environments.

When speaking about DevOps here’s an example of what not to do;

“Did you DevOps at your last job?”

To put it into context this is the recruitment equivalent of saying;

“Has anyone really been far as decided to use even go want to do look more like?”

It just makes no sense.

DevOps isn’t a verb and you wouldn’t speak about a development language in this way either. It’s acceptable to ask if it was practiced, or if they used tools to aid in the practice of it.

If DevOps is in your specification, make sure you clarify with the hiring manager — Do you want someone who has experience working in a DevOps cultured company? Or experience with the set of tools that go along with it?

It’s difficult for me to explain every technology associated with DevOps without massively oversimplifying it. Google is your best friend if you don’t recognise something.

Here’s some useful concepts to learn which will in turn help you understand a technology you may not recognise;

Configuration Management
Scalability
Agile
Continuous Delivery

The best advice I can give anyone to learn everything about Ops is to be open, honest and ask candidates what something is if you don’t understand it.

People will always respect you more for admitting that you don’t know something and taking the initiative to learn, rather than attempting to poorly blag with buzzwords.

System Administrators

When recruiting in Ops, this title is your best friend. If someone is titled System Administrator, chances are they perform the duties of the role you are trying to fill, it’s just a matter of figuring out if their technical experience matches what you need.

The Sys Admin is the generalist of Ops, sometimes performing multiple roles and just generally being a badass.

Titles containing the bulk of this role can include DevOps Engineer/Site Reliability Engineer/Operations Engineer/Platform Engineer/Ops.

For some cultural education see Bastard Operator From Hell.

Network Engineers

Network Engineers do what they say on the tin — Manage and design anything Network related within Ops.

It’s also worth noting they are often on a higher pay bracket.

Dealing with Network Engineers is typically simple, as it can be quite heavily certification based and a lot less convoluted than any other areas.

For an easier ride hiring these roles learn about the following;

Cisco Certifications
Routers
Switches
VoIP
Internet Protocol

When you’ve picked this information up alongside your other Ops knowledge, you should be getting to a stage where you can gauge how Senior candidates are.

As with most technical recruitment — When screening make sure you test depth of understanding, as it’s not unfamiliar for candidates to list things they have only done once.

Database Administrators

Database Administrators are not your typical Ops hire. It’s unlikely if you are hiring for a startup you will need a large team of DBAs so I’m keeping this one short.

Sys Admins nowadays will likely have experience with at least one relational database. MySQL being the most common due to it’s placement in the LAMP stack.

In companies where scalability is a priority, you will often see NoSQL databases being a requirement such as MongoDB/Riak/CouchDB. This is an alternative to relational databases.

NoOps

You won’t see this on your Ops specification, because it means there is intentionally no operations team in the company. Which is pretty much unanimously agreed on as a stupid thing to do.

2. Changing Perceptions

Arguably the biggest problem I’ve encountered in my time in recruitment is the perception of recruiters and the industry. It’s horrific. Apparently estate agents (realtors for anyone Stateside) are probably the only profession hated more than us.

Since Ops candidates are in high demand in start-up recruitment they generally have a disdain for recruiters.

As an Ops candidate uploading your CV online is pretty much sentencing yourself to death by recruitment calls. It’s not unusual for candidates to say they have received 15+ phone calls a day — Which I can confirm is the case speaking as an ex-agency recruiter.

This is why when you do speak to them it’s important that you take the time to understand what you are recruiting for so you don’t waste candidates time, or yours. It’s best practice to apply this to any role your are recruiting for.

Communication

This might seem obvious but make yourself someone that Ops candidates want to interact with, build your profile on social media by going to meet ups, networking and staying active in the community. Ensure you know your boundaries though as these meet ups are for talks about Ops, not pitching candidates. If someone asks you about what you do it’s great, if not keep it to yourself.

Approaching recruitment this way is a long game — This probably will feel like it’s doing nothing for a while, but stick at it because candidates will eventually be searching for you and not the other way round!

3. Execution

Search

Finding Ops Candidates can be difficult, be creative, consistent and logical with your search. If it works, do it again.

I’d recommend the following:

Existing Candidates
This is often forgotten. Assuming you have an ATS/CRM of some variety, the first step would be to look close to home at any candidates you’ve previously interviewed. You know that candidate who didn’t have enough experience 2 years ago? Maybe they do now.

Apply this to people who have not been contacted but applied too, if you’re doing high volume recruitment it can be easy to miss people. You wont get a better feeling than if you’ve been searching for difficult role for a while and there was someone in your database the entire time.

Recommendations
Your existing Ops team (or anyone else in your company!) may well know some good candidates. Remind people they could be working with colleagues they loved at a previous company, or could be eligible for your referral scheme (If you don’t have one, you should sort it out!). You’ll be surprised by the results if you do this frequently.

Search Tools
There is not a single website/CV database that will solve your problem of your shortage of good Ops candidates. However, there are places people wouldn’t typically think to look.

Meetup.com is great for this — Look at who is attending related meet ups and see if they could be relevant to your opening. If you do choose to approach someone this way, ensure it’s tailored and is relevant to them.

Twitter is for your diamonds in the rough. Get Tweetdeck or an equivalent and set up searches.

Mine looks like this for a really basic DevOps search with some more specific columns (out of view) on the right too;

It allows me to engage if I choose with any conversations on DevOps and keep an eye on who’s active in these discussions. More than likely if they frequent discussions they are a good candidate, you just need to check if they can meet your technical needs.

Job boards seem to be viewed negatively but can indeed be helpful. Remember not all candidates are as savvy about recruitment as you and this may very well be their first port of call.

Spend a little bit of cash to have the ability to search them if even for a week and get your boolean search on. Work backwards from the most complex search till you start getting results. It can be very hit and miss, so be patient and consistent, most boards will allow you to set up email alerts too.

I’ve hired quite a few people from job boards and people are surprised to hear a non-agency recruiter call them typically! Save yourself the cash it would cost for you to hire through an agency and go straight to where they are getting most of their candidates from.

Other places are available to find candidates who are active in the Ops community such as Google groups. Do some intelligent searching and find these places, but again please treat them with respect if you are engaging with them.

4. Key Learnings

Thanks for taking the time to read through this short guide.

Since this is a layman's guide I couldn’t put every single recruitment tip I know in but these few should get you well on your way.

Here’s some key learnings from this that you can apply to recruiting for any role;

If you are recruiting for a role that you don’t know much about use your calls with candidates to educate yourself. It’s always useful to know if people have the ability to translate technical topics to non technical people.
When screening make sure you test depth of understanding, as it’s not unfamiliar for candidates to list things they have only done once.
Take the time to understand what you are recruiting for so you don’t waste candidates time, or yours.
Treat any community with respect, feel free to take part but do not overstep your mark. No one wants sales people in their meet ups.

Feel free to contact me on Twitter at @samcnix if you want to discuss anything from this blog.

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