If your business relies on software, there may come a time where you realize the need to start hiring your first Operations team. You could be putting this task off because there’s enormous pressure to pick the perfect team that will propel your company forward, but you don’t want to risk making the wrong hiring decision. Or, you simply might not know what to look for in the first place.
Whether you’re in the early stages of a startup or you’re a well-established company experiencing growing pains, there are a multitude of circumstances where an Operations team could be the answer to your problems. By picking up insights from DevOps recruitment pros and studying best practices for hiring in the industry, you can better prepare to add essential members to your growing organization and team.
What is Operations and When Do You Need It?
Operations is responsible for how software works. That means that they’re the ones who are ensuring that the customer is always being delivered an exceptional experience, which includes owning quality, consistency, operability, impact on internal teams, availability, and balancing other requirements.
This means that an Operations team is often essential when security and reliability is a priority, or there’s specific “hard operational problem” in the infrastructure.
Honeycomb Co-founder Charity Majors gave an excellent presentation for the Heavybit Speaker Series all about hiring an Ops team. While she acknowledged the importance of an Operations team in certain situations, she also advanced that, depending on where your business is at, it’s not always the right direction.
“There are a lot of places out there that think they need traditional operations engineers, when all they really need is someone to really care about their infrastructure,” said Majors. “You should have genuinely hard operations problems before you even start looking to hire engineers.”
Sometimes, a Development team may be able to answer these problems, and sometimes, you have to hire Operations. However, it’s essential to consider the individual needs of your business to assess where there are gaps in production that need to be met before making the decision to hire a whole Ops team.
Distinguishing DevOps and Hiring for Skills
Traditionally, there was a divide between Development and Operations. Recently, however, the conjunction of the two under the term “DevOps” has been in the spotlight because of the shift towards Agile development and test automation.
Many industry experts, however, will tell you that “there’s no such thing as a DevOp,” and some people are still debating the actual definition of a DevOps engineer. Neverless, Ernest Mueller posed a good description of DevOps on Agile Admin:
“DevOps is the practice of operations and development engineers participating together in the entire service life cycle, from design through the development process to production support.”
Basically, DevOps should echo Agile principles and resource the complimentary skills of both Development and Operations functions when building, delivering, and maintaining software.
When thinking about the differences between Development and Operations in this sense, Sean Hull suggests that their primary skill sets and focuses simply differ. Developers are responsible for programming new features, rapid prototyping, and development, while TechOps compliment this by enforcing the longevity of data, and the consistency and durability of it when large-scale operational problems come arise.
“In a lot of small startups, the initial phase is obviously on building a product […] and not surprisingly, you hire a lot of developers,” said Hull.
“As you grow you may find the operational tasks that are defaulting to one or more developers are taking more and more of their time. As your customer base grows and you’ve seen your first few spikes, it’s time to start thinking about hiring for a real Ops role.”
However, Majors points out that people should be careful of isolating the two roles into silos and following the stereotype that Operations teams are only interested in stability and durability while Development only works on solutions and features. Everyone as a whole should be supporting the the progress of a project as well as the outcomes associated with operations. Within well-oiled DevOps teams, all contributors should be interested in delivering quality software, driving innovation, and solving problems.
Hull also enforces the idea that when you’re hiring anyone under for Operations, you need to be searching for a specific skill set. While you probably want this person to posses skills in automation and programming, you’re also looking to approach specific operational problems and fill the gaps in your existing development strategy, so being precise is important when crafting a job description.
While you do want someone who has a breadth of knowledge, you don’t want someone who has amateur skills in everything. Instead, you want someone who has strengths that you’re already looking for to ensure a stable infrastructure while committing to company-wide collaboration.
Stress Communication and Empathy
CEO of LogicMonitor, Kevin McGibben shared that at TechBeacon, only about 10 percent of employees are in Operations. This is because having a close-knit and collaborative Operations team is going to be much more effective than having a large, disjointed one.
“Five 9s, or 99.999 percent uptime, is a requirement in our business,” McGibben informed.
You need a team that can work together to balance strengths and bounce strategies off each other in order to have a successful organization. They also need to be fully invested in the success of their projects and the organization.
“The best Ops engineers understand their impact on the function and value of the product they deploy to customers,” McGibben said. “They understand the consequences of operational degradation (or downtime) on customer experience and business.”
Since Operations can be a very high-impact area, it’s crucial that teams are invested in their own accountability in this way. To this point, Tom Hart, VP of Operations at VictorOps, has also stated the importance of a strategic, committed team.
“Over the years, I’ve found that productive and successful Operations teams (“the 99.999 percent” crowd) are centered on establishing and maintaining a positive culture of communication and collaboration, coupled with a tangible sense of ownership in the success (or, failure) of their organization,” Hart said.
Look For Someone Who Enjoys a Challenge… and Challenge Them
The most successful Operations team is going to be one who is always interested in learning new things and thinks that solving problems is what makes work fun.
“From my experience, it comes down to this: If you don’t like dealing with people during difficult circumstances (many of which are circumstances you and your technology created!), you should not be in Operations,” Hart said.
Additionally, the retention of your Operations team is just as important as the onboarding. You’re hiring a whole team of people who enjoy a challenge and do their best work when they’re challenged, so it’s important to keep your Operations team engaged and excited to work.
“You’re not really going to ever attract the top tier talent unless you are offering real, hard, challenging problems of reliability or scale,” said Majors. “I think there’s no question that investing in your people is always the winning strategy.”