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Yes, you can hire someone with DevOps skills -- but it's tricky to do

The DevOps-experienced developer is a rare -- and pricey -- treasure. Expert Julie Gunderson explains how to find them, hire them and keep them too happy to leave.

Are you trying to hire that oh-so-elusive DevOps-experienced developer? Julie Gunderson has a simple solution: Offer them work that matters.

The community manager for San Jose, Calif., IT hiring consultancy Taos will be speaking at Agile2016 in Atlanta in late July on how to attract and keep those with DevOps skills. It's harder than it looks, Gunderson stressed, and it's really not about salary.

DevOps, an outgrowth of the Agile movement, has gained tremendous traction this year as a methodology and mindset, promising fast and efficient development and delivery. But, like any hot new area, demand for those with DevOps experience is far outstripping supply. Market research firm Gartner predicted 25% of Global 2000 companies will be using DevOps by the end of this year, although other estimates indicated that percentage might be overly optimistic.

Either way, though, DevOps is what everyone's talking about. "The market is absolutely super-tight for DevOps engineers," Gunderson said. "But what's important is not just going out and looking on Dice or any of the recruiting tools for these people; what matters is building community and finding people that way."

Taos works with clients to identify technology needs, and then uses an extensive screening and support process to find and support the right technical employees. Community is always important in this process, Gunderson said, but for folks with DevOps skills, it's particularly true. "If you want to attract and hire DevOps people, you have to understand the culture."

From her experience, timing is critical. "Where are they? Are they doing a really cool project? DevOps engineers really want to be working on a really cool project," she said. And while a good salary is always nice, by itself, it won't make up for a boring project. "They really want to touch tools they've never touched before and work on new and interesting projects," she said.

And then, there is the issue of retaining talent. Cutting-edge developers, in particular, want to be part of a community and regularly growing and learning. In many companies, that community piece will likely have to be created and fed to keep it going. Gunderson's advice is to build a learning center -- real or virtual -- where individuals and teams can meet, exchange ideas and advice, and even partner up and mentor. It's that sense of a team that supports an individual, and his or her growth, that those with DevOps skills are looking for, she said.

What if you don't have DevOps skills, but want to? And worse, what if your employer isn't there yet? Gunderson said, in that situation, it's time to get creative. Set up a lab at home and start practicing with demo tools. Join Meetups in your area and see if you can find a mentor. Her favorite idea, though, and one she's used the most, is to volunteer in an area you're interested in learning about with a nonprofit. You'll learn new things, meet new people and feel good about it all.

"There is just not going to be any more treading water," Gunderson stressed. "Don't let yourself be siloed or held back. If it's been three years or more and you haven't been working on new things, it's really going to hurt you. So, it's time to teach yourself something new."

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