In such a rapidly shifting space as the DevOps talent market, many employers find themselves challenged with deciding what type of DevOps Engineer to hire. Do I choose the junior talent with all the energy in the world and is eager to learn anything at the click of a deployment? Or do I push the IT department’s budget and Finance’s patience in selecting the most experienced talent in town?

Of course, there are great case studies of companies who have digitally transformed thanks to hiring both - a Senior DevOps Engineer to tackle architecture and design while mentoring a savvy junior DevOps Engineer working deeper in the weeds. (And from that moment forward, all DevOps hires came in twos)

…But what happens when you can only choose 1?

While both add heaps of value to a company, there are some key distinctions worth considering.


Communication skills

Sr DevOps Engineer

It’s second nature for a Sr DevOps Engineer to interact with varying personalities after being in the field longer. They have seen it before when one department is delirious with their efforts and another still doesn’t see why they are disrupting everything “that worked just fine.” These veterans can roll with the punches when managing the all too familiar growing pains of user acceptance.

When it comes to strategizing with C-levels they have been in boardrooms with groaning higher-ups before and can usually predict what their biggest concerns and pain points will be - making for more productive conversations and quicker improvements with minimal trial and error.

Junior DevOps Engineer

On the flip side, a breath of fresh air can add spark to a companies’ culture and promote communication throughout with new and exciting ideas that a senior resource may not always be willing to try. A junior DevOps Engineer not set in their ways will naturally create a refreshing example for fellow engineers and admins to be proud to learn from mistakes.

After all, productive trial-and-error is one of the best qualities of a DevOps culture. Changing, reinventing, and creating is what DevOps is all about and constantly learning is what junior resources thrive on best.

Legacy experience

Senior DevOps Engineer

In this case, we have to give it to those who have been there and done that before. They not only have cutting-edge skills and personalities but have probably managed legacy systems before and know how to diagnose whatever issues your systems of old might be causing as you digitally transform.

Since a digital transformation is never a one-person job, they’ve probably picked up a trick or two managing or leading teams in the past. This experience always helps in creating a sense of confidence any business needs when going digital.

Junior DevOps Engineer

In the event that you are running, (say a mobile app startup with zero on-prem history) a Junior resource who can recite every case study on the latest apps’ successes and challenges could be great for your product whose uptime needs every advantage possible.

While every company culture and product is unique, coming from a place of DevOps fandom will keep your legacy transformation’s moans and groans to a minimum. This is usually more than just a job but a genuine passion. They’ll take pride in assuring that their new found ‘baby’ is only up on the latest best practices, tools, methodologies etc. even if the data they are moving is older than they are.

Coworker perception

Sr DevOps Engineer

Let’s be real, we all tend to find trust in a more experienced coworker, especially during something like a Digital Transformation where not everyone is an expert. It’s simply human nature to find more comfort in working with someone who has handled your problem before.

Placing a Sr DevOps Engineer in a lean cloud native startup also has its benefits. Having probably experienced many environments previously - large, small, medium, stuffy, casual etc., they most likely have seen a plethora of problems and know multiple ways to fix it. Your cloud native startup may have a unique issue you need an experienced set of hands to tackle and your rugged war hero could be just the right person to help.

Junior DevOps Engineer

Having a Junior DevOps Engineer absorbing new knowledge can even dust off the cobwebs of a once intellectually curious work culture that may have fallen by the wayside before going digital. There’s a genuine buzz when companies go digital, no matter how large or small. Since interacting with multiple departments is inherent for a DevOps Engineer, having that aura around to move things quicker can organically rub off without either side realizing it.

Sometimes companies just don’t need someone with every trick in the book. Imagine finally hiring that long sought-after DevOps Guru only to find they become bored or even automate themselves out of their role completely and need to leave. It could risk having fellow employees scratching their head wondering, “If the best in business is bored of our environment, is this whole DevOps thing even worth embracing?”

Perhaps you already have a highly talented team of software engineers and only need someone with an admin background. A junior admin/DevOps Engineer in 2018 tends to be more “DevOpsy” than those of 2011 and further back anyway. So, if infrastructure knowledge is what you need, pull the trigger and know that the Kubernetes/Docker Rockstar could be a hire you make down the road.  

Of course, we cannot simply generalize all DevOps Engineers solely into 2 distinct categories. Every DevOps Engineer has a unique background with a lust for new knowledge. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be DevOps Engineers and remain as admins, developers, systems engineers etc. All in all, both sides make some compelling cases in choosing your DevOps Engineer.

Which one can you see walking through your doors next?

About the Author / Michael Race

Michael Race has become a specialist in scaling up DevOps teams particularly for cloud native startups and companies in the midst of digitally transforming. As an active member of the NYC DevOps community Michael has become a familiar face at DevOps user groups such as DevOpsNYC and DockerNYC and has contributed to organizing the Future of DevOps Debate. You can find Michael on LinkedIn, at events, or writing articles for DevOps.com.