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Top 8 cloud administrator interview questions and answers

Hoping to become a cloud administrator? There's a lot to cover -- from tools to certifications. Prepare for your interview with these eight questions.

Job interviews can be stressful and challenging -- especially for a cloud administrator, where the focus shifts quickly from code development and integration to cloud troubleshooting and management. Knowing how to answer a few specific questions about the cloud admin role and responsibilities can help you get the job you want.

Here are some cloud administrator interview questions and answers to help you prepare.

1. How much experience do you have with cloud administration?

Most interviews start with questions regarding past experience. The HR representative or IT manager has reviewed your resume and already knows if you have the necessary three to five years of hands-on experience for a cloud admin role. This is the time to discuss the scope of the experience you have acquired. Talk about your past successful cloud projects or initiatives you've led, rather than the minutia of day-to-day firefighting.

If you don't have much cloud admin experience, discuss any prior system, server, Linux or other data center-related roles. Then, make those prior experiences relevant to the cloud admin role. For example, server administrator experience can provide a strong foundation in virtualization, system management and troubleshooting -- all of which are required of cloud experts.

Eventually, the conversation will turn to your education. Note your degrees and certifications, and ensure they are up to date. Employers usually check your credentials against each vendor's certified professional database. Cloud admins can complement an IT degree with basic certifications such as Server+, Network+ or Security+. Advanced, vendor-specific certifications include the Amazon Web Services Certified Cloud Practitioner, Solutions Architect, Google Associate Cloud Engineer and Microsoft Azure Administrator Associate, among others.

2. What is your experience with cloud management platforms and tools?

Most cloud administrator interview questions focus on cloud management experience, as well as relevant tools and platforms. Cloud admins need to know core cloud platforms like Linux and OpenStack, along with configuration management tools, such as SaltStack, Ansible, Chef or Puppet. Admins also need knowledge of third-party monitoring, alerting and analytics tools, such as:

  • New Relic
  • AppDynamics
  • Cacti
  • Graphite
  • Logstash
  • Nagios
  • Ganglia
  • Splunk
  • Datadog

Other specific tools might include Pivotal Cloud Foundry, Heroku, AWS Elastic Beanstalk and Kubernetes.

Employers denote the specific platforms and tools candidates should know, so it pays to check the requirements and be able to at least show equivalency in the major tool sets. Emphasize your experience with a few key tools. To impress the interviewer, give real-world examples of ways you've used these tools to creatively solve problems or improve user experiences.

3. What tools would you recommend for a DevOps environment?

Cloud is about developing and running workloads in a pooled compute environment that responds quickly to change. This spawned the rise of DevOps to merge software development, quality assurance and operations disciplines. DevOps accelerates software development through smaller and more frequent version iterations -- a form of continuous development. Cloud admins are involved with the software development process and the tools associated with DevOps, including planning, issue tracking, integration, configuration, monitoring and testing.

Cloud administrators are familiar with DevOps tools like Jenkins, Chef Server and Nexus. Some organizations also require direct coding expertise with languages, such as Java, C/C++, C#, Scala or Clojure, as well as scripting languages including Python, Perl, Bash or PowerShell. Highlight specific coding projects you've worked on and note the languages and DevOps tools you know. You can also mention tools you'd like to explore in the future. Be sure to mention the business benefits, such as faster code development or easier debugging, that those tools offer.

Mention your leadership and people skills during the DevOps conversation, as well.

4. How have you approached public and hybrid cloud projects?

As hybrid cloud adoption grows, more organizations require public cloud integration. There will most likely be cloud administrator interview questions relating to hybrid and public clouds; AWS will probably be the focus. Discuss your experience using AWS and its management services, such as EC2, Route 53, Amazon Virtual Private Cloud, VMware Cloud on AWS and S3. Azure has also made significant strides to run Azure services in the local data center with Azure Stack and other services. An interviewer might also ask about your experience with Google or other major public cloud providers.

Don't worry if you haven't used the same public cloud provider as the potential employer. The basic skills required by each are typically transferrable -- APIs and other deployment details are easy to learn for experienced cloud professionals.

List your success stories about merging workloads to public cloud. The interviewer doesn't want to hear about your struggles with a pesky API. Instead, discuss the value proposition and business benefits of public cloud.

5. How would you test or improve our cloud application performance?

Some cloud administrator interview questions will be asked by senior IT staff to test your depth of knowledge. A potential employer wants to know if you have cloud monitoring and optimization expertise. Applications have to run at peak efficiency using minimal resources, so explain your approach to performance monitoring -- preferably referencing tools the interviewer uses -- to highlight your hands-on expertise.

Go beyond monitoring tools and talk about network issue resolution or optimization. Employers often look for network-related experience with IPsec, VPN, load balancing, routing protocols, Secure Shell and more. When application performance issues are related to the network, discuss potential network changes and corresponding optimizations to the application's cloud architecture and services.

If performance problems stem from an application's code, revisit your coding, scripting or DevOps experience to offer a potential solution. The performance discussion is a good time to mention other skills and certifications, such as those for IT service management (ITSM).

6. How do you establish application resilience or redundancy in the cloud?

This kind of question usually looks to answer several issues. First, the employer wants to examine your cloud architecture and services knowledge. Here, a prospective candidate can demonstrate detailed understanding of the cloud's capabilities in scaling and load balancing multiple application instances across availability zones and regions. Discuss the decision-making that went into architectural decisions and how the resilient deployment was implemented, optimized and monitored.

Additionally, this question also seeks a deeper sense of the candidate's business acumen. Workload resiliency can be the key to an organization's survival and architects need to have a keen awareness of the business implications, such as cost management, security and compliance. The cloud is not a hammer, and applications are not nails -- knowing when to apply resilience and how much to invest in each application can be just as important for cloud administrators as their knowledge of APIs.

7. How would you handle a big data project in the cloud?

Some organizations frequently undertake large data science projects, artificial intelligence and other large data collection and processing tasks. This question is meant to gauge a candidate's knowledge and comfort with large-scale cloud deployments that involve large numbers of instances, extensive database involvement, complex software stacks and specialized cloud provider services, as well as all of the associated monitoring and reporting.

As examples, a business involved with artificial intelligence and machine learning might use Azure machine learning services to build, train and deploy models. Big data projects might involve AWS offerings such as Amazon Elastic MapReduce, Amazon Redshift, Amazon Athena and others. Employers might be curious to know more about a candidate's knowledge of the related software components such as Apache Hadoop, Apache Spark and more. IoT environments can involve services, such as AWS IoT Greengrass.

8. What was your biggest project flop and how did you recover from it?

A potential employer might try to throw a candidate off with a seemingly compromising question about project problems or failures. This is one of the most important cloud administrator interview questions because it gauges the candidate's ability to assess, adjust, learn and problem solve. For the uninitiated, this might seem like an unfair or damaging question. In reality, this question can really help you shine.

The goal with this sort of question is not to disqualify someone. In fact, the only real way this can hurt a candidate is if they deny any past mistakes or failures -- no one is perfect.

Next Steps

Get yourself prepared for your next job interview by adding DevOps skills to your experience.

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What cloud administrator interview questions did you have to answer?
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I'd add "What is your experience managing the people/process transition to more agile environments?". Calling out experience DevOps "tools" is one thing, but having experience building teams and shifting the culture to properly support them is as important or more important.
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