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How to nail your cloud administrator interview

Hoping to become a cloud administrator? There's a lot to cover -- from tools to certifications. Prepare for your interview with these five 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 administrator role and responsibilities can help you nail that big interview.

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 administrator role. Now is the time to discuss the scope of your experience. 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 certifications such as Server+, Network+ or Security+. Advanced, vendor-specific certifications include the Amazon Web Services Certified Solution Architect and the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA), among others.

2. What is your experience with cloud management?

Questions about cloud management experience cover 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 monitoring tools, such as Munin, Nagios, Zenoss or Zabbix. Additionally, it's important to have experience with scripting languages, such as Python, Perl, Bash or Shell. Employers denote the specific platforms and tools candidates should know.

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. Cloud admins likely are involved with the software development process and the tools associated with DevOps.

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. 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. When the interview turns to hybrid and public clouds, AWS will likely be the focus. Discuss your experience using AWS and its management services, such as Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Route 53, virtual private cloud (VPC) and Simple Storage Service (S3). 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, and 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?

Many cloud administrator interviews include senior IT staff, so expect some of the later questions 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 minimum 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 (SSH) and more. When application performance issues are related to the network, discuss potential network changes.

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).

Stephen J. Bigelow is the senior technology editor of the Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. He can be reached at

Next Steps

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

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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.