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Prepare for your FinOps interview with these 9 questions

FinOps promises to help organizations gain more value from their technology spending, especially in the cloud. Do you have the skills to become part of the FinOps team?

FinOps is evolving into a vital function in its own right. Businesses increasingly hire and dedicate staff to FinOps duties. This is creating a range of new job opportunities for cost-savvy technologists in almost any cloud software development and deployment scenario.

FinOps is not a single thing, but rather a blending of financial management and business practices intended to drive value by helping engineering, finance and business teams collaborate on cloud spending decisions. Solid preparation can help a potential FinOps candidate make the strongest possible case for their next role.

What are FinOps roles and responsibilities?

These are the five principal roles involved in a FinOps team:

  • Practitioners. Dedicated FinOps practitioners are usually certified professionals with dedicated expertise in FinOps practices. Practitioners frequently head FinOps teams and drive initiatives across the business.
  • Executives. The business side of an organization should be represented in any FinOps team. These are the executives responsible for budgets and cloud cost forecasting.
  • Stakeholders. Stakeholders include department heads or project managers responsible for the software or services deployed to the cloud. Their work will be directly affected by FinOps efforts.
  • Finance. These individuals can offer guidance and advice for aligning cloud budgets, FinOps spends and cost optimizations. This collaboration will yield meaningful financial data that is suitable for compliant business reporting.
  • Engineering. Engineering includes the cloud engineers and architects that construct cloud infrastructure for software and service deployments. These individuals often have the best technical perspective on public cloud capabilities. They are well positioned to advise the team and translate FinOps efforts into changes in cloud usage
what are the FinOps principles
The main FinOps principles.

FinOps interview questions

While questions vary dramatically in any interview setting, most FinOps interview questions will relate to experience in finance, cloud cost management and optimization, FinOps tools and FinOps team dynamics. Consider these typical FinOps interview questions below.

What's your experience with a specific public cloud?

Workload architectures, deployments, optimizations and cost control can require extensive knowledge of specific cloud providers. A business that uses AWS, for example, will want to hear about a candidate's expertise with that cloud's resources, services and costs. This knowledge can provide an advantage over other candidates if the employer seeks to ramp up FinOps quickly.

How does FinOps improve a product, service or business?

Prospective employers may want to delve into your expertise to learn about FinOps results you have produced in the past. They may want to know how you have used FinOps to reduce cloud costs, drive cloud decisions, improve workload performance and resilience, and match cloud use with business goals.

How do you translate cloud cost data into beneficial business decisions?

This kind of question gets into more specific FinOps practices to discuss a candidate's direct experience. Answers typically contrast cost reporting from cloud providers against workload performance, availability and a consideration of pooled/available cloud resources and services. For example, how is a workload evaluated against its expectations for performance and availability? Similarly, how can cloud costs be reduced -- such as through smaller instances or leveraging committed use models -- while maintaining or improving performance and availability to accommodate future growth?

How does your technical (IT) background support your role in FinOps?

FinOps is an amalgam of finance, business and technical know-how. A candidate who competes for a dedicated FinOps role will likely bring a skill set from one or more of these three domains. The discussion here focuses on how specific knowledge in those domains influences FinOps leadership. Candidates can also display collaborative savvy by discussing ways that specific knowledge from others in the FinOps team can bolster FinOps results.

the benefits of FinOps
Take advantage of these FinOps benefits.

How do you handle cloud cost projection and capacity planning?

FinOps experts must also be able to use workload metrics and cloud reporting to produce reliable forecasts of cloud costs and workload requirements, which influence future costs. For example, a workload with a consistent history of growing usage might result in recommendations to scale the deployment and adjust budgets accordingly. Falling usage might prompt a reduction in cloud resources and services to optimize costs. A FinOps candidate should be able to discuss the reporting and data sources used in such forecasting.

What tools or platforms have you used to drive FinOps?

This kind of question is a more generic examination of a candidate's experience with actual FinOps software. There are many FinOps tools available, including native point tools from cloud providers such as Google Cloud Pricing Calculator, AWS Cost Explorer, Azure Invoices and Oracle Cloud Infrastructure budget alerts. Because native tools typically support only the related cloud provider, it might be worth looking beyond them.

Comprehensive FinOps tools from third-party vendors can support two or more cloud providers for multi-cloud strategies. Third-party FinOps tool examples include Apptio Cloudability, Flexera, Neos CloudVane and NetApp Spot. It's helpful if a candidate already has a working familiarity with the tools and platforms the prospective employer already uses. But, general tool skills -- such as using views, budgeting and forecasting capabilities -- are often transferrable.

How have you measured FinOps results?

The effectiveness of FinOps is typically measured by a variety of metrics. A job candidate should understand the importance of tracking and reporting FinOps results. Although there is no universally accepted suite of FinOps metrics, there are several common measures, such as allocation, forecasting and enablement. 

Common FinOps metrics

  • Cloud allocation. This is a percentage of total cloud costs allocated to actual workload owners. A key part of FinOps is ensuring all cloud costs are related to actual business purposes, such as workloads and departments. This metric shows how much of that insight is available. A low percentage means that many cloud costs are undefined.
  • Cloud enablement. This percentage represents the number of an organization's business leaders trained in FinOps. This metric measures the level of FinOps accountability and enablement present in the business. A higher percentage means more FinOps acceptance and understanding of FinOps business results.
  • Cost forecasting. This metric considers actual cloud spending versus the amount planned. As this ratio approaches 1, the actual and planned spends are equal -- and forecasting is generally most accurate. If this figure is less than 1, actual spending is lower than forecast. When it is greater than 1, spending is higher than forecast. In either case, ratios that deviate from 1 mean inaccuracies in forecasting or gaps in billing knowledge.
  • Cost optimization. FinOps is about optimizing costs, not simply cutting them. The cost optimization metric provides a ratio of total cloud services optimized versus total cloud services used. At 1, meaning 100 percent, all cloud resources and services are cost optimized.
  • Recommendations implemented. Tools provide recommendations for cost control and optimizations. This metric measures the number of recommendations from tools that have been implemented versus the total number of recommendations provided by tools. Using a larger portion of those recommendations represents a greater familiarity and effectiveness of those tools in managing cloud costs.

How do you collaborate and work as part of a FinOps team?

Even the most seasoned FinOps practitioner can benefit from the technical knowledge of a cloud engineer, the insights of a financial expert and the clarity of project stakeholders. This kind of discussion is intended to talk about teamwork and explore the ways a candidate forms a FinOps team and works with others to create a meaningful FinOps team. If there's no team, there's no buy-in -- and FinOps won't work well, if at all.

Do you have any formal training or certification in FinOps?

While employers don't typically require it, formal FinOps training and certification could help a candidate for FinOps practitioner or another dedicated FinOps specialty role stand out from other job applicants. The FinOps Foundation provides training and certification programs, including FinOps Certified Practitioner, FinOps Certified Platform and FinOps Certified Service Provider.

Despite rising in popularity, full-time professional roles as dedicated FinOps practitioners and FinOps team leaders are still scarce. FinOps roles are frequently tailored to specific organizational needs and combined with other areas of professional specialization, such as software development, finance or IT/cloud engineering. Consequently, candidates that hope to broaden their career through a FinOps certification may still be responsible for other duties or areas of expertise. Remember to brush up on other professional or technical areas that might extend beyond FinOps topics before sitting for that important interview.

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