My favorite interview question to ask candidates is: "What happens when you type www.(amazon|google|yahoo).com in your browser and press return?"
While the actual process of serving and rendering a page takes seconds to complete, describing it in real detail can take an hour. A good answer spans every part of the Internet from the client browser & operating system, DNS, through the network, to load balancers, servers, services, storage, down to the operating system & hardware, and all the way back again to the browser. It requires an understanding of TCP/IP, HTTP, & SSL deep enough to describe how connections are managed, how load-balancers work, and how certificates are exchanged and validated... and that's just the first request!
Web Performance & Operations is an emerging discipline which requires incredible breadth, focusing less on specific technologies and more on how the entire system works together. While people often specialize on particular components, great engineers always think of that component in relation to the whole. The best engineers are able to fly to the 50,000 foot view and see the entire system in motion and then zoom in to microscopic levels and examine the tiny movements of an individual part.
Working with these systems requires an understanding not only of the way technology interacts, but the way that people do as well. The structure, operation, and development of a website mirrors the organization that creates it, which is why so many people in WebOps focus on understanding and improving management culture & process.
Thank you Jesse, this question has now made the short list of my favorite interview questions.