Finding and hiring the right software developer can make or break your team. The interviewing process can make sure you find people who are great at writing code and a good fit for your company culturally. You also need to make sure that the work samples you review before hiring them, or that they do during the interview, will reflect how they will perform on the job.
At SmartLogic, the hiring process is a group effort. We do a lot of pair programming, so it’s essential for our developers to be involved in the interview process so to ensure they’re happy to work with every new hire.
While we have a constantly evolving process that we try to keep consistent for each hiring round, our team members always bring something new to the process. I talked with a few of them to get their insights on how to decide whether a developer will be a good addition to the team.
How to conduct a developer interview
In our technical interviews, we pair with the applicant and build something together. This is a great measure of their technical skill, and also gives us insight into what the person will be like in the work environment. Are they excellent communicators? Are they open to alternative approaches? Or do they shut down when faced with a difficult problem to solve? These are all great things to test for while interviewing.
Yair Flicker, our President, says one of the biggest mistakes he sees tech startups make is to only ask for prior work samples.
“We used to do this, but we learned our lesson. We definitely would not have hired certain people if we had actually seen how they work,” he says. “For us, it’s about the means as much as the ends, so process is essential.”
What to ask during a developer interview
Don’t ask people to do things during the interview that will not even comprise 2% of the job. When you hire a caterer, you’re going to want eat a sample of the actual food you’re buying. You don’t want to test the steak when you’re getting the crab cakes. The same applies to tech.
For Yair, asking an engineer to do something like write a pseudo-algorithm on a whiteboard is unnecessary. “I don’t know any engineer who does that more than a few hours a month, if that,” he says.
Seeing a developer in action during a live interview helps Dan Ivovich, our Director of Development Operations, see how they approach unexpected obstacles.
“The benefit of a live coding interview is that you hope the interviewee stumbles, so you can see how they recover,” Dan says. “If someone comes in and does a live coding interview and doesn’t stumble, then we didn’t ask them to try something they haven’t done 100 times before. If they stumble too much, perhaps they don’t have the background they might claim to have. Hopefully they get tripped up a little, and then you get to see how they resolve the problem.”
The best developers recover from stumbles quickly and calmly, both in interview situations, and on the job.
How to evaluate passion
We place a high priority on work-life balance, but we still want our developers to be passionate about their day jobs. Software development and technology is a fast-paced world that’s constantly changing. We encourage our team to keep learning and growing, and look for a thirst for knowledge in prospective hires.
There isn’t a perfect way to evaluate passion for every person, but when our engineering manager Sam Goldman interviews a candidate he looks out for some signals.
“If you were a hacker/tinkerer from childhood, you probably have ‘the bug.’ People with the bug are natural problem solvers and just think in code,” he says. But “you don’t need to have coded from the crib to pass my filter.”
You can show your passion through side-projects, Sam says. Or, if you’re taking online courses to learn new skills, let the interviewer know.
“Another signal is a strong career growth trajectory,” Goldman says. “If you received performance-based promotions, went to a great CS program (or made the best of a mediocre program), or otherwise made a great impact in the course of your work, that will factor into my decision.”
Do you have any questions?
The final question that we ask during all interviews is “Do you have any questions?” People who ask a lot of quality questions take the job seriously, take initiative, and think strategically. If an employee doesn’t have any questions, they’re likely going to be just a cog in a machine. Some machines need cogs. But seeing what questions candidates ask ensures you’re not hiring a cog for a strategic position or vice versa.
Want more guidance on nailing the hiring process? Join us for lunch.