Software Engineer Screening

Finding good developers and software engineers is always hard. One of the pain points I find is the interview process. My main grief is that the correlation between those that seem amazing during the interview / screening process but turn out to be duds, against those that seemed average turn out to be stars is very weak. It’s just so hard to find who is the right candidates to hire.

As such I’d like to outline some points that can help in making the right decision and reduce the margin of error. Important to mention, no matter how good your interview / screening process is. When you hire a full-stack or any type software engineer, you will not know for 100%. The only way to know if someone is a good fit is to work with him.
As such if you can take someone on for one week, as contractor to try him out that is the best option!

In this post today I’ll talk about the key points and methods that can help you mitigate some of the risk when you hire a software developer.

Structured Interview and Process

One of the key mistakes that people make when hiring a full-stack developer or any software engineer for that case is not having a repeatable and structured process. I cannot emphasis this enough, having a repeatable, consistent, well-thought hiring process. The means you need to

  • Think of your phone screen questions and prepare them.
  • You need to outline what technical questions you’ll ask in your coding or tech assessment and why.
  • Prepare what general HR questions you’ll ask the candidate.
  • You’ll need to figure out how many people would need to talk to the person.
  • Be able to communicate the process to the candidate early on.

These points are very important. Without them you’re really taking a guess based on feeling, emotions, and you have no way to measure all candidates fairly. Here is an excellent article from the New york times on the topic

Technical test should simulate work

The technical test / screen helps is as a quick filter to help find people that can potentially have the skills to work as a successful engineer in your company. It’s only potentially as most of these tests are not a reflection of what real work would be like. As such I would urge you to try and construct your tech test with that in mind. Try you best to simulate work and test relevant skills. Also when you’re hiring a full-stack developer you’re looking for people that have back-end and front-end experience so keep that in mind too. Here are a few ideas of what your tests / screens can include:

  • Code a simple algo problem – choose something simple, not too complex and let the person run through it. See that the person can code. So many can’t code despite their resumes looking mighty impressive!

  • Try to go through a bug issues and problem tracing – setup either a theoretical or practical (meaning a bug they have to figure) and see how the candidate solves the issues or tries to at least.

  • Test some front-end abilities – Code, HTML and CSS, something simple. You can even setup a react project and ask the candidate to go through it, and try to make changes, add layouts etc.

  • Ask about his work history and focus on the technical aspects. Then try to drill down and see how much he really understands. Hiring a Node.js developer or React.js Developer, or any JavaScript developer? ask him about prototypical inheritance, what it is and how does it work. If you are about to hire a python developer, then ask him what algorithm does .sort() run and how it works, etc.

  • Ask some architecture questions, and see how he things. Do things like memory limitations, time complexity limitations, how does he handle large scale throughput? see how that person thinks and how he approaches different situations.

This should give you a clearer indication of someone’s abilities, either way use a consistent and repeatable process. Now it’s not always critical that he solves everything, it’s important he understand, writes clean code and understands what he is doing. After all at work he will have a lot more time to work on problems than in a 60 minute test for example.

Focus on his abilities to deliver business results

Good engineers are able to bang out code, that works. However if you are able to hire a full-stack developer that is great, he will also understand the business goal behind what he is developing. A great software engineer will be able to not only require minimal supervision, but he will also be able to build software with business needs in mind. He can enhance or add additional benefits to the software as he suspect will be needed. Imagine you’re building a shopping app, and you have some quick search that let’s you scan all the products in your shop. You’ve asked you developer to add few more product categories to the drop-down. A good developer would just add those. A great one, might notice that this list is growing and growing, so maybe we should think about pagination. Or perhaps would suggest limiting the number of results back. Or perhaps adding de-bounce (sending the search only when you finish typing), etc. He would improve on said feature. Maybe he will just create additional todos and discuss with you. Either way he would raise those points. You can try to structure questions to see how a person might help in this way!

This should give you some important points to note when you’re looking to hire a full-stack developer, or any other type of senior software engineer. I hope this has helped.

Till the next time!

Leave a Reply