The Other Side Of The Table: My First Technical Interviews (As The Interviewer)

Yesterday, the tables have turned. The company I currently work for, Manilla, is currently looking for an Android Engineer, and I was asked join another developer on the mobile team to help conduct two technical interviews. It’s definitely nicer to be the interviewer. However, one thing that stood out to me was how much I wanted to like each candidate.

Here is what I was looking for in each candidate I interviewed (although I’m sure the list will get refined as I get more experience):

Side Projects

When you work in a larger company, or even on a team of 3-5 engineers, it’s hard to tell which features you were responsible for vs which features someone else built. Your own side projects, that only you built, give a much better picture of your capabilities.

I’d rather look at the code for your side project than ask you random technical questions. It’s fun to point out features on a side project, and ask how you made them and how you would go about implementing additional hypothetical features. So not only have a side project, but know how it works really well and be prepared to discuss the technical implementation in the interview!

Pride

One question I really enjoyed asking was which feature in a side project or a company project the interviewee was most proud of and why.

I’m looking for you to get very specific about a feature you really sweated on (maybe it took a while to figure out), and for that excitement and pride in your voice for having solved a difficult task. It doesn’t matter what the feature was. Just that you really enjoy and take pride in what you do and when you solve the hard challenges that are part of any software development job.

Honesty

Being a good software engineer requires a lot of honesty. You’re going to fail and break things, and you need to be comfortable communicating honestly with your team about what is broken, and how you’re going to fix it. And if you don’t know how to complete a task, you have to be comfortable and honest enough to get help.

So if you’re asked a technical question, and you don’t know the answer to it, be honest about it. Don’t try to divert my attention on something else you know, like a politician who answers questions by talking about random points on his campaign trail. This is not politics, it’s software development, and it’s all about honesty with yourself and with others.

Online Presence

Yes, I will google you before you come in. Make sure what comes up makes you look good! It’s hard to assess a person from one interview. So the more blogging / tweeting / github presence you have, the easier it is to see what you really know, what your actual experience is, and what you love. It also helps me see that you’re very passionate about what you do – so passionate you take the time to get involved in the community beyond the call of duty.

Preparation

You don’t have to be the #1 fan of our product, but you should at least know what it does and how it works. As a Software Developer, you’ll be googling a lot, so it should take no time to google a little about the company you’re interviewing for and come up with specific suggestions and questions about the role you’re interviewing for. If you’re going to be part of our team, we’re going to value your opinion, so we want to know that you have one!

What things do you look for when you interview Software Engineers? Would love suggestions in the comments!

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  • Keith Grout

    Hi Natasha,

    Thanks for the insight, I am currently working on attaining my dream job, as an iOS developer. The path has been tough to say the least, coming from zero coding experience. ZERO. Also, I’ll be 32 in the fall (2013), and my previous work experience is as a waiter. I think this is relevant, since many companies like to see a demonstrable work history. I’ve taught myself the basics of C and Objective C, and am now working and further developing my Objective C skills and iOS skills. I am planning on taking the Mobile Makers course, but after reading your review of it, it has reinforced the notion that it will most likely *not* land me a job. Your blog has made me realize that not only should I work on developing my coding skills, but also start working on an online presence, as well as networking around my current area (Los Angeles) by attending meetups and local iOS groups. I am starting to realize that this part will be equally as important as knowing how to build an app! Thanks again for the post, I’m a new fan!

    • Hi Keith,

      Wow, you sound impressive! Just keep doing what you’re doing! Make sure to post all your code on Github as well, so people can see your progress. Sounds like you’re on the right track 🙂

      I can introduce you to one of my Mobile Makers friends who lives in LA if you’d like. Just email me at natasha at natashatherobot.com.