Interviewing Software Developers based on Changing Technical Debt

How to Interview Software Developers based on Changing Technical Debt


Interviewing a Software Developer isn’t easy. Interviewing a Software Developer is a high stakes gamble where the choices made are often ill-informed and the result of a choice has enormous consequences, both good and bad. The entire interviewing process has been flawed since the very first “Programmer” job was posted, many moons ago. If you have the time and patience to read this long-winded article, I believe I can help you make a more informed decision using my own experiences interviewing, hiring, working as a consultant and full-time employee, and my own opinion about the most honest and robust hiring strategy I believe in.

When it comes to hiring, there’s a lot at stake for the interviewer and candidate alike, so let’s begin by discussing the interview from the vantage point of the manager.

Understanding the hiring manager’s aspirations

Managers often hope their new candidate is going to be the “one” who charts a new course for their product, their company, and ultimately, paves the way toward golden opportunities for everyone on the team. Managers have visions of hiring someone so special, they can work normal hours, get a better bonus, and lengthen their lifespan through the type of stress reduction they were advised to undertake by their Cardiologist.

After a candidate is found, interviews happen. An offer is made. Anxiety fills stomachs. Email clients see their ‘receive all’ button pressed over and over. Papers are signed. Videos about “why groping is inappropriate” are watched. Then, months after an understanding is reached about what the candidate would bring to the organization, both parties are often disappointed by the differences in expectations for the position and the reality of the position.

The interview is where all of the false expectations are born. Having worked as a full-time employee, consultant and founder of two start-ups, I’ve had my fair share of interviews on both sides of the table. I have hired freelancers, contractors, consultants, and full-time employees. I have gotten lucky, and have been seriously blown away by some of the people who worked for me, whom I never would have imagined would be capable of carrying the baton across the finish line; and yet, succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. Other times, I’ve kicked myself for a costly hiring decision that drained so much time and energy, I would have been better off doing the work myself.

I used to suggest we hire a candidate based on their intimate knowledge of subject matter. When I hired, I often prided myself on my ability to ignore personality, as if my tolerance of the more eccentric candidates provided me a bigger talent pool from which to choose; a tolernace I believed provided me an edge over our competitors. Everyone who hires usually tells himself or herself that they have some edge over other interviewers. They tell themselves they provide a much more thorough interview than their peers. They tell themselves they can judge a candidate’s fitness better than anyone else. They tell themselves their cowboy shirt they picked up at the thrift store looks nice. Remember this about interviews: Interviews happen off-the-cuff because interviewers have no systematic process or methodology to successfully measure a candidate’s real value.

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