Best questions to pose to the interviewers in a programming interview?
January 7, 2013 2:19 PM   Subscribe

What are some really good questions to pose to the interviewers at the end of a programming interview? I'm looking for ones that make the interviewers feel good about you (great question!) but ALSO make them feel good about their organization - so that everything ends on a happy note.

For example, I would like to ask "Do you have a semi-formal mentoring system in place for your junior developers?", but if they don't, then I've possibly ended things on a sour note...
posted by kitcat to Work & Money (14 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Why not ask an open ended question about what kind of mentoring they do? Surely if that's an awkward question, you're better off not going there.
posted by ambrosen at 2:25 PM on January 7, 2013

"What is your preferred development methodology?" Is nicely open ended and will tell you a lot about what to expect.

"How do you test your software?" is similar.

Or "How do you go about designing and tracking larger projects?"
posted by poe at 2:26 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

As a candidate, it's not your job to make the interviewer feel good. Ask hard, awkward questions. Because that's what they're going to do to you. (FWIW I do a reasonable number of interviews for developers)
posted by GuyZero at 2:26 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Is this a new position?" -- if no, then "Why did the previous person leave?"

This can tip you off to a number of things, like high growth, internal promotions or high turn-over.

"What is your dev : tester ratio?"
posted by trinity8-director at 2:31 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I believe hard questions and sour note can be mutually exclusive.

- How do you recognize programmers' contributions?
- What's the biggest challenge your organization faces?
- What keeps you up at night?
- How do you measure if a project is a success?
- How are new projects initiated?
- How does the company do [favorite part of the job to you] ?
- How does the company do [most hated part of the job to you] ?
- What's does the career trajectory of a high-performing junior programmer look like?
- Are there career building benefits for junior programmers? Such as training / mentorship / tuition reimbursements?
posted by maulik at 2:36 PM on January 7, 2013 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to clarify - the reason I want them to feel good about themselves is so that the good-feeling-ness gets associated with my candidacy and I get the job. I really want this job. I'm willing to ask hard questions, questions I really would like a clear answer for so I can learn about how they do things. But I at least want the LAST question to be mood-raising. It's a trick!
posted by kitcat at 2:40 PM on January 7, 2013

- How do you recognize programmers' contributions?
- What's the biggest challenge your organization faces?
- What keeps you up at night?
- How do you measure if a project is a success?
- How are new projects initiated?
- How does the company do [favorite part of the job to you] ?
- How does the company do [most hated part of the job to you] ?

I am not a programmer but have interviewed and worked with many and I would pass out with joy if I were asked any of these questions as they demonstrate an interest of what's going on outside the programming department. Which is HUGE. Or it should be. Nothing more frustrating than junior programmers who are all "code's done, I go home." I don't think it's good for advancement either.
posted by sweetkid at 3:03 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Consider working in some of The Joel Test:

The Joel Test

Do you use source control?
Can you make a build in one step?
Do you make daily builds?
Do you have a bug database?
Do you fix bugs before writing new code?
Do you have an up-to-date schedule?
Do you have a spec?
Do programmers have quiet working conditions?
Do you use the best tools money can buy?
Do you have testers?
Do new candidates write code during their interview?
Do you do hallway usability testing?
posted by Wild_Eep at 3:23 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

"What source control do you use?" is one I'd wished I'd asked in the past, because in the case of one employer the answer would have been "we don't " and that would have been a mega-scale red flag.
posted by Artw at 4:35 PM on January 7, 2013

The Joel Test should be gospel. And always ask about the tools. The multiple programming jobs I've had... I've been really hindered by tools. Believe it or not, there are Fortune 500 companies running on the worst computer systems that literally cost you 5-10 hours per week angrily trying to deal with.

Also, what's their software development methodology? Agile? Waterfall? This can give you a good sense of where they are going.
posted by MMALR at 4:51 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I want to hear you ask questions about MY organization. I think questions about how technology is created are great but if you don't have any curiosity at all about the way thing X works specifically at my company, after interviewing with N other people before seeing me (the head of engineering), you are going to get dinged hard. Questions I particularly like involve some sign that you know what we do as a company and you have a question about how we got there from a technology point of view.

Don't ask about stuff you don't care about (some of that Joel Test stuff is kind of... old) but have the things you care about and ask. You should ABSOLUTELY ask about mentoring junior engineers, because seriously if they don't do that, you don't want to work there. No one is going to feel bad about answering that question. They will either be glad that you are mature enough to ask, or lie to you, most likely. I can't even imagine turning down a candidate based on asking that type of question. This also means that if project planning methodologies are meaningless to you, don't waste your time or mine asking about them. I can tell if you're going down a checklist, and while that's better than having no questions at all (again, when you get to the final interview with manager or senior person, you had better have some questions, even if they are exactly the same things you asked someone else), it's not showing the kind of engagement that I am ideally looking for.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:35 PM on January 7, 2013

Best answer: Read their information or otherwise figure out what they're proud of. Employee retention? Ranked as best whatever? New product that's getting press? Ask about that. It's like asking someone about their kids.
posted by amtho at 8:15 PM on January 7, 2013

"How do you maintain an agile environment while still filling all of the government's requirements?" (I was interviewing at a government sub-contractor that is happy about it's agile processes.)

Do some research to figure out a specific way that the company is different from it's direct competitors. Find out why the competitors aren't doing things that way. Ask how the company resolved those problems.
posted by anaelith at 3:44 AM on January 8, 2013

I've been interviewing a lot lately. These are questions that I don't necessarily know if they're good but I want to know before joining a team:

What is the workflow for when someone reports a bug? How does that report turn into a deployment? What tools do you use for issue tracking and project/milestone management?

What are the current pain points of your development process? If you were the boss, what changes would you make?

How serious are you about testing? What's the ratio of test code to business code? Do you use Continuous Integration? Before you deploy a new feature or app, do you have >90% code coverage?

If I write code, what are the chances of another developer checking it (whether it's from code review or pair programming or whatever).

Have you ever challenged your boss about a design decision? Has he/she ever changed their mind and gone with your suggestion?
posted by rq at 6:58 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older Are there any two-letter acronyms that are...   |   What's the etiquette on having friends visit when... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.