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What to Look for When Hiring Software Engineers

Evaluating software engineering candidates doesn't have to be a difficult, drawn-out process. Here are three things I look for that help me make quick, accurate decisions.
What to Look for When Hiring Software Engineers
Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen / Unsplash

I usually have a good for whether a prospective engineering candidate has the right experience and will be a good culture fit in the first few minutes of an interview. Criteria that I look for in phone screens and technical interviews include:

  • Personality: Is the candidate easy to talk to, a good communicator, and do they seem generally happy and upbeat? Were they prompt and on-time for the interview? Do they ask good questions about the company and position?At the end of every interview I always try to understand their passions outside of work and family. Ultimately, I like to determine if I would enjoy spending time with this person outside of work, at a social function.
  • Experience: Can the candidate hold a good conversation about specific technical topics, languages, constructs that goes deeper than the surface layer? Sometimes this is mentioning topics or keywords that aren’t obvious, other times this is a conversation where I come away learning something new or a new technology to investigate.
  • Personal projects over leetcode, and brain teasers. I’ve never been a fan of the leetcode and contrived puzzles that the industry tends to gravitate towards. Instead, a candidate that can come to a technical interview with their own side project, walk me through the various aspects of the code, discuss the design decisions made, and generally get excited talking about and demonstrating something that they’ve built, I believe this is a wonderful way to evaluate engineering talent and motivation. I often wonder how many leetcode / puzzle companies miss out on great developers because top talent doesn't need to do leetcode and may avoid it alltogether. Survivorship Bias, perhaps?

Certainly there are many more things you can focus on when hiring engineers, but why make a broken process even more cumbersome and difficult? In my experience hiring developers, I always come back to these three elements as I've found they provide a reliable signal through all the hiring and recruiting noise.