Hiring technical people is never easy, even if you are actually able to find applicants who look good on paper (sadly, even that is often harder than it sounds). If you’re gearing up to hire a senior developer, you can be forgiven for feeling stressed: not only are you being asked to hire a more senior employee who will almost certainly have some managerial responsibilities, but you’ve also got to come up with an effective way to evaluate his or her technical skills over the course of just a couple of interviews.
Senior developer hires that don’t work out can cause serious problems for any software company, up to and including the derailment of entire projects. Fortunately, if you know what to look for, you can minimize your chances of hiring the wrong person. Here are four tips on how to do exactly that:
1. Make sure they can code.
In a perfect world, we could assume that people claiming to be senior developers would all actually be pretty skilled coders. But unfortunately, we live in this world, where it seems that a surprising number of applicants for developer jobs cannot actually write code, even to solve very simple, beginner-level problems.
This travesty isn’t limited to entry-level positions, either. Self-proclaimed “senior developers” are afflicted too, which makes you wonder about the previous employers listed on their resumes.
So what can you do? Well, there is a simple (but not necessarily easy) solution: make sure all your job candidates can actually write code. Give them a little project, either to take home or to do in your office (the former can be somewhat longer than the latter, for obvious reasons). Or you could start off with a technical phone screen, where you ask them progressively harder code-related questions. This also has the added benefit of giving you some insight as to how they think on their feet.
Do your applicants have a portfolio of previous coding projects, possibly on GitHub? If they’re really senior-level talent, they should. Ask to see it. See if the code works. Explore the logic behind the programming choices the applicant made. How about readability – is their code clean and elegant, or is it clunky and awkward?
In the past, a lot of tech companies used “puzzle questions” to get a glimpse into the applicants’ thought processes (Google was infamous for using these). Some companies still do this, but not as many as once did. Today, the prevailing line of thought is that the only way to determine if someone can write code, is to have them write you some code.
2. Can they communicate?
A surprising amount of a developer’s productivity – especially a senior developer – will come from his or her ability to actually communicate ideas clearly and efficiently to others. Senior developers have to lead teams and shepherd projects, and they can’t do either if they’re ineffective communicators.
In the interview, ask questions designed to get them talking. Pretend your level of technical prowess is a bit lower than it actually is, so that your candidate has to explain a few complicated concepts to you. If she can’t do it, she might not be the best choice for a technical leadership role in your organization.
3. Check their attitude on learning new things.
A strong desire to learn is pretty much non-negotiable in today’s tech industry. Tools, techniques and technology itself changes so quickly that yesterday’s cutting edge methodologies are tomorrow’s punch lines. If your developers aren’t interested in keeping up with what’s new, your company won’t be developing software for very long.
4. Screen for cultural fit.
Are you corporate and buttoned-down, or irreverent and start-uppy? Wherever your organization is on that spectrum, make sure all your new hires are at least in the same neighborhood. Cultural mismatches between employer and employee have the potential to cause far-reaching problems with everything from delivery dates to general morale – and these issues are only magnified when you’re talking about senior developers, simply because of the level of influence these technical leaders usually have. So make sure they buy into the existing company culture before you make them an offer.
Of course, that can be a lot to ask of any organization that doesn’t hire technical people on a regular basis. If that sounds like you, maybe it’d be best to seek some outside help from a professional technical staffing firm. Tech staffing firms interview dozens of people every day, and they’re usually in the best position to spot fakers and phonies early on.