Archive for November 15, 2009

Good questions that software engineers (for a change) can ask prospective employers

November 15, 2009 2 comments

It’s difficult to hire great talent, especially for an enterprise software company.   To build a product that ‘sells itself’ (a topic I will cover in a later blog entry) one needs to find, attract, hire, and retain exceptional software engineers.

Some time ago, I had one of the most satisfying discussions with a senior software engineering candidate.   The interview process was very intense: 2 separate days, 6 personal interviews with different members of the team, and then a three-hour long design session with the same 6 individuals (yes, every white board was fully covered with diagrams at the end ).

The engineering team wasn’t very excited about “Jane”.  Some answers were not particularly deep.  But – everyone agreed that “Jane”s” problem solving skills were first rate.  In one problem solving exercise, “Jane” was able to come up with an elegant design approach with a promise to reduce development time by more than 25%.   When faced with multiple counter arguments, “Jane” successfully justified the proposed design approach.

I always reserve at least one hour for every candidate to have enough time to ask any questions about the company, customers, products (current and planned), team, etc.

“Jane” was well prepared and asked a number of great questions.   I thought these questions were a direct indicator of “Jane” being the right candidate.  “Jane” cared deeply about the business of delivering great software, not just the job itself.

About the company:

– Please tell me about company’s financial performance:  this year vs last year?

– Which products contributed to the revenue growth?

– What are the major competitors?  How would you compare your products to the competitors’ products?

About the customers:

– What customers love your software and why?

– What customers are not happy with your software and why?

– What do you think needs to be done to make these customers happy:  add requested functionality, correct existing functionality, improve quality?

– What are the top 3 features requested by the sales team?  Is the sales team happy with the speed of delivery?

– Did you lose any customers?  If yes – why?  What are the lessons learned?

About the software product or products:

– What releases are planned in the next 12 months?  What functionality will these releases delivery?

– If I had to work on any new feature, what would it be?  Why?

– How would you rate the strength of product management process?  Will I get clear specifications or – when needed  – a fast response from product managers?

About the team:

– What advice would you give me as a new employee to become a productive member of the team as soon as possible?

– Who do I need to meet in the first 60 – 90 days?  What are their roles?

“Jane” turned out to be one of the best hires.

Categories: Hiring