Interviewing New Programmers

(Information gathered as a result of a Lone Writer SIG listserv discussion) From: Tom Schermitzler Sent: Thursday, January 18, 2001 Subject: I’m being asked to interview someone…help! This afternoon I have been asked to join in an interview meeting, with someone who wants to be a programmer for us (I have little programming knowledge). Does anyone have a set of interview questions that are generic/standard that I could use, so I could be a help in this meeting? Questions that would help to reveal character (team player? lone worker?), as well as knowledge?

General Comments

So you’re interviewing a programmer? Strange birds, those coder types. They can be difficult to get information from, but you also need to interface with them, and they with you. The programmer should:
  • Understand that specifications are necessary and need to be detailed to be useful
  • Understand that despite detail specifications that thorough technical reviews are necessary
Ask him/her what dealings he/she has with Tech Writers and what form of communication works for him/her. If the programmer is contemptuous of documentation and writers, then they ain’t team players, are they?

Possible Interview Questions

  1. What’s your vision/idea of the perfect job?
  2. If the position has a high turnover rate, I might ask: “Where do you see yourself a year from now?” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
  3. If I want to find out why someone wants to leave their current job, I’ll ask: “In your present job, what do you find most challenging?” “What would you change?”
  4. To determine how they work in a group, I might ask, “Tell me about the last project you worked on.” “If you managed the project, would you have done anything differently.”
  5. To determine the fit: “What about this job appeals to you?” or “Describe your perfect working environment.”
  6. What are your weaknesses? (harder to answer than strengths - indicates key traits in a person by how they answer)
  7. How do you handle conflict on a team when you’re the project lead? (indicates if they’ve ever been a project lead and if they were successful at it)
  8. What is your one-year goal, five-year goal? (indicates how much thought they’ve put into their career, how serious they are about the field)
  9. What’s the most important current event of the day to you and why? (I know it sounds strange to ask this question, but it’s legal and in my experience as a senior manager it led to some insightful discussions with the candidate).
  10. If you couldn’t be a programmer, what would you be? (further insight into the person as a whole human)
  11. How can I, as a tech writer, make your life easier?
  12. Do you document your code with comments in the code list? (The idea for you is to be able to follow the code itself when you’ve printed out the codelist from the app development suite, regardless of whether it’s Visual Basic, C++, or whatever.)
  13. How good are you at sharing the “latest and the greatest” with me, so I know what’s going on in your head as you are programming?
  14. How many times have you had to pull all-nighters to finish your code, and how have you informed a writer of your changes after such a long night on your part?
  15. What’s usually the best time of day for me to meet with you so we can discuss documentation issues together?
  16. What’s the best way I can support you in your efforts, so that you can support me in my efforts?
  17. How do you typically interface with tech writers who have to document your code - and how do you want to interface with them?
  18. What kind of preference do you have about having your code explained in print - do you like graphics or straight and simple? (From the programmer’s end, he may want you to generate graphics for him so that he can use some of them for his program development. Also, many times, the programmer will have a definite idea in his head about what the docs you’re writing should look like. Always interface with him on matters like this. He knows how he wants his code explained in print. You need to be on the same page that he’s on if he’s ever going to approve your work.)
  19. Who was your favorite boss to work with? Why? Least favorite? Why?
  20. What was your favorite project you worked on? Why? Least favorite? Why?