How We Hire Developers

This content is syndicated from Edge of Chaos | Agile Development Blog by Michael Dubakov. To view the original post in full, click here.

Hiring is hard. It really is. There are not so many talented and smart developers in the world, but there are lots of inexperienced, boring, exhausted developers. Surprisingly, so many developers can’t even provide a decent architecture of a simple system! I don’t know how a person with 5 years experience can’t create basic designs, but that is a true fact. Hiring is about matching. You should find a candidate that matches your company and vice versa. It is not easy. We’ve interviewed about 30 developers over the last several months but hired only 3. Here is our hiring process.

Initial Email / CV

I pay much attention to introductory email and CV. Things like that make me cry: CV skills table  Holy shit! Does anybody think I really care about this “2-pages-long-list-of-skills” bullshit? I don’t care how much Linux you did. I don’t care about years of experience in some programming language, platform or framework. What I care about is whether developer can do staff we need. If we state that we are looking for .NET developer and describe his real job, it means we are looking for a person who can do this job perfectly. No more, no less. As per our job description, .NET developer is supposed to create architecture for independent components, improve business layer etc. I expect a human friendly email with some useful information e.g. previous projects, problems that were solved, reasons to apply for a job with us and experience and roles outside main job. This email should be quite short. In fact I’ve never seen a good candidate sending a long skills list. I did invite many people that send such emails and all of them were quite weak for our needs. So, this skills table and a boring CV format are the first sign of a candidate level.

The First Interview. Projects History and Practical Task.

We don’t run phone interviews with developers, we’d rather invite them to a live interview right away (if the intro email is good enough). For about half an hour I ask questions about previous experience, real problems and solutions. The goal is to find out if this person can really solve problems and to get a general feel about his attitude and personality. Then we give a practical task — design a simple system. It is a pure business layer design that should be abstracted from database and UI. The system should be easily expandable and simple. Candidates have 2-3 hours to create the design and present it to us on whiteboard. We expect basic knowledge of UML to speak the same language, but it is not mandatory. Ideally we want to see a Class Diagram and (pipe dream!) a Sequence Diagram. How many developers from several dozen candidates draw Sequence Diagram? What do you think? Zero. Usually 3-4 developers from our team take part in design review. We ask questions, raise challenges and see what happens. How candidate fights for his vision, how he accepts critics, how he explains his solutions. If the result is positive and candidate has some spare time, we do pair programming for 1-2 hours and try to implement the design idea. This first interview does one thing perfectly: it filters out 95% of candidates that can’t work in our company.

The Second Interview. Theoretical Knowledge.

The second interview is slightly superfluous, but still required, I think. We have a second chance to make sure that this person is really good. We ask questions about various technologies to understand knowledge. Typical questions are “Are you familiar with SOLID principles?” and “What is ORM?” with ongoing discussions. This is not as important as practical skills, but still gives a good overview. I don’t think this part can be skipped altogether. We ask some questions to tap on how this candidate learns new things. My favorite questions are “Which books have you read recently?”, “What are your favorite web resources?”, “Have you learned something new over the last month?”. Answers to these questions are crucial, as we are looking for people who learn continuously and crave for new knowledge. We also do more of a personal talk to make sure we can trust candidate and he can trust us. Then we give candidate a chance to ask as many questions as he wants. Usually people ask 3-5 questions, but one candidate asked about 20 questions after the interview :) (We haven’t hired him, but not for this reason). That is it. We’ve been using this approach for over several months and it works very well.

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