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Questions to ask at the end of a technical interview (smalldata.tech)
57 points by wheresvic1 on April 4, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 53 comments

"If you could change one thing about the company, what would you change?"

It takes people off-guard and sometimes you get a really authentic look at the problems in the company. I think people are more willing to be frank with the question because it's asking for their insight, even if it comes at the expense of the company's reputation.

When my future manager told me that he wished the company was "less tribal", I should've listened. The politics between teams was insane.

This is a great one and it will also show you how open the communication is within the company. If you get a very guarded answer or one that doesn't ring true, it shows a company that isn't willing to talk about its challenges. If you get a very negative answer, that isn't a good sign either. A good answer is one that should be honest but said constructively.

Brilliant. I'm stealing this one. Not only does it provide insight into the company, but if done right into the interviewer (who may well be your boss) as well. Thx! :)

Thanks for the addition! This is also a really good one!!

My go-to question is: "What technical problems are you solving right now?"

Usually you get good information that you can deduce a lot from. It's simple, it's polite, it's opens a whole conversation about whatever you want to about next, etc.

> What does your technology stack look like?

> This allows your to figure out how up-to-date the firm is with technology. Up-to-date here is entirely your definition :)

What? The question is fine, but not at all for that reason. This question allows you to figure out whether you can provide immediate value, whether it'll present a challenge you wish to embrace, or whether it'll present a challenge you wish not to embrace. It'll also tell you whether you think their stack was chosen based on whether it helps address the problems at hand or based on whether it's the "new hotness" or, as this write-up puts it, "up-to-date"

The obvious corollary would be to ask why that stack was chosen for the products and services the firm offers or for those which you'll be working on.

> This allows your to figure out how up-to-date the firm is with technology. Up-to-date here is entirely your definition :)

It could be that final bit was meant literally:

If your definition of "up to date" is "patched to the latest security levels throughout the stack" - then that's what your questions should drive towards.

If you care about experiencing the latest toys, then your questions should get you that information instead.

So if it was intended literally (smiley-face instead of winking one...?) , he has a good point.

Yes it was definitely meant literally!

Good questions but frankly not all that original. I get all of these from recruits on a regular basis.

I am more impressed when people ask about overall company direction and current challenges. It demonstrates to me that they're interested in the company as a whole, where it is going, and how they see themselves fitting in and contributing.

This just gets me thinking.

Optimizing for originality seems the wrong criteria as an interviewee if you are genuinely trying to feel out the company and what working there might be like.

As an interviewer don't you think it's more telling to see how an interviewer responds to the answers you give? I mean, asking a prepared question is kind of low effort regardless, but using a question to initiate discussion, that shows real engagement.

Dunno. Just thinking out loud here.

Fair criticism. Thinking about it more, on a very very general level, I guess that all of the questions in the article ring to me as the type: "What can this company do for me? Does it meet all the criteria of somewhere I want to work?"

The second type of question that I mentioned above is more of the type: "What can I bring to this role and how I can I contribute to this company?"

As an interviewer, if I don't get any of the second type of question it makes me question their passion and ownership a bit.

Why does "passion" always come up as a requirement? Isn't enough that the candidate is smart, competent, professional, and motivated? Do they really have to pretend that they have a deep and burning passion for CRUD apps and SQLite? Do they need to profess their love for the accounting web portal they're going to be tasked with maintaining? You're not looking for a spouse, you're looking for an employee.

This, 100%. My company is jumping on the 'engaged employee' bandwagon, and it's frankly pretty patronizing. No, I do not give a shit about your marketing app. However, I enjoy my coworkers and the interesting technical problems we're tasked with solving. Just embrace the fact that you're not Google and you can still hire good people.

100% agree. In any case, at least as far as my experience has been, the technical interview is usually one of the first steps and more often than not, I really don't have much of a clear idea about the product and the work itself.

The best way to make do in this case is to ask questions that will help me gauge if I would be happy here even if I'm working on a CRUD app.

It's the people that make it worthwhile after all :)

Originality? Individuality? Or creativity? If you have 100 applicants and 99 of them all ask the same questions but the last one asks slightly better questions, doesn't that give the edge to #100?

Having been burned more than once, the questions I now ask are:

"Do you conduct regular peer reviews of code and documentation?"

"Do you have a bug tracking system?"

"Do you have a bug tracking system?"

At one time I would argue that this is a fair question to ask. But in 2017? I'm appalled at the experience you must have had to deem this a valid question in an interview today. Today I'd just assume...and according to you, wrongly so.

Dare I even ask about whether they use source control?

I took a job once where they:

1. Had no bug tracking

2. Had no source control (the official code was whatever was on one of the engineer's laptops)

3. Had no dedicated build machines (builds were done on that engineer's laptop)

4. Had no release process (build that went out was--you guessed it--copied from that engineer's laptop to a CD)

5. Had no formal QA

6. Had no documentation (either comments in the code, a spec, or a user manual)

7. Had no project management or roadmap planning (the CEO would just drop in and said we should do XYZ, and then a few weeks later "is it done yet?")

They thought their software problem was just that they didn't have enough smart engineers. Yea. You have to ask about these basic "hygiene" things.

OTOH, if you enjoy being a jack-of-all-trades, look at all the value you can add right out of the gate.

Definitely. The job was a terrific learning experience, and I've never had to wear as many hats as I did there. It was excellent experience and I saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime turnaround opportunity. The point is, you need to ask about the basics so you understand what you're getting into.

I think that it's the attitude of the people whom you would be working with which matters the most in this scenario.

If they were not open to change and improvement then you would be stuck burning CDs as well!

In 2012 I was interviewing at a startup and hanging out at their "office" (aka their apartment) and I was like: "oh hey Project Manager dude, what's that spreadsheet you have open?" "Oh it's our list of bugs". :]

When I'm just working with my favorite designer and my favorite tester, and it's just us three, it's a lot of fun to just pass post-it notes around.

Do NOT take Code management system, or bug tracking systems, for granted.

Even if you're on a multi-million / many-year project.

Dante missed several circles....

The question I always ask is "do you like working here?" You can immediately tell by their reaction how they feel - if they hesitate that's a bad sign. Obviously this works for any interview, not just technical roles.

Depends HUGELY on a person.

I hesitate (i.e. take time to consider) for ALL questions I intend to provide an honest, as opposed to obvious answer.

I hesitate for "Do these jeans make my behind look fat" and I hesitate for "Do you like working here" (and myriad other questions in between).

I want to provide a considered, accurate, detailed and granular answer.

If anything, if they answer with immediate and resounding "Yes!!!", I'd think it was a fake, canned answer rather than one they gave genuine thought to...

Honest question: you have to think about whether or not you like your job? I can understand wanting to give consideration to most questions, but that seems like something you should immediately know, and answer emotionally rather than rationally.

Some days I love my job, and some days I can't wait to get out of the office. Just because you caught someone on a bad day doesn't mean you've discovered a toxic culture, it just means you're talking to real people.

Yeah or to be a little less confrontational "What do you enjoy about working here?" works as well. I like when people ask me this question as I do like my company and it's an opportunity for me to demonstrate it to them.

Hah, I like it. I do the same thing in games like "The Resistance". I look people in the eye and ask them: "are you the spy?" It's not fool-proof, but at the very least it takes attention off of me.

"What's the most fulfilling project you've worked on in the last 6-12 months?"

I like this because "fulfilling" means different things to different people. Some folks would deem the opportunity to work on hard technical challenges as fulfilling, whereas for some it's simply a positive impact on the customer and/or other developers (agnostic of whether the solution was simple or complex.)

This also helps you gauge the quality of problems the team is working on, and how they gauge said problems. With the added dimension of time (i.e. 6-12 months) you get a sense of how recent or old are the projects that they're about to discuss. I wouldn't put much stock in something too recent (ex: something they started 2 weeks ago) but would also be suspicious if they mention projects that are 1yr+ old. More than once in my career have I run into issues when my definition of "fun/fulfilling/cool" was widely different from my boss's. Getting a heads up on this for me is critical when it comes to evaluating which team to join.

I have sometimes asked the hiring manager to describe when and why he gave a report a negative review about something. This usually causes a long pause.

It isn't at the end, but a few times I've asked mid-interview for one of the team members to give me feedback as though it were for a peer review.

I've been known to ask what an interviewer's favorite NPR show is. It's great if the interview is at a location I'd have to relocate to and they answer with a show carried locally I've never heard. That's how I learned about "Says You" (which is the correct answer to my question, with points for effort if it's "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" or "Prairie Home Companion").

> I have sometimes asked the hiring manager to describe when and why he gave a report a negative review about something. This usually causes a long pause.

As well it should. First, they do they not want to look bad. Second, the person that they gave the negative review to may be in the room with you (if they do group interviews). Third, even without the first two, there may be legal issues with them telling you the truth. (Even if there are no legal issues, it is almost certainly against HR policy, and rightly so.)

I would definitely pause.

I just took an internal course for interviewing potential candidates for our company a few weeks ago. Having been recently exposed to all the ways I can easily accidentally breach the law, I would agree that I would definitely hesitate, and may or may not answer the question.

Sure - in the comfort of my home office reading this thread, I have the luxury of being couch lawyer and arguing whether answering is legal or not, and how much I can divulge.

On the spot? I honestly might not have taken the risk if the question caught me off-guard (as it would've before today). As much as I want my manager to provide feedback often and early and for negative feedback to be constructive; and as much as I would want to exhibit those qualities myself; and as much as I think those things are important and should be discussed... I'd be uncomfortable sharing what is ultimately private information with, at that point, a random stranger.

If it is ok for managers to ask "Describe a time when you failed", it is fair game for interviewee to ask tough questions.

I can answer "describe a time when you failed" without getting sued or fired. So, no, it's not equivalently fair. Ask tough questions, sure. Feel free. This question passes beyond "tough", though, clear to "out of bounds".

The questions is easily answered without getting sued or fired. Candidates are asked to describe projects they've worked on. If my question is out of bounds so is that one. After all a candidate might be sued by his employer for divulging too much about the company's internal knowledge.

One doesn't ask "name a person you reviewed negatively," of course. That would be out of bounds.

All but the first item are easily addressed with straightforward responses as appropriate. "Not wanting to look bad" is rarely a good reason. This person has his reports careers in his hands. I don't think it's unreasonable to want to know his temperament when assessing performance.

That your NPR question has a "correct" answer says to me that you value working in a homogenous team. Some others value heterogeneity.

How many toilets per person on this floor?

Ha. One of my first startups I worked in was basically a warehouse and the only washroom was just walled off in a big open area. You could hear everyone using it and smells drifted into the main area. It was a non-zero factor in me getting out of there.

This has personally been an issue at three separate office environments.

It is important.

That is a big deal. Worked at a startup that moved to a more compact open office area. Only had 2 single occupant bathrooms for the floor. That was terrible.

I suppose you could ask to use the washroom at some point and scope it out for yourself :)

Wasn't this supposed to be questions for the end of the technical interview?

To get a half decent answer on some of these would eat a lot of time. I tend to ask these DURING the interview and like to spend the end of the interview trying to get the know the developer on a personal level to establish how they fit into the culture of the team.

If you can somehow weave all this into the interview itself that is excellent.

I have usually found it difficult to steer the conversation towards general items when I'm getting whiteboarded :S

The question I always ask is "What did you talk about at your last team lunch?" This gives me a sense for what the team's values are; Is it all social? All business? Is there a common thread or interest they were talking about? Were they talking tech or toys or sports? A whole lot of observations you can draw from the anecdote, and most interviewers will expound on team dynamic from that question.

That's so random though. If our last team lunch was the Monday after the super bowl, we probably talked about the ridiculous come from behind win, even though we're not a particularly sports-crazed team.

If it was the week after Re-invent, we probably talked about AWS. If it was the week after Switch came out, it was probably about Zelda... If it was the week after a major internal announcement, it was probably about that...

My #1 question is to ask the status of the tech department within the company. In particular are is it considered a cost center or a profit center.

Correct me if I'm wrong but usually you know where the tech department stands if you look at what the company is doing.

The exceptions would be if the company is looking to pivot to an "e" solution, i.e. from Retailer to eTailer...

No, not really. If it's a prominent tech company like Microsoft or Google, sure. If it's an IT department at a retailer or finance firm, then you don't really know. They may hire consultants for everything, they may cut budgets and squeeze hours, they may keep tech out of upper management. I work at a design & tech agency and we do some high-end stuff, but I can already see the direction shifting away from tech and onto design from when I started.

"What has the company done or are doing to keep you here?"

This will get their personal insight on how they see the company. However, I am not too sure if the answer is always 100% truthful.

How do you determine how many developers to hire?

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