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My philosophy when hiring now is to be trying to answer the question of “how much responsibility could I give this candidate and feel confident they could flourish”. A junior engineer should be able to be given a clear spec and be able to implement it. A mid should be able to do the same thing with a poorly specified spec, in a domain they don’t necessarily have experience in. They should know how to learn. A good senior should be able to support a team to figure out what needs to be done, and move heaven and earth to get there. They should be able to fix (and anticipate) any and all problems that show up. Train people. And push back when they’re assigned a problem that doesn’t make sense, or given unreasonable deadlines. A good senior can be responsible for making sure a whole team delivers a working product.

From this perspective, a technical whiteboard interview is one of many tools. Interviews I give usually start with “so your boss asks you to solve problem X ... where do you start?”. Then I throw more and more problems at them (technical, organisational, etc) and see how they respond. “It’s in production and people start complaining that it’s slow. Where do you look first?”. “What problems do you foresee with this design down the line?”. “If you had $1m/yr budget to hire a team to scale this system, what would your ideal team look like? How would you spend the money?”. “An inexperienced team implements this and it’s buggy. What mistakes are you worried they might have made?”

Ultimately we get the traits we hire for. Being able to code (and debug!) is important. But I also want employees who I can delegate to, and trust that they’ll figure things out. I’ve been able to pass whiteboard interviews since second year uni. But I have not stopped learning, and the non technical skills I’ve gained since then are at least as important. Test for them.

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