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Ask HN: Common interview questions for senior software engineer position?
11 points by cookerware on May 31, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 8 comments
Hi guys, I have a 3 hour interview coming up on Monday, this will be my first senior level position. Prior to this, at various other places I have worked as intermediate.

What questions should I prepare myself for? 3 hours seems awful long just for asking technical questions?

All in all, I hope to transition into senior level position smoothly. Most of my experience comes from building my own products (SaaS, desktop etc). and working as an intermediate level software engineer for a few years and finally working as a freelancer.

The position is for a backend developer, and they have popular mobile games that they need to support.

Each company is different, I could be way off the mark, and 3 hours strikes me as a little short for the standard format.

A common interview format will have you doing multiple, separate interviews, usually 60 minutes long, with different people. The purpose of this is to gather a few independent opinions. You might be asked to write code, you might be asked to sketch architecture, you might be asked to tell war stories.

Try to stay relaxed, be candid, and take a break/drink/use the restroom between interviewers. Try to start with a blank state, mentally, for each round. Also, bear in mind that if you're breezing through the interview, people will often start asking tougher questions to try and figure out where your limits are. If, by the halfway mark, you're being asked things you don't know the answer to, that does not mean you're failing. (Avoid bullshitting if you reach this point, it'll be obvious and count against you, it's worse than just saying you don't know)

Usually, you interview with a few people in sequence, that's why it can take so long.

In my experience, many technical interviewers are not very good at this interviewing thing; it isn't their core skill and on top of that they are human.

One of the early technical questions should answer the question: "Are you here by accident?" Google "fizzbuzz" for an example of this sort of question.

A poor but all too common flavor of interview question goes like this: "How would you write something that you would never write in real life but should have learned about in school?"

The interviewer looked it up before the interview so it's blindingly obvious to him. When you stumble trying to remember the Taylor series for the sine function they will think you are a bit slow. I always brush up on linked list and tree operations to prepare for this type of question. Try not to hold it against them - remember, the person asking them probably doesn't know what they are doing and all they may have been exposed to are other bad interviewers asking them this sort of question i.e. they know not what they do.

The good interviewer will try get you into the relaxed state you would be if you were actually working with them, and then ask you a technical question that's actually relevant to what they do day to day.

At a senior level in the places that I've seen, I'd expect a mix of very abstract as well as more practical questions.

The other responses show some of the more algorithmically based practical questions. Things like fizzbuzz, quickly followed by how you'd do an in-place string reversal, followed by whether you'd use quicksort vs mergesort for something. Personally, I don't see a huge point in too many maths-based questions because Google, so it's a litmus test and not a skills test IMO.

Then there are language and framework related questions - maybe you'll get shown some complexish code and be asked to spot the bugs. Or you'll get asked how, in practical terms, you'd go about achieving something (with which library would you be working). This would also go over the technologies and skills you might actually need to have to do your job at the company.

To see the cultural fit, they might ask about a project that interested you, and why it interested you. I come from a government town, so this question winds up being pretty awkward, but a lack of passion and enthusiasm is something that I've seen technically-relatively-competent people turned down for.

At a higher level, there's things like "say we wanted to create a link shortener, how would you go about implementing it?" and the follow ups on scaling and asynchronous processing ("what about analytics?" etc.) Stuff which gets you talking in terms of the components and how they'd interact in terms of queueing, designing for reliability etc etc. These types of problems really have no wrong answer, and you can learn a lot about how the developer thinks, their areas of interest, and whether they'd be a good fit for the team without ever getting them stuck on a problem.

At the end of the day, I haven't asked/been asked, questions that are that different from those that you'd ask a junior or intermediate interviewee, it's the detail and quality of the response that you expect to be different.

That said, with 3 hours, they'll probably have the interview and then get you to code something.

They will probably ask you to actually code something. I don't know these guys... but they might ask you some silly ass trick question..


Check that out.

Hi mate,

We choose our interview questions based on the position and how the candidate presents themselves - e.g., if you state you have strong SQL skills, we'll be expecting you to demonstrate those skills.

In the first filter interview, we're generally looking for war stories that show you have what we're looking for, so if the word 'scalable' pops up in a job description, for example, then a relevant anecdote on a time you had scaling issues and overcame is worth making notes on.

We also prefer to have you work on actual problems on a computer while pairing with one of our team members instead of doing stuff on a whiteboard. We're interviewing for skills and team fit, and if you're intelligent, then skills can be taught, but attitude rarely can.

In summary - depends on the specifics of the job description.

'll give you a mock phone interview if you'd like. Just give me your info and we can set it up.

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