Top Software Developer Technical Interview Questions to Ask in 2021
So, you’re looking to hire an experienced software developer.
Maybe you want an engineer to expand the capabilities of your product. Maybe you want someone to make sense of a mess of spaghetti code. Or, maybe you need someone who can work on a high-risk project that is vital to your company’s success.
What will truly help you differentiate between all the capable candidates?
Hint: The answer isn’t a coding quiz. You’ve probably noticed that experienced engineers won’t take them anyway; that’s because using a coding quiz for an experienced role is like hiring a professional golfer by asking them to putt-putt.
Golfing is more than putt-putt and engineering is much more than code.
Now, you need something more than just a test of someone’s knowledge of their craft. What kind of questions should you ask in your interview?
Let’s take a look at some ideas for software engineer technical interview questions that’ll help you identify the cream of the crop.
Software Engineer Interview Process
Oftentimes software development candidates will receive an initial phone screen; following which they may progress to a more comprehensive face-to-face interview where they can demonstrate their technical knowledge and aptitude for working within the company’s specific technology stack.
Those interviewing for an entry-level developer position might ask, “Why do you want to work in the software industry?” Or, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
Popular junior software engineer interview questions include: “What’s your biggest career accomplishment?” And, “Tell us about a time you worked on a team that was struggling to meet an unreasonable deadline.”
However, if you’re hiring a more senior-level developer, you should ask the software engineering technical interview questions below. These will help you determine whether the person you’re interviewing is qualified for the position, but also if they’re a good fit socially for your business.
10 Scenario-Based Interview Questions for Software Developers
Scenario-based interview questions are great because they offer a little more insight into what a candidate’s work history may be like, as well as what they might do in specific situations.
In addition, you can use scenarios to determine whether or not the candidate is willing and able to think abstractly about problems without immediately jumping on Google to find a solution.
Scenario Question #1: You are using a website to upload images of your product. Due to the high volume of traffic, the site is frequently down. What might be happening?
This question asks the candidate to explain what could be causing the website’s downtime and will likely lead an average candidate down a specific path (like, “the server is overloaded”). You could also ask open-ended questions, such as:
– What steps would you take to troubleshoot this?
– How might you have prevented this problem from happening in the first place?
Scenario Question #2: An iterative software development process has been established for a project. A team member would like you to change its structure so that it better matches an incremental design approach instead of an agile one. How should you respond?
This is an important question because it will help you determine if the candidate values following established processes or has the initiative to change them when necessary. Try asking follow-up questions like:
– What are some advantages of using an iterative development strategy?
– What is the difference between an incremental and agile approach?
Scenario Question #3: You’re a system administrator for a Fortune 500 company. A new process has been proposed by a team of software engineers that will simplify business processes within the organization. How would you go about making their idea a reality?
This question presents multiple perspectives that need to be considered by the interviewee. As a result, you’ll likely get better responses from senior-level candidates. You can follow this question up with one that asks, “How would you handle pushback from management?”
Scenario Question #4: You are the software development team leader for your company. Due to the increasing popularity of iPhones, your customers are becoming increasingly unhappy with their online customer portal. What might you do to improve the situation?
Here’s another question that will help determine whether or not a candidate can think critically about problems and develop creative solutions. Follow-up questions could include:
– How would you prioritize features for this project?
– How would you produce user personas to guide your design work?
Scenario Question #5: You are a senior developer for ABC Corporation. Your team is tasked with building an eCommerce website that will be used by users around the world. What might you do first?
This question will help give you insight into the candidate’s technical knowledge and problem-solving abilities. Follow-up questions could include:
– What other information, beyond product information, would you need to know about users before designing this site?
– Imagine your company suddenly needed to release this site in six weeks instead of six months – how might you accomplish this without sacrificing quality requirements?
Scenario Question #6: You are the manager of a software development team. Your lead developer quits to take a position with another company and leaves you in charge of the remainder of his team. How would you proceed?
The answer to this question will reveal whether or not the candidate understands the importance of getting buy-in from management, stakeholders, and users before starting work on a project. Follow up questions to ask might include:
– What challenges might this present for your team?
– How could you handle these problems?
Scenario Question #7: You are a front-end web developer and want to hire two interns for your company’s eCommerce website redesign project. Which questions should you ask them?
This is another open-ended scenario that will help uncover how much thought a candidate has put into preparing for a new role before coming in for an interview and what his or her expectations might be of the company and team. Two follow-up questions to ask:
– What kind of work would you expect them to perform?
– How long do you think it’ll take them to ramp up on your existing codebase, tools, and methodologies?
Scenario Question #8: As a software developer, you cannot help but notice that your coworker’s negative attitude is affecting the morale of their project team. You had a discussion with him about this problem. Despite this conversation, he continues to display the same behavior. What should you do next?
This question will reveal whether or not a candidate has the ability to think proactively and work through problems independently. Follow-up questions to ask might include:
– How could you approach your manager regarding this problem?
– Do you believe it would be appropriate for your team lead/manager to speak with your coworker about his behavior? Why or why not?
Scenario Question #9: You are a software developer who works in different time zones than their immediate manager. They send an IM at 2 a.m. asking that you update some source code, which conflicts with other priorities that have been assigned to you by another manager on another continent. What do you do?
This question will help determine how a candidate manages competing priorities and how he or she prioritizes time and projects. Follow-up questions to ask might include:
– How would you determine which of the managers’ requests is most important?
– Do your best to estimate how long it will take you to complete each manager’s request.
Scenario Question #10: As a software developer, you are given complete ownership over a project that nobody else on your team wants. What do you do first?
This question can help give insight into a candidate’s experience and skill level as well as how they feel about taking on additional responsibility without more people under them to help share the workload. It also reveals some self-awareness – does this candidate know their limits and abilities? Follow up questions could include:
– How would you prioritize the tasks that need to be accomplished on this project?
– What could you do to get buy-in from your team members?
An advantage of using scenario-based questions at the beginning of the interview is that they can help quickly weed out candidates who are not prepared or may be difficult to work with. You’ll also get to know a candidate in a more natural way by providing a low-pressure, conversational environment that is conducive to learning about what makes a good fit.
10 Senior Software Developer Interview Questions
After you’ve found the most qualified candidates, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty.
Use this list of software engineering technical interview questions to find out who has the systems/architectural thinking you need to take your team to the next level.
- What is your definition of “done”? / What does “done” mean to you?
- Can you tell me about how you set up continuous integration in your last project?
- How have you contributed to a team’s codebase without being the owner/maintainer of it?
- Tell me about how you’ve worked with [insert different technology here].
- What was the hardest bug you ever had to fix and why was it so hard to find?
- Please describe a time when collaboration has gone particularly well.
- What is the most important part of your job and why?
- Please give me an example of a time when you applied [insert software development best practice here].
- Please give me some examples of how you are a good communicator.
- What’s your approach to dealing with a difficult team member?
These senior software engineer interview questions will help you find out if a candidate is technically strong enough to build the solutions your company needs. You’ll learn what level of experience they bring, how they think about their work, and whether or not they’ve ever dealt with similar situations in their past employment.
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