If your web development career is ready for deployment, you may be anxious about upcoming interviews. It’s true that a web developer interview is a different beast. Of course you’ll be evaluated to ensure a culture fit, but you’re also likely to be interviewed by other programmers—the people you will work with—and they’re going to want to know that you have what it takes to hit the ground running.
It’s hard to gauge your level of knowledge and problem-solving skills without putting you on the spot. This strategy provides insight into your skills and thinking as an engineer. If you’ve never done a technical interview before, fear of curve-ball questions or having to think on your feet may seem daunting. But, know this: how you approach the problem and think through challenges most often trumps arriving at the precise answer to coding interview questions.
With our spring web development course underway, we can’t wait to see which innovative companies manage to snag our graduates. Bach Bui, Technology Director at Startup Institute, has three key tips for these outstanding candidates during their technical interviews:
“Ninety percent of the time the person sits there in silence, thinking about the coding problem for five minutes and not getting anywhere. The number one thing is, I want them to talk to me. Don’t sit there in silence. The silent approach also doesn’t bode well for how they’d fit on the team. Interviewing for culture skills and technical skills are not two separate things.”
According to Bach, the absolute best thing you can do as you work through software developer interview questions is not be afraid to sound stupid. Walk your interviewer through your thinking.
“I don’t care if you get this problem right in 15 minutes—that’s not always a realistic expectation. But, it is important that you create the conversation so that I can see your entry point into this problem. Share why you’re stuck and what challenges you’re trying to work through.”
Few web developers do this during interviews, but it makes a powerful impression. Knowing WHAT to build is often the biggest challenge, and in no real-life scenario will you not be able to scope a project with your team, supervisor, or clients. Asking the right questions is part of showing how you think, and is critical to arriving at a powerful solution. Questions you might ask include:
- How many users do we expect to be using this product?
- How does it need to scale?
- What team will be building this?
- What third party integrations do we have available?
- What’s our timeline for putting this thing together?
Technical savvy is undoubtedly important, but there are plenty of non-technical skills that bridge the gap between a brainiac developer and the kind of person you actually want working with you on a development team.
- Do you have a knack for accurately estimating the amount of time it will take you to get your tasks done?
- Are you good at translating business requirements into technical requirements?
- Are you agile and adaptable—able to pick up new concepts quickly?
Realistically, these qualities are often much more important, and much more telling about what value you’ll bring to the team. Luckily, these are also things you can think through and prepare for in advance, as opposed to trying to memorize coding exercises and questions.
What it all boils down to is this: even in a technical interview, culture skills are just as, if not more important. Don’t get caught up in the technical questions—more often than not, your interviewer is evaluating how you approach a problem and what you’d bring to the team over your ability to solve a problem under impractical circumstances and time constraints. Yes, the job offer will ultimately rely on a certain level of technical aptitude, but use coding problems to your advantage by revealing much more about yourself than know-how.
Of course, there will always be the interviewers who don’t have a good handle on what they’re looking for, or who think technical brain-teasers are the end-all-be-all. Remember: You’re interviewing them, too. Consider what this may say about your supervisor in this role, or about what the company values, and dig in to learn more. “You need to know that interviews for software development roles are notoriously terrible,” says Bach. “They may ask you to solve stupid problems and, if that’s the case, you’ll need to take it upon yourself to recognize this and then open up a real conversation.”