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6 years ago

How We Hire Developers

Hiring is hard. It really is. There are not so many talented and smart developers in the world, but there are lots of inexperienced, boring, exhausted developers. Surprisingly, so many developers can’t even provide a decent architecture of a simple system! I don’t know how a person with 5 years experience can’t create basic designs, but that is a true fact.

Hiring is about matching. You should find a candidate that matches your company and vice versa. It is not easy. We’ve interviewed about 30 developers over the last several months but hired only 3.

Here is our hiring process.

Initial Email / CV

I pay much attention to introductory email and CV. Things like that make me cry:

CV skills table

Holy shit! Does anybody think I really care about this “2-pages-long-list-of-skills” bullshit? I don’t care how much Linux you did. I don’t care about years of experience in some programming language, platform or framework. What I care about is whether developer can do stuff we need. If we state that we are looking for .NET developer and describe his real job, it means we are looking for a person who can do this job perfectly. No more, no less.

As per our job description, .NET developer is supposed to create architecture for independent components, improve business layer etc. I expect a human friendly email with some useful information e.g. previous projects, problems that were solved, reasons to apply for a job with us and experience and roles outside main job. This email should be quite short.

In fact I’ve never seen a good candidate sending a long skills list. I did invite many people that send such emails and all of them were quite weak for our needs. So, this skills table and a boring CV format are the first sign of a candidate level.

The First Interview. Projects History and Practical Task.

We don’t run phone interviews with developers, we’d rather invite them to a live interview right away (if the intro email is good enough).

For about half an hour I ask questions about previous experience, real problems and solutions. The goal is to find out if this person can really solve problems and to get a general feel about his attitude and personality.

Then we give a practical task — design a simple system. It is a pure business layer design that should be abstracted from database and UI. The system should be easily expandable and simple. Candidates have 2-3 hours to create the design and present it to us on whiteboard. We expect basic knowledge of UML to speak the same language, but it is not mandatory. Ideally we want to see a Class Diagram and (pipe dream!) a Sequence Diagram. How many developers from several dozen candidates draw Sequence Diagram? What do you think? Zero.

Usually 3-4 developers from our team take part in design review. We ask questions, raise challenges and see what happens. How candidate fights for his vision, how he accepts critics, how he explains his solutions. If the result is positive and candidate has some spare time, we do pair programming for 1-2 hours and try to implement the design idea.

This first interview does one thing perfectly: it filters out 95% of candidates that can’t work in our company.

The Second Interview. Theoretical Knowledge.

The second interview is slightly superfluous, but still required, I think. We have a second chance to make sure that this person is really good. We ask questions about various technologies to understand knowledge. Typical questions are “Are you familiar with SOLID principles?” and “What is ORM?” with ongoing discussions. This is not as important as practical skills, but still gives a good overview. I don’t think this part can be skipped altogether.

We ask some questions to tap on how this candidate learns new things. My favorite questions are “Which books have you read recently?”, “What are your favorite web resources?”, “Have you learned something new over the last month?”. Answers to these questions are crucial, as we are looking for people who learn continuously and crave for new knowledge.

We also do more of a personal talk to make sure we can trust candidate and he can trust us.

Then we give candidate a chance to ask as many questions as he wants. Usually people ask 3-5 questions, but one candidate asked about 20 questions after the interview 🙂 (We haven’t hired him, but not for this reason).

That is it. We’ve been using this approach for over several months and it works very well.

  • Pavel Dobushevich

    It looks like many programmers cannot create not only architecture but write code. For example, you don&#39t run phone interviews, but guys from RethinkDb turn away 19 out of 20 candidates after simple questions on a phone conversation: http://www.rethinkdb.com/blog/
    For me, main problem: people are accustomed to use libraries and don&#39t think how to do it themselves. When I&#39m starting to work with new library/language I think: How did they do that?

  • Bob Marshall

    So you exclude folks who can&#39t write CVs? Is CV-writing a core skill that your business needs in all its employees? I think not baby puppy. I regularly advise folks looking to hire great developers (and other roles) to ignore the CV entirely.

    Formulate a short but coherent set of questions that will signify the suitability of a candidate to join your organisation, in the position you have open, and go with that, at least for screening purposes. And don&#39t fall into the (other) trap of thinking that interviewing a post-screen candidate will automatically identify great candidates, either. Human (cognitive) biases are just too pernicious (and like my opening question, is interviewability a core skill that your business needs in all its employees?).

    – Bob @FlowchainSensei

  • Walk

    So what will you say is the best way to groom one&#39s self for such opportunities at organisations like yours?

  • Amélie Turgeon

    In your first interview, you should also ask for some coding. You&#39d be surprised about how many people cannot do a simple programming task. I will refer you to Jeff Atwood on this subject (http://www.codinghorror.com/bl

  • Dave Nicoll

    I can&#39t help feeling your comments about the skills matrix/initial CV are a little harsh. If you&#39re looking for a tall and thin developer, that&#39s fine, but we aim to have medium and fat – where team members specialise in something, such as .NET development, but have also worked with other languages and technologies and have a broad understanding of a variety of subjects. Not only does that help when the team is discussing problems, but it also adds value to the architecture meetings as various members can call on past experience. It depends what kind of hire you&#39re looking for…

  • Michael Dubakov

    >So you exclude folks who can&#39t write CVs?

    No, we don&#39t.

    Is it just an interesting coincidence that everyone with bad CV is weak developer? Maybe, but we have this correlation here, in Minsk. We ARE looking for great developers, not CVs, and we DO invite people with quite bad CVs to interview. I want to stress that SO FAR this correlation does exist.

    We pay much attention to practical skills. I think that should be clear from the post.

  • Michael Dubakov

    We do pair programming during the first day (if time permits).

  • Michael Dubakov

    Yes, agree, a little harsh. Still 1 and a half pages of skills is absolutely useless information.

  • Dave Nicoll

    One and a half pages? Ok, that&#39s a bit different.

  • Ben

    A lot of companies and recruiters filter CV&#39s automatically by keyword, making the skills table an essential part of getting through the filter. Maybe you should ask for CV&#39s optimized for humans 🙂

  • Michael Dubakov

    That&#39s just terrible, I never heard about that practice. We do ask to send human friendly CVs.

  • Buzzman

    I have to agree with Bob&#39s first paragraph. Most CV&#39s are written by the agencies that represent the candidate, especially when dealing with offshore outsourcing. Keep it simple; look for thinking patterns, and the candidates ability to express himself under pressure. Avoid silly questions on syntax. The interview is not a pissing contest. How the candidate solves an issue he or she is not familiar with is more interesting to me.

  • Michael Dubakov

    In Belarus in 99% of cases CV&#39s are written by candidates themselves. So that is not the case.

  • Szabolcs Ban

    As I realized skills list is for headhunters, as they pre-filter CVs by these, if no buzzwords, you will not have them on your desk. There are clever tricks to compress it as for the employer it&#39s not really relevant.

  • Katherine Lazarevich

    I dislike “nice” table with list of skills either. But don&#39t forget that in our country there are a lot of big outsourcing companies. They have special CV template with a list of skills that can be parsed automatically for putting in the database. Moreover, they forces developers to update CV regularly (at least once a year). As a result most of developers have up-to-date CV and use it. 🙂

  • Alexander Beletsky

    It is very true.. find a developer is big issue. We did a similar process, actually.. with a difference, we are giving task before interview. In interview we see completed solution. Paying much attension both to solution and ability to explain “what you did here?”.. Very few developers could present and describe their solution well.

    I also like to ask questions “How do seek for knowledge?”, “What was the last major annoucement from Microsoft?”, “What blogs do you follow?”

  • hire web programmer

    Yeah i agree this.. Its very hard to analyse those people.. Like this type of interview is best.. Then only we can findout easily in this world.. Thanks for sharing this type of blog.. Great work..

  • web design bangalore

    Its really fantastic to hear that you can make a clear interview and recruit the people. because we would not be knowing how much experienced the person is

  • derdiver

    This was AWESOME!!

  • dynamix

    You’re based in Buffalo, USA, but all your staff seem to be from Belarus, am I right? Any comments?

  • Jessica

    Um…I am a developer and my skills matrix IS why I get interviews. Fresh college grads need one, how else do they promote their skills? After working in .NET for a couple of years, I keep updating it and it still helps me get interviews. REcruiters love them. Actually these are better than cover letters.

  • Sean Chan

    Advanced company will ask you data structure, algorithms design and achievement from previous projects, stupid company will ask “What is ORM?”, “what is this?”, “what is that?”, “do you know design pattern?”…, they need tool users not developers.

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