Friday 10 September 2010

Sometimes You Don't Even Need Eyes

Part One: Bad Interview Smells

Many years ago I owned a Subaru Impreza. A fantastic car, and one with a distinct aural signature courtesy of its flat-four engine. Ever since owning that car, whenever I hear that throbby rumble I know I'm about to spot another Subie. Of course these days, a lot of the boy-racers/ricers/tuners (substitute your local dialectical word here, you know the guys I'm talking about) choose to accentuate that noise with a comically-large exhaust system, which means I'll be able to picture the car I'm about to see even more accurately.

I've come to the realisation that software development teams can often be characterised/pre-judged in the same way. You can get a feel for what you'll be dealing with Without even seeing the code. Here are some questions to ask, and outright warning signs that Things Are Not Good, just maybe they'll save you in an interview one day:

  • They don't use source control
  • They do use "source control", but it's Visual SourceSafe
  • Who is the person interviewing you? Your future boss? Are/were they a software developer? A good one? Shoot back a question that will reveal if they're up to scratch technically. If they're not, you don't want to be there
  • "We've got/we had this guy, he's super-smart and he's [re-]written 90% of our stuff in [something bizarre]"
  • Find out how they document stuff like new-starters' guides and things like that; Wiki = good. Word Doc = bad
  • See if you can sneak in a question about the build process. Is there a CI build server? A build light? These things not only show how seriously the team takes the software development process, but also how willing management is to support them
  • You might be lucky enough to be led through the development area on your way to the interview room. Is it a cube-farm? Low-walled? High-walled? Glass offices? Is there a purposeful hush punctuated by the occasional techie-chat?
  • Are there numerous whiteboards with interesting-looking diagrams on them? Interesting diagrams (but not in the "WTF?" way) imply interesting discussions, implying quality colleagues

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