Questions Programmers Should Ask Their Interviewers

Programming Interview QuestionsI have read a lot of blog posts talking about answering certain types of interview questions in technical interviews. Being that I have had a few interviews myself during the course of my career, I have become somewhat a pro at them. I have to say that many programmers just don’t realize that going for a job, and being in an interview, is just as much about you interviewing the company as it is them interviewing you. While there are many questions you could ask, many programmers feel intimidated asking the interviewer questions about how they treat their programmers. But if you wish to get a good job with a stellar working environment, asking the important questions can quickly weed out those employers who are just not going to help you. So I have taken the liberty of compiling a few questions that can help programmers find out more about their potential employers and help raise any red flags that may be lurking.

  1. What are the newest tools you use at the company to develop your software? – The goal of this question is to see how up to date they are. If they are responding with things like Visual Studio 2005 or have never heard of Sublime Text, then they may be a few years behind the curve and that could mean that the code base lurking underneath many of the company’s products could be a disaster or outdated.
  2. What would you say if I wanted to introduce language like X? – Here “X” would be your favorite language or a test language to see how open they would be to something really different. If they are a Microsoft based company, ask them about a language like Python or Java and see what they say. If they entertain the possibility, and even get excited about it, then it may be a good sign that they are open to change and growth.
  3. How do you go about planning for a software change? – This question will tell you a bit about the processes they use and how much bureaucracy there is in the company. If they start listing a whole long list of people that need to be consulted and it sounds like a bunch of red tape, that may be a red flag that change is slow and chaotic. Essentially the “too many cooks in the kitchen” syndrome.
  4. What steps do you take to help build teamwork and improve moral in the company? – This question is a fun one and gives the employer a chance to tout what kind of special perks they offer to the programming team. If they have trouble listing items here, it may mean they don’t do much or have a week sense of responsibility to their programmers well being. It may also help show what a company’s general thoughts are towards programmers. Do they value them by spending some capital on making them happy beyond pay?
  5. Do you offer any training classes or reimburse programmers who want to take classes related to their job? – This will tell you if a company is willing to invest in their programmers. Some companies won’t tell you but they expect that if they are paying you a salary it is up to you to find the time to keep your own skills up to date. Of course many of these companies also don’t give you much time to actually take a class during the day. If they are willing to pay for a class, it shows you that they value you and your personal development. You may be surprised to hear that they are willing to pay for some…. within reason of course.
  6. So, what do you think of technology Y? – Here “Y” could be some general cutting edge technology that may have come out in the last month or two and get their thoughts on it. This question will show you how up to date they are on the industry trends. Now they may not have heard of your technology but they should at least show some interest in wanting to know more. If they are not that knowledgeable on it, or have no clue and show no interest, this could be a sign that they are working in a bubble and are comfortable with that. Again, another sign they are not willing to grow their knowledge base. They should be just as excited to learn new industry trends as you are to learn new programming methodologies. Even if they are HR they should still be interested in things that could help the company.
  7. How do you resolve issues between programmers in the team? – What we are trying to get at here is to see how quickly they address personality conflicts between people, how much process is involved, and how thoroughly they resolve the conflict. Do they just say “Get over it and be professional?” or do they take immediate action by getting the parties together, talking it through and helping make sure everyone is happy and that there is no further hostilities? This shows that they care about you as a person as much as they code you churn out.
  8. Is there a feedback box or some other kind of method for providing feedback about improving the company? – This will tell you how willing a company is to listen to your ideas and implement them. It also shows you that the company is concerned with their own performance and open to suggestions about improving the company as a whole. You want to know that when you raise a point and see an issue that they take your feedback seriously to improve your environment. They may not have a method and you bringing it up should at least spark the idea for them. They should at least be willing to implement it after you suggest it.

With these questions you can get a better idea of not only the people you work with, but their willingness to accommodate you, your peers, maintain a healthy environment and see to your (and company’s) growing future. You don’t have to be stuck in a company where everyone has a low morale, bad attitudes and stifle your career by limiting your future options.

It is just as much about them as it is about you

Remember, you might be the one looking for a job and a paycheck but you are also the one looking for a company to grow with and be happy to work for. Interviewers should be ready to answer questions for the company and be knowledgeable about what is going on out there in the industry. If they have never heard of a functional programming language or provide no way to receive feedback to change, how are they going to understand half of what you recommend or listen when you have concerns? Something to think about.

Do you have any favorite questions you ask potential employers during the interview that has helped you? Let us know in the comments below and perhaps you can help fellow programmers land that perfect job. Also be sure to share this with your friends who might be interviewing soon. They will thank you for it!

Thanks for reading. 🙂

About The Author

Martyr2 is the founder of the Coders Lexicon and author of the new ebooks "The Programmers Idea Book" and "Diagnosing the Problem" . He has been a programmer for over 25 years. He works for a hot application development company in Vancouver Canada which service some of the biggest tech companies in the world. He has won numerous awards for his mentoring in software development and contributes regularly to several communities around the web. He is an expert in numerous languages including .NET, PHP, C/C++, Java and more.