This awkward and stressful thing between emerging a hero after completing the 12 labors of Hercules and the pointless successive hula hoops jumps of a circus trained animal, which we lightly call job interviews. We all hate them, yet they are an unavoidable fact of our professional lives.

When for the first time I ventured naively into the uncomfortable and inhospitable world of software engineering technical interviews, it didn’t take long for me to feel that judging a software engineer’s ability in 2 or 3 hours is as accurate as cruentation.

However, I always wondered how it was to be like the one sitting on the other side, what it takes to understand if an engineer is a good fit for the role. For the last couple of years, I conducted over 100+ software engineering technical interviews, and although each company has its unique process, there are common pitfalls people tend to fall. Here is my honest advice on how to avoid them.

The good software engineer

“The road to success and the road to failure are almost exactly the same.”

– Colin R. Davis

There isn’t a unique definition for a good software engineer. It relates to the needs of the role and the diversity and maturity of the company. A recent startup would undoubtedly need a short time to market, while a more mature company that grew to a large customer base would probably be facing some scaling and architectural challenges. Building product while understanding what makes sense to the business is different than solving complex technical challenges. A detailed perfectionist engineer is different from a fast iterating one. You need to understand what the company is looking for and frame your behavior and discourse into that mindset. Don’t do a one fits all CV, instead adapt it to that reality. If you have to do a pitch (in a way, you always do one formally or otherwise), frame it in a way that you show how you will be an asset to that specific company. You should understand the necessity the role is trying to fill and ask yourself if that motivates you if it does then embrace it. You should figure what the “good” definition looks like for the company’s context and show how your knowledge, experience, and attitude fits in that definition.

Do your homework

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

- Benjamin Franklin

Going on an interview without having a clue about the company it’s like going on a date and talking only about yourself, doesn’t mean there won’t be a second date but doesn’t give a good impression. Put in the effort to learn about the business, its objectives, it’s mission, strategy, and results. I would never fail someone for not knowing anything about it, but it is a hint of the candidate’s motivation. Also, it is a standard criterion HR tends to evaluate. Besides business goals, be sure to check the company’s tech blog if they have one and know their tech stack. Not very often candidates show legitimate interest for the company, but when they do, it is an excellent way to stand out.

Have a critical sense

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

- Aristotle

I’ve met exceptional technical experts throughout my career and they were all kinds of different people. Still, all of them had at least one thing in common; they were the ones who defied the status quo and made the processes and technologies improve. So many candidates, when asked if they have questions, have nothing to add. Avoiding asking questions is a wasted opportunity, grab that moment to ask about the technical decisions the company made and the challenges they are facing and discuss the tradeoffs of each technology.


Are they considering moving to HTTP/3 yet?

Are they moving to an event-driven microservice architecture? What kind of message broker are they using? Why not use Kafka instead of RabbitMQ?

What kind of database technology are they using? What was the use case? Would ElasticSearch be a good alternative to SQL in that use case?

And so on. Questioning the technical decisions will show that not only you know these technologies and can argue when they should be used but also that you can think critically and ultimately care about improving whatever applications you work with.

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My Advice After Interviewing 100+ Software Engineers
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