As a startup or small business owner, interviewing your first developer without technical knowledge is a difficult process but also a big moment in the journey of your enterprise. It means that you have an idea and some funding to pursue it or you’ve had enough success that you can afford to stop using contractors and hire an in-house developer.
Making sure the candidate has the necessary skills at this point could define whether your product succeeds or fails.
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How to Interview A Developer Without Technical Knowledge Explained
There are a couple of things you can do to get a rough idea of the skill set of an engineer despite your lack of coding experience.
1) Know What You Want
Even if you are interviewing the developer without technical knowledge, the most important thing is to know what you want this person to do in technical terms. Have a defined goal such as:
- A new eCommerce website built on Opencart or Shopify
- A brochure style website built with October CMS
- A native iOS app that supports iPhone and iPad portrait and landscape
It makes things easier when trying to quantify their ability as you can have a list of bullet points to talk about. However it also gives the candidate a clear idea of what they will be working on.
It’s easy to forget that the candidate is also screening you as an employer and they will always be interviewing at two or three companies when looking for a new appointment. You have to impress them with the projects you currently have but most importantly what they will be working on in the next six months.
If you just ask for a website you are giving them very broad parameters and without clear guidelines. It is impossible for a developer to see into your mind to know what you expect on the very first project. Know the end result, timeline, programming languages and deliverables.
2) Ask About Experience
Go through their CV and ask about about the projects completed in each job. When a developer has worked at a large company the engineering teams can be up to 100 people so it’s all too common for someone to overstate their input. Get them to talk about their specific role, what features they delivered and how they did it. Ask them to send you a link to a recent project and then make them give a walkthrough of what parts they worked on. This is useful for seeing if they actually did what they say and also allows you to see how good their communication style is when giving a demo to you or other members of your company down the line.
Some pauses are expected as it may have been a while since they worked on the project. It could have been updated since they left or taken offline but if they are stalling for time and not clear on their answers it’s likely that they are bluffing.
A good developer will be able to rhyme off the top projects they worked on so quickly that they could almost tell you the url without having to search. If a candidate is evasive or the projects they worked on are internal company sites, no longer online or hard to find, it’s a flag that you need to be careful. Carry out more investigation by using the techniques below.
3) Check Online Profiles
Ask for their GitHub and stackoverflow usernames. These are the most popular developer sites and everyone should have a profile on them.
Github is the most common location for storing code online and every good developer will have at least two or three public repositories. While you may not be able to understand the contents, look for the activity chart to see how active they are.
A lack of activity means a lack of interest in learning new technologies outside of their 9-5. Your first technical hire needs to be someone that is on top of emerging technologies and trends. To do this they need to be active in their spare time, experimenting with new frameworks and trying to solve problems.
Stackoverflow is the number one developer forum for asking questions and sharing knowledge with other engineers. It has a loyal following and big community that moderates all of the answers posted for quality and relevance. It is difficult to get a good stackoverflow rating as all of the common questions are answered quickly so a person needs to be monitoring new topics and posting answers within hours.
If they have a good rating on stackoverflow they’ve have been approved by their peers for being a leader in their field and you can be confident that they know their stuff.
4) Start A Small Project
Ask them if they are willing to do a small project for a fixed price. This is a true acid test as they can pass all other assessments but completing a minor assignment lets you see how much hand holding they will need, what their problem solving mentality is like and how well they understand your vision for end products.
It is common for developers to undertake coding challenges and tests but these are universally resented as they are not getting paid and the exams can take a long time for no potential reward. If you offer a small fee, you will stand out in the field of companies they are talking to and it means you could get some minor items from the backlog ticked off without having to pay a contractor excessive rates.
We discussed some techniques to help you quantify the abilities of a candidate so you can interview your developer without having technical knowledge. This gives you the confidence that they can do the job when you make an offer.
If you want complete certainty that an engineer has the required skills, contact us for a comprehensive technical screening. One of our Senior Developers will conduct an in depth assessment and technical background check to help you remove any uncertainty when interviewing your first developer as a non technical founder.