As a non-technical founder, how do you hire engineers?
Originally posted on PURE LAMBDA.
Hiring is difficult, so things get worse if you top that with hiring engineers when you are a non-technical founder. Nevertheless, it does not mean that non-technical founders can’t interview engineer candidates. Of course, this interview process will not include white-boarding exercises or coding challenges, but that is ok. Usually, when hiring an engineer, you will have two rounds of interviews. The first round is what we can call a “culture-fit interview” with the non-technical founder, or the HR team, to understand the personality, goals, and resources of the engineer. Then, if the first interview were successful, it could be followed by a second one which goes much more into the tech details, led by an engineer. In some cases, this second round might even be necessary.
This article aims to demystify the process of hiring engineers for non-technical founders and empower them so they can ask questions to engineers to evaluate their skills without having to dive into coding and complex tech details. The interview is built around a series of questions, based on the engineer’s experience, personality, Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) process, and overall aptitude. With those questions, the non-technical founder can measure the engineer’s experience and ability to work in the company, which are better predictors of long-term success than any coding puzzle could ever be.
In this article, PURE LAMBDA details a series of questions for all the non-technical founders to consider when interviewing an engineer. Those questions can be split into three large categories:
- Company Culture and Company fit.
- Self-training and Knowledge mastering.
- Teamwork and problem-solving.
Company Culture and Company fit
Healthy company culture is pivotal to any business, as PURE LAMBDA explained in one of its recent articles. As a business scales, work culture will lay the foundations for introducing new products, resolving internal conflicts, and hiring employees. As a non-technical founder, when hiring an engineer, you want to screen rapidly if they will fit into your company from a cultural perspective. To do so, you can ask some quite open questions to see how they approach their work, how they prioritize, what motivates them…
The questions you want to ask:
- What projects are you proud of? And why?
- What motivates you in your work? And why?
- What do you enjoy the most about being an engineer?
- What is the most essential quality for a successful engineer? How do you illustrate this in your work?
- > There is no good or wrong answer here. It can be perseverance, being resourceful, or even being creative… but what you want to know is how they apply that in their work.
- How do you stay motivated? What motivates you?
- > Depending on how they answer these questions, you will be able to determine what is the best work environment for them.
Self-training and Knowledge mastering
After evaluating if there is a good fit between your engineer candidate and your company, you want to test their engineering skills not so much from a technical perspective but more from a management perspective. You want to know how they are solving a problem, how integrated they are in the tech community, what type of portfolio they have, etc. Good engineers should have a GitHub account with an active track record and contributions to open-source libraries, small personal projects, or a large passion project. GitHub is an excellent way to assess how committed an engineer is. It is also a great way to assess their coding style in round two of the interview process.
The questions you want to ask:
- Do you work on any open-source projects? If so, which ones and why?
- What libraries, frameworks, and tools do you often use? Why these?
- How do you stay up-to-date with the latest trends and developments?
- When was the last time you tried a new technology, framework, or library, and what was your process to master it?
- How do you balance the need for innovation and creativity with the need for reliability and safety?
- Have you ever created or initiated a project from scratch?
Teamwork and problem-solving
Finally, the last item you want to check as a non-technical founder interviewing an engineer is teamwork and their ability to solve problems. When a company engages its people in situation-solving as part of their daily work, they feel more motivated, and their performance improves. Hiring people with the right mind is fundamental, especially engineers who will need to interact with the sales team, the marketing team, the product team, and ultimately, with you.
The questions you want to ask:
- How do you approach problem-solving and decision-making?
- > To solve a problem, are they going to look online? Use their network? You want an engineer coming with his own support group and being part of a community.
- How do you collaborate with others, especially non-engineer?
- Can you describe a situation where you had to overcome a problem or an obstacle?
- How do you organize your priorities?
- How do you manage your tasks and time efficiently?
- Can you describe a situation where you had to communicate tech info to a non-tech audience? Can you tell me about one of your projects as if I was 5 years old?
Of course, this list of questions is not exhaustive, but it will allow you to measure the ego, the mind process, and the strategy of the engineering candidate. If the candidate mentions that they’ve never pushed buggy code, broken best practices, or disagreed with someone, it’s a red flag. Good engineers (and any other good employee) should talk openly about their mistakes and what they have learned from them.
Finally, we can’t end this article without a Brain Teaser Question. They are a form of puzzle that requires thinking in unconventional ways to solve. They were made popular a few years ago by large corporations such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook but quickly faded out of fame.
At PURE LAMBDA, we really need to know how many tennis balls can fit in an Airbus A360. Let us know, please!