Developers: Here Are 8 Questions You Should Ask Your Employer Before Taking the Job
What kind of questions should I ask at the end of the developer job interview?
Working as a developer is a lot of fun — you get to solve challenging and complex tasks every day. Often, your team consists of smart developers who are eager to solve the tasks as a team. Great teammates are crucial when working on larger projects, and so is the environment you work in. You don’t want to burn out in two weeks — ideally, you want to work there for years to fully see the project flourish.
Finding the right developer job can be tricky since there are a lot of crappy jobs out there. A crappy developer job will you make unhappy, depressed, and unfilled — It’s a rough road. Thus, I put together a list of questions you should ask your employer before taking on the job. These questions will give you a rough estimation of how much you’ll be appreciated by the company.
1. How Often Do You Work Evenings and Weekends?
A simple yet important question — this tells you if they respect work-life balance or not. You might have a life outside of work, or you might have a dog, wife, and kids that you’re looking forward to being with. If your employer doesn’t respect your work-life balance, you have hot potatoes in your lap.
If you’re in your 20s, this might not be as big of a red flag, but the older you get, the more you’re going to appreciate this. Remember, no company is loyal to its employees — it’s a hoax. The company is there to make money. That’s their ultimate goal, and they’ll do whatever it takes, including working you to death. You have to fight for your freedom.
If you have the chance, ask another developer on the team this question. The more they beat around the bush, the more overworked they are. If you’re not getting honest and forthright answers, assume they’re not telling you the truth.
2. What’s the Average Turnover Rate?
The turnover rate refers to the percentage of employees leaving a company within a certain period of time. Companies keep track of their average tenure —it’s a measurement for them to understand their workforce better.
Firing people is expensive — it’s the last thing a company wants to do. Let’s say you’re about to work on a massive project, and if there are only two core developers left out of 25, that’s a huge red flag. With limited information, you have to figure out why so many developers left the project. Does the interviewer provide you with a reasonable explanation of why so many people left in a flurry? If they tell you they don’t know the answer, assume they're not being honest, unless it’s a startup at a really early-stage.
3. What’s a Typical Day Like in This Position?
This question gives the interviewer the opportunity to talk about the best bits of the job — and if they don’t open up and start talking out of delight, something might be off.
Really, there are no right or wrongs here. I worked for a company where we all watched “South Park” during lunch breaks. At a different startup, we went swimming near the lake during lunch. Each company has a different culture, and this question gives you the chance to clear things up and see if you’re potentially a good match for the company and vice versa.
4. How Have You Supported Developer Professional Development in the Past?
If you’re just starting out, you really want a team that will allow time for a senior dev to mentor you as you’re completing your work. This is expected of more experienced developers, and you should try to find a place that values this type of mentorship. If they’re a company that will just throw you to the wolves for your tasks, it’s probably best to skip them, unless you thrive in those types of environments.
Every decent company that wants to retain its talent should work very hard on educating its junior ranks while letting the more experienced developers explore different paths. Traveling for developer conferences, coding courses, guest speakers, and in-house conferences are great ways for developers to share their knowledge and learn new things. A great company will keep its developers by providing new and more challenging tasks.
5. Ask for a Tour Around the Office at the End
Tours are important — they show initiative and that you’re interested and actually want the gig.
Asking for a tour also gives you an exact image of what your future working environment looks like. If you get off the elevator and see everyone working shoulder to shoulder on pairs of tiny 19" monitors with barely enough room to move their mouse without hitting someone else’s keyboard — you’ve got a problematic employer.
During the tour, and even when you first walk into the place, pay attention to the people. Are they happy? Smiling? Conversing? Or are they all miserable and have bags under their eyes? This is really telling of the workplace. If you’re not leaving the office with a big grin on your face the first day, chances are high you might never leave the building with a smile on your face.
6. What’s the Best and Worst Thing About Working Here?
This is my favorite question to ask in any sort of interview since it really turns the tables. It seems obvious, but I’ve had multiple recruiters have to stop and think about this one before giving me an answer.
A perfect job doesn’t exist — every job has its ups and downs. It’s your task to find out the good and bad parts and decide for yourself. I remember asking this question from a chief operating officer (COO) in a medium-sized company, and the answer I got was very, very vague. It almost seemed like he was annoyed with the question, or he was just scared to say anything bad about the company, You guessed it — I didn’t take the job.
7. Ask Them to Describe Their Software Development Lifecycle (How Often Do They Release Code?)
If they’re constantly trying to hit deadlines, have limited testing environments, don’t have automated tests, don’t have multi-tenancy, and have a horrific deployment process, then walk away.
It sucks to work your butt off for six months only to be told, “Hey, scratch that, we’re not going to release the product.” Anger, disappointment, and resentment will follow, and you’ll start to reject ideas from the management team. After all, you worked nights and days only to be tossed aside. This is a downward spiral into unhappiness, unfulfillment, and probably switching companies.
I’ve learned to ask what days they release their software on — if the answer is Fridays before the afternoon, you have a problem. Why would any company that makes money online make such critical changes during the hours when everyone has gone home and forgotten about their jobs? Most people have left the office already, and if things were to go wrong, there’s only a small fleet ready to handle the issue. A sensible company will push a newer version of their software when the people are in or near the office, not when they’re spending time with their families.
8. Ask About the Company’s Long Term Vision (What Are Your Plans for the Next Five Years?)
This question gives the interviewer a chance to give you a clear view of the company's vision. Is the vision exciting and clear? Do you agree and align with that vision?
You can usually tell when a company has a great vision. Even if it’s a startup. Usually, vision is what feeds people. A place with no vision often has a horrible culture and high turnover. You’re going to spend most of your life in that workplace and environment, and so it’s critical to be on board and agree as a collective about what you want to achieve.
It’s very hard to hide the fact that you’re not passionate about the project and vision. So, save yourself the trouble and hassle if you’re just not feeling like that’s something you would want to do for the longterm. There are hundreds of thousands of developer jobs — pick the one that suits you the most. I would pick the job where I believe in the company’s vision over any other job, even one that pays double. Of course, don’t let the company take advantage of you. They should still offer competitive pay even if the vision is exciting.
Thanks for reading, I hoped you learned something new. After reading this article, you should be equipped with knowledge on how to find that exciting new job the next time you’re on the job market.