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Interviewing for Engineering Process Alignment

Hiring is hard in every industry and discipline. It’s even harder for early stage startups whose early hires set the stage for company culture.

Technical interviewing has been covered in-depth elsewhere. A less discussed (and more nuanced) practice is evaluating the 'process preferences' of employees you're trying to attract. The kinds of employees you want to hire when your company is three folks in an apartment are often very different from those that will fit when you're 50 or 500. When it comes to evaluating process alignment, company size is only one attribute - the bottom line is that being cognizant of your immediate needs (and future aspirations) for a given role is critically important to setting up new hires for success and the resulting growth of your team.

I’ve found that it’s largely unhelpful to build candidate archetypes for this exercise. Instead, here are a few scenarios that can help you articulate process alignment with product engineers.

Tooling

Candidate A: I am passionate and have expertise in specific pieces of technology. I am unhappy working with anything else.

Candidate B: I could care less what the stack looks like and am perfectly happy introducing any number of technologies into our product tooling.

Code Quality

Candidate A: I see code quality as top priority — code shouldn’t be merged without thorough test coverage and critical peer review. Any code that's less than optimal must be rewritten.

Candidate B: I could care less about the quality of code I write/interact with. If it’s functional and meets specs, let’s ship it.

Product domain

Candidate A: I have no defined interest in this product space and haven’t put much thought into it.

Candidate B: I care deeply about what this product is trying to accomplish and it’s outcome aligns with my core values.

Motivation

Candidate A: I’m looking for a solid paycheck and sufficient time to devote to my family and hobbies outside of work.

Candidate B: I’m trying to make an impact on the world and your company is helping me do this.

(*Most people may not be willing/able to answer this honestly. I highly recommend reading the summary of the four motivators)

Of course, most candidates won't likely take such extreme positions on these issues. Regardless, you can see the compounding variability you will experience when evaluating candidates through this lens.

The truth is, there are no wrong answers — I’ve seen organizations that prefer to hire at all points along these spectrums. Not every candidate will reach peak performance in every environment, and knowing which types of answers you’re looking for (and why) is critical to setting your organization up for success as you scale.

Remember that this composite variability is exactly the point of performing interviews. Humans are not a series of data points — they’re living, breathing, evolving beings whose lives, objectives, and ideals shift over time. Regardless of what questions you’re asking, make sure their resulting answers have sufficient variability to explore each candidate's fit for your company's unique environment and challenges.