By its very nature, making, testing, and maintaining all software is a complex venture. As a result, every member of the development team has an important contribution to make. This is particularly true for a senior developer. They have to be able to write great code, and must also take on a wide range of other roles, many of which can have a crucial effect on your company’s record of success.
What does it mean to be a senior developer?
Establishing seniority in the world of tech is more problematic than just looking at the number of years of experience. Many developers who identify as seniors have five or more years of professional coding experience behind them. That said, not all experienced developers are seniors and not all seniors have five years of professional development under their belt.
“Senior software engineers are the most experienced member of a software team and usually carry the most responsibility and authority of that team. Because of this, interviews will be designed to find candidates who have expert knowledge of the field and years of experience as a software engineer. Expect to be asked tough technical questions and to give examples of previous projects that you have worked on.”
What else makes a senior developer different from their more junior colleagues?
Most senior developers have a much wider range of extensive duties in addition to the normal work of software development. In particular, they are likely to be responsible for leading a team of developers, or for managing a number of teams of developers.
At one end of the leading/managing spectrum, the form of leadership may be more in the style of a Scrum Master. At the other end of the spectrum, the senior developer might be working on organizational issues or perhaps focusing on activities related to keeping the business profitable.
What to look for in a senior developer
A job advert for a senior software developer is likely to expect candidates to have already developed high-quality software that was aligned with user needs and business goals. As a result, candidates will need to have had hands-on experience in software development and Agile methodologies. Additionally, depending on the actual job, candidates may also need to:
- Work independently with little supervision
- Have excellent organizational and problem-solving skills
- Have an analytical mind with an aptitude for problem-solving
- Take the lead on operational and technical projects
- Demonstrate the ability to create and maintain relevant processes
- Be able to work with upper management to define software requirements
- Manage project timelines and priorities
- Convert business requirements into technical specifications
- Identify, prioritize and execute tasks in the software development life cycle
- Collaborate with internal teams and vendors to fix and improve products
Preparing to interview a senior developer
Before planning your interview with a senior developer, it makes sense to review the process you follow when interviewing regular software developers. You’ll need to decide whether your standard approach to the interview is the right approach, or whether you need to adapt it. Are your standard questions or tasks still relevant? Or do you need to replace certain questions or tasks with more suitable ones?
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Make sure senior developers are interviewed by someone as advanced as they are
- We do not recommend algorithm tests, so if you decide to ask seniors to take a coding test, make sure the test allows for more creative solutions or involves advanced debugging that only a senior developer could do
- Consider paired programming interviews to get a feeling of what it’s like to work with this person, as well as ask them to talk through their approach and explain why they made certain choices
- How do they feel about mentoring less senior developers? More junior developers are often attracted to companies that facilitate learning i.e. from mentors. Does your candidate see themselves as a mentor? Have they ever done that before?
If you haven’t done so already, this is a great opportunity to work with your developer team to create a document that details the “job ladder”, a document which clearly explains what the differences are between, for example, junior, middle, and senior levels.
How to structure an interview with a senior developer
Remember that this interview is designed to identify candidates who have expert knowledge of the required fields and have the required years of experience as a software developer. As a result, candidates can expect to be asked some tough questions about the technical areas which they have highlighted in their resumes, like frameworks, libraries, and past projects.
Use natural skill tests
Remember that it’s pointless to ask senior developers to complete a test which includes explaining a simple algorithm or data structure.
- Most candidates for senior posts haven’t dealt with such matters for many years.
- Stay away from whiteboard-testing.
- Ask candidates to share a few work samples
- Ask the candidate to build on existing code
Likewise, instead of asking candidates to take a coding test, it would be better to ask a potential senior developer how they would improve upon existing code. This can be achieved with a DevSkiller paired programming test. See how your candidate approaches and solves problems, including how they prioritize which problems to solve. Additionally, see how your candidate uses in stack resources like frameworks and libraries and observe when they choose to write their own code
Coordinate with your development team
You’ll need to coordinate well with the development team you’re hiring for.
- Organize a panel that represents the development team and your company in a fair and accurate way
- Try to limit the panel to a maximum of five people at a time so that you don’t overwhelm candidates
Apart from having the appropriate technical background, a senior developer also requires project and team management skills. Here, you’re looking for candidates who feel comfortable making difficult decisions and can efficiently and effectively delegate tasks to their team members.
Senior developer interview questions
You will need to ask your developer team for technical questions that would be most relevant to the team you’re hiring for. However, here are a few examples to get you started:
- Are you still writing code? Do you love it?
- What are the pros and cons of cloud systems?
- For a fintech application, what security concerns would you have? And how would you address them?
- What technologies, programming languages, and frameworks would you use if you had to develop a project from scratch in some kind of new technology in only one month?
- You have just been put in charge of a legacy code project which is difficult to maintain – what would you plan to improve in order to make the project easier to maintain in the long-term?
- How regularly do you schedule meetings with your team members?
- What metrics do you use to monitor your team’s performance?
- What are the benefits and advantages of working in an Agile environment?
- Which tests are most important before deploying a new system or feature?
- What tools and techniques do you use when reviewing someone else’s code?
Operational and situational questions
- What would be your approach to a more junior developer on your team who kept questioning your decisions?
- How would you motivate disengaged employees?
- How would you deal with disagreements related to system requirements between senior managers?
- What advice would you give to a new team member? What’s the best way to onboard a new hire?
- How would you negotiate a bigger budget for your team?
- Do you prefer giving team-wide or individual feedback?
- How do you document your programming work?
- What do they do to sell new ideas to management? For example, if your manager asks you to select between two technologies, how would you do this? This question tests how well a candidate presents a business case to use a particular type of technology, and what risks and values they consider when making the decision.
- Have you ever identified a potential business problem, and then proactively implemented a solution?
- How do you stay up-to-date on new technologies related to full-stack web development?
- What’s your biggest professional success so far? Why?
- Tell me about three times in your professional career when you failed.
- What was the last team project you worked on? What did you work on? In hindsight, how would you prioritize those tasks for better collaboration? With these questions, you are finding out whether or not the candidate was a team player and collaborated well with others. You will also find out how they prioritize tasks, and how well they think through (and then explain) what they would do differently in the future.
- What would help you to become a better manager?
The most important takeaway from this article is that senior developers are more than just programmers. Depending on how your company is set up, a senior developer may also focus on leading a team of developers or even selling your product’s vision externally. So it’s crucial for you to discuss the exact requirements of the team you’re recruiting for. After that, you’re welcome to adapt to the compilation of questions we’ve provided above. Remember that you’re looking for candidates who have not only relevant experience, but also excellent communication skills and the ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances.