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I'm going to have my first interview (a phone interview, to be precise) for an entry level position as a software developer tomorrow. I assume that at the end of the call, I will be confronted with the question "do you have any questions?". I don't know anything about the person doing the interview since the recruiter refused to even tell me the name of the company, so I'm going to assume the worst: He's going to be some HR person without an engineer's mindset.

Now, one thing that I'm keen to learn is what exactly my potential workstation is going to look like: Is it some locked-down Windows PC without administrator privileges? That would be awful, I probably wouldn't want to work at such a place. Do I have the possibility to choose my own operating system and the software (including the IDE) running on it? Is it something in between?

The reason I would like to ask this is simply because I think the productivity (and happiness) of a developer depends not only on his knowledge about various programming languages and frameworks, but also on how familiar he is with the entire working environment, including the operating system and the tools he's working with (tools you would not necessarily list on a resume).

My concern is that asking this question to a non-technical person will result in question marks or raised eyebrows: he might not know the answer or, worse, think that I haven't got my priorities straight and think of me as some kid who's eager to bring the toys he's gotten familiar with to work.

So my question is: Do you consider this question appropriate to ask to a non-technical person when interviewing for an entry-level position and if so, how to phrase it without seeming too opinionated?

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    "What operating system do your developers use?" is not a particularly technical question and should be something an HR person can tell you. Being able to choose your own operating system is not particularly common in my experience, and they'll probably tell you if you can in the answer to the aforementioned question. – Dukeling Oct 19 '17 at 22:05
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    As a side note: if you are holding out for a job where you can get the exact developer environment you want, you're going to miss out on a lot of great opportunities. – TheSoundDefense Oct 19 '17 at 22:26
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NB: I'm not going to look at whether they are questions you should be asking at all - at the end of the day if they are things that matter to you and would influence whether you would take the job then that's what's important here. An interview process is a two-way thing.

So assuming you do indeed end up with a non-technical person interviewing you, and there has been no indication about whether you will have an interview with someone who is at any point in the process then instead of trying to ask the HR person these things directly or trying to ask questions they might be able to answer and trying to puzzle out the answers from there you are instead much better off asking them this:

I've got some technical questions about your working environment that I would like to ask, will there be any opportunity for me to talk with some of the team or would you be ok passing on some for me?

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It seems to me that the questions you plan to ask are more about Company Standards or Politics rather than being technical per se, so I don't see why they could be inappropriate.

A technical question would be more on the lines of "do you prefer agile development over traditional development?", "do you host your website's back-end on an DMZ?", etc. The ones you propose I think could be easily answerable by HR or anyone that interviews you.

Also have in mind that several companies have more than one type of interviews; some of them usually have a initial interview (by the Manager or HR, where they analyze you in a general way) and then a more technical interview (usually carried out by the CTO or similar, where you discuss more about the tools and tech involved in the job).

If this is the case, and if they give you the chance of asking questions, I suggest you ask questions that you think can be answered by your current interviewer. That is, don't ask the HR guy about technical stuff and vice versa. It is not worth it and you could surely ask more relevant questions in that moment.

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I wouldn't ask that question at this part of the interview process. Not only is the HR person unlikely to know the answer (even is she/he gives an answer, it's most likely the rules which apply to HR staff, which may be different from rules for IT staff), but you have nothing to gain by cutting the interview process short. Wait with those questions when you get to talk to your peers-to-be. They will know what's really possible.

But more importantly, you seem to be at the beginning of your career. Even if you have already decided not to take a position, go on with the interview process as long as possible. It's valuable experience you can use later on. Until you have signed a contract (and in many cases, for some period after) you can always walk away from the hiring process.

  • How can asking questions when given the chance to do so is "cutting the interview process short"? You say "no questions" and the interview ends. You ask your questions, get answered, the interview ends. Would you mind explaining why please? – DarkCygnus Oct 19 '17 at 22:21
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    The OP is very specific: he wants to know during his first interview with what kind of computer he has to work, and has no interest to working with the company if that doesn't match what he wants. I call that "cutting the process short". – Abigail Oct 19 '17 at 22:32
  • I see then, I get your term now. By asking tangential questions to the actual job denotes not so much interest in the job and more focus on the tools he will get to play with. In that case I agree with that being harmful to the OP, thanks for clarifying :) the term was not so evident for me at first – DarkCygnus Oct 19 '17 at 22:35
  • There's no sense in extending an interview process when you're not interested in the job. It's rude to waste other people's time that way, and you could damage your chances at other opportunities with the same company. – Caleb Oct 20 '17 at 1:59

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