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I would like to make sure that my future coworkers are as good of programmers as they are testing me to be, assuming that I have ascertained their technical background. So when they ask me if I have any questions, instead of B.S. type "what is the culture around here", I actually want to test their programming knowledge just like they did mine, to avoid working with incompetent coworkers.

Will this come off as too arrogant/extravagant?

marked as duplicate by Justin Cave, gnat, jcmeloni, Rarity, Rhys Mar 22 '13 at 21:53

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    The questions they ask you are probably good indications as to the type of people they hire... – enderland Mar 22 '13 at 20:11
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    Ask them the questions from the Joel Test :) Generally, you have to care about working under a competent manager more than about the level of competence of your co-workers. As an aside, you have to temper down your tone and avoid using words/abbrevs like "BS" in the interview. Your mileage may vary. – Deer Hunter Mar 22 '13 at 20:21
  • this is not an interview. what makes you think i would use the same style across the board? – amphibient Mar 22 '13 at 20:35
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    "I actually want to test their programming knowledge just like they did mine" - that's a reasonable wish and that is doable (I do that all the time) but most certainly not in the form of asking interview-like questions. Think of it a bit, analyze what exactly happens when you pass through their questions, and you'll discover a lot of opportunities to gently test their knowledge. Subtle approach here can give you about as much knowledge as they get by asking you straightforward questions... – gnat Mar 22 '13 at 21:34
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    The subtle approach could be inquiring about their development stack, what tools and libraries they use, methodologies, standards etc. – Jan Doggen Mar 22 '13 at 21:35
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First, make sure you know exactly who you are speaking to before you do that.

  • If you ask an expert in the technology a technical question, you are likely to offend them or look foolish. Say you ask me to reverse a string in place using C++ or ask what happens if you call a virtual function from a constructor. I've written over a dozen C++ books and it would be really hard for me to stay polite while you tested me. In fact, I would probably burst out laughing, sidestep the question entirely and remind you of my background.
  • If you ask a non-technical HR person who is screening you, they will just explain they're not technical, but are likely to feel a little uncomfortable about you afterwards. Or worse, they'll try and fail to answer and you'll draw wrong conclusions about the job.
  • If you ask a fomerly-technical manager who now keeps projects well organized and makes sure everyone gets paid, you may get a stale or outdated answer that doesn't represent the actual environment in which you would work, and you may decline an opportunity that would be great for you
  • If you ask a senior technical fellow who knows more than anyone you've heard of, and writes beautiful code, and comes up with brilliant architecture, and writes delightful emails and documents, but that person happens to be poor at extemporaneous speaking, or irritated that you "turned the tables", you may get an answer that hides the interviewer's technical brilliance from you and leads you away from what would have been a great job
  • I think it's unlikely the interviewer will agree to pause the meeting and go get some random developer from the shop floor to be interviewed by "this person who wants a job with us" but should that happen, you'd have the same issue that one person might not be having a good day, or might not be good at being interviewed, leading to a false negative, or might be a new hire who's great at technical interview questions even though the firm doesn't actually do anything the way the person tells you in their answer, leading to a false positive

In exchange for these risks, what will you gain? As you know, someone is who not actively preparing for job interviews may mis-answer a technical question even though they are technically excellent. I think you run the very real risk of discounting some great places to work because you don't like the answer you get, and of not getting offers from some great places to work because you're perceived as arrogant, and you gain little or nothing.

Disclaimer: It has been nearly 30 years (1984) since I was interviewed for a job, and that one I didn't realize was a job interview until he offered me a job at the end of it. Apparently when someone in HR that you worked with as a student asks you if you'd like to work at the company after you graduate, that's not just chit chat. I've been the one interviewing candidates since 1989, so that's the perspective I bring to this answer. I do get interviewed for contracts all the time. I tend to ask questions like "is it ok that I don't know anything about XYZ? That isn't one of the things you need from me is it?" Apparently this makes me unusual. I get the gigs, though, so it works for me, and I don't have to pretend to know stuff I don't.

  • made update in bold. thanks, good point. of course, that would be no question for HR – amphibient Mar 22 '13 at 19:43
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    A possible way to get the same info without asking directly might be "Can you tell me the technical background of the developers here?" "What percentage of your software engineers have X degree/qualification" or "What is the average yrs experience of your developers here" an HR person should hold the answers to these questions. – KDEx Mar 30 '13 at 2:06
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If you're thinking of asking trivia questions, that could backfire on more senior people as they may either blow the question or see you as someone causing trouble. In a way this could be like Kate's answer if you asked her about C++ given her background.

What are some of the characteristics that you'd want to see in co-workers? Consider ways to find that kind of information. For example, do they know of StackOverflow? The key here isn't to give too much of your own opinion but rather see what they think of it, do they have a reputation, etc. as you may want to collect information at this stage. In a similar way, you could ask about the use of design patterns in their code and to see a sample for a moment or two. Consider ways to ask questions that aren't trivia about things often used to determine how the team runs to see if it is a fit for you. This is an indirect way to get an idea of what is the culture without directly asking it as sometimes direct questions could backfire here.

If the person has an interest in a particular technology branch, it may be worth asking about where they think this will go as in the interview you are after data about this person's communication style and seeing how well can you have rapport with this person.


What is competent to you? That's the question where there are more than a few pieces to this:

1) Technical proficiency - That you could ask, "How do I do XYZ in ABC?" and they give you an answer because they know the tool so well. Are you expecting them to know all the optimizations of a compiler for a specific language? Are you wanting to know which 3 areas are the likely bottlenecks when you test a prototype of a web application?

2) Soft skills - How well do you expect communication and other non-technical skills that may or may not be what you'd be testing with those questions. This would be mostly in the interpersonal skills area. Would you be OK with poor English skills?

3) Get things done - This wouldn't really fall under the previous headings but is another point as some people make excuses for why things aren't getting done. This could be part of what makes someone get things done.

How far down each of these you go is something for you to determine and then figure out how you'd check that someone else is on that level.

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    I want to ask them technical questions for the same reason they are asking me. I explained in the OP that I would prefer to work with competent coworkers – amphibient Mar 22 '13 at 20:07
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I see a number of issues with this approach:

  1. How valuable is the answer to a surprise question that the person was totally unprepared for?
  2. How likely are you to actually work with the person who is doing the interview? (I often interview general candidates who will likely never work with me)
  3. And yes, it is quite possible that the interviewer will think you arrogant. They won't have junior developers doing the interview. And you are asking them for a job, who are you to tell them they aren't good enough :)

I don't see much good that can come from asking the question and plenty bad. I would steer clear of that type of question.

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