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I'm the guy from this question about bad software practices. I've had a string of really really bad jobs, all of which I could have avoided if I knew what it was like to actually work there:

  1. My first job was for an alcoholic manager who was drunk all day and yelled at everyone and even pushed/hit people. I quit a year ago and he's still there.
  2. At my second job, everyone yelled, interrupted, and argued with everyone all day every day. Everyone hated each other. I realized this 5 minutes into my first day and had to stick it out until I found another job.

  3. For my current job, I asked about software practices and was told that they use Git and code review. On the first day I found out this was a flat-out lie (see above question for details) - my manager admitted that he lied on purpose because he knows its a red flag.

I'm currently interviewing with several companies, and I ask about things like what working everyday is like, and what practices they use, and I ask to see codebases, but there's still no protection from being lied to or deceived. It's a big risk to leave a job for a new one, so I'd like to spend a day working at one (I don't need to be paid for it) to see if there are any problems. Is this something reasonable companies should be open to? How should I go about asking them?

  • Is this the only problem in your current company? You've been hired because of your skills, do not run away, help them to improve. Any hiring manager will ask you why you want to leave and unless you're planning to lie...this will look all but professional. – Adriano Repetti Jul 31 at 7:01
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    Just ask if you can have a private conversation with someone already in the role you'll be starting in. This is quite common practice in most firms I have been in so I doubt anyone would take it badly. – Bee Jul 31 at 10:11
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    While not impossible, it's a lot harder to hide red flags for a whole day vs. a 30m conversation. – Dancrumb Aug 1 at 20:58
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At my current company we have discussed whether we could have some interviewees pair up with someone for half a day of pair programming to better evaluate them, but concluded it was unfair to the interviewees. If someone asked to do it i think we would be delighted, both with the opportunity to better evaluate them and with their dedication to find a workplace where they would be comfortable.

I also think that regardless of how you behave in an interview you will always alienate some companies, so unless you are desperate it might be better to ask yourself if you will alienate the right ones rather than how many.

Aside from working together you could also change the questions you ask a little bit. "Are you using version control?" is a question with a clear right or wrong answer. "What branching strategy are you using?, Do you have any issues with it?" is harder to lie convincingly about. Likewise questions like "What are typical issues raised during code reviews?" might be better than asking if they have them.

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    When I joined my current company they were telling me the team was working agile. Then I asked for the length of their sprints..... when they told me they were between 6 and 10 months I knew the job was going to be everything but agile. – eballes Jul 31 at 13:23
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    +1 For suggesting changing the structure of questions, asking questions which cannot be answered with a simple yes or no will give valuable insight. – Old Nick Jul 31 at 14:01
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    You also can ask to meet the team (not the whole 100 people in the department but small team you are actually going to join) and have a chat with them. During that chat you can raise the "modified" questions about "branching strategy", "sprint length", etc. Watch closely for people reactions: no way everyone would not even blink when you would ask about "code reviews" if company does not do those. As a bonus you would meet the people you might work with and figure out if you would want to be around them. – AlexanderM Jul 31 at 23:45
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This is unlikely to be something a company would consider. A non-exhaustive list of problems

  • A for profit company can't just let people come in and be volunteer developers for a day. That's wage and hour theft and it makes all sorts of state agencies frown and company lawyers tremble.
  • If they did go to the effort of hiring you, it's not like you're going to be doing real development day 1. That first day is going to be for doing the new hire paperwork, doing some minimal onboarding, etc.
  • If they were willing to hire, potentially as a contractor on a 1 day contract, now they've got potential IP issues if you haven't resigned from your prior employer. Lots of employees have relatively broad agreements that gives the current employer broad rights to things they develop so you'd need a lawyer for the new company to verify that any code you wrote in that day would actually belong to the company.

Rather than that, look for other ways to get the information you need. Look for recommendations from people you know about good places to work. Get involved in user group meetings to broaden your network. Look at sites like Glassdoor for reviews.

Ask to talk with potential coworkers not just your manager. Ask followup questions if you're concerned that someone is lying. If the manager talks about using Git and code reviews, ask someone on the team about the build and deploy process. Unless everyone got together and prepared coordinated lies, it's going to be pretty clear when something doesn't add up. Of course, it's pretty rare that someone is going to flat out lie to you (I'm sorry it happened to you) so don't invest too much energy trying to prevent a rare thing from happening twice.

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I have done something similiar in the past, from both sides. At one of my old companies it was customary that interviewees spend a hour or two with the team. If they got 2 hours, we issued them some coding tests and enough time so that we could learn more about them, and they more about us. If they did well, we asked them out for lunch. Note: This was NEVER real work, as real work involves a lot of legalese issues. Only one is payment. In germany, you have to pay for work, even if it's only one day. The interviewee can't waive it, it's required by law. An unpaid testing day is fine law wise...

When I went jobhunting, I asked for opportunities to meet more people. At one company this was lunch with whomever happened to be in office that day. (It was holiday season).

At another company, I was there for a day and met nearly everyone (small company). It gave me a lot of insight, and ultimately I realised I don't want to work there.

So yeah, there are opportunities. And a tip for framing: Don't say you are searching for redflag. Say good working relationships are important to you, because they improve productivity and job satisfaction. And you want to see if you fit and can form good relationships. The employer is interested in that too. The workprocess insight comes as byproduct.

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