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I was in an interview and at the end I requested if they could do a quick demo of their SaaS (Software as a Service) product. Basically, think I am interviewing at stackexchange and I ask them to show me around the website.

The interviewer then showed me their test environment, it took quite a long time to load the login page and for the interviewer to actually log in. I am not 100% sure if it was caused by application initialization, but I find it not very convincing as it was middle of the day, other developers must have accessed the test environment therefore the application should have already been initialized.

The interviewer proceeded to show me a few sections of the product, each time only showing me the page itself but not the functionality. For once they tried, it didn't work. I understand it's a test environment and things break, but I find it suspicious. There's gotta be something they are proud of or know quite well to show me, right?

The whole demo probably lasted less than 1 minute and the interviewer went on discussing other topics. It felt quite underwhelming to me, and the interviewer didn't show any passion like "Hey look at this feature, it's pretty cool! Let me show you!"

I wouldn't take this job anyway, for other reasons. However, I would like to know if is this a major red flag when considering other jobs in the future?

Edit to add some details:

  • The interviewers were both developers.
  • They commented on the slowness "because it's test environment" which I didn't find to be a reasonable excuse. They didn't mention having a stress test running, so I assume there wasn't any.
  • I didn't ask for a full-fledged product demo, nor did I expect one. I only asked for a quick demo, and was expecting an office tour type.
  • I asked for a quick demo because their platform has an average score of 1 star on Google. Which means all of them are 1 star (only a few of them in total). I wanted to see if it's really terrible.
  • Since the interviewers were developers I was really hoping they would have something they were proud of. It didn't appear to be the case.
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    The interviewer showed poor judgement in attempting a demo that they had not planned, and were poorly prepared for. It was an attempt to carry out your request, but it would probably have been better to decline. – Patricia Shanahan Sep 7 at 23:59
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    When things are broken, the question you need to privately contemplate is if they are broken because they do not have staff with the skills to fix them - which can be great opportunity, or if they are broken because leadership has set a path where it is impossible to truly fix things - in which case you need to say a firm and final "no". – Chris Stratton Sep 8 at 1:45
  • @ChrisStratton Slow response on unplanned use of a test environment does not necessarily indicate anything is broken - there may have been a deliberate stress test running at the time. – Patricia Shanahan Sep 8 at 8:28
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    Once you say the login page took long time to load. Then, that the whole demo took just one minute. truth must be somewhere in the middle. Maybe he simply opened a system he had in mind - not the demo system they show to possible clients. – Bernhard Döbler Sep 8 at 18:02
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    You might consider letting them know ahead of time that you'd like to see a demo. @PatriciaShanahan is right: I doubt most interviewers anticipate being asked to demo their product by the interviewee. I think you're likely to catch people unprepared or even unable to do a demo if they don't know ahead of time. – BSMP Sep 9 at 8:43
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is this a major red flag when considering other jobs in the future?

It's obviously not a positive sign of their existing competence, but it does give the impression that they are in dire need of expert help. Problems don't worry me, they just make me rethink my price upwards.

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    This happened to me once - I was hired to fix that problem, and a bunch of others. I'm not sure there is enough "up" without a guaranteed separation package which included several months pay through some number of years of employment. Because that's what happened -- company imploded less than a year in and I was lucky to find a job in under 3 months. – Julie in Austin Sep 8 at 0:40
  • I appreciate this answer and it may be of help in the future. Unfortunately for me I'm not in a position to say "your place seems to have a lot of problems, I'm going to fix them and I'm going to ask for more money". What do you reckon for people who have less experience/skills? – Billy.Bob Sep 9 at 8:41
  • @Billy.Bob Take classes that raise your confidence and teach you how to sell yourself. Try to make the company pay for them (catch 22, I know). – Peter Sep 9 at 9:28
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    @billy.bob - some of your other questions suggest that you're a junior dev, and thus only just getting started in your career. Right now you probably feel like there's a lot you don't know, etc. Later, when you've gained more experience, you'll be able to tell when a company needs you more than you need them, and you'll be able to monetize on it. Right now, focus on making good career moves, such that you challenge yourself, and learn as much as possible. Remember: if you're very comfortable in a job, and never feel any pressure to perform, you're probably wasting your time. – AndreiROM Sep 9 at 11:28
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Do not worry about it for several reasons.

  1. Developers are often not skilled at doing product demos, especially off the cuff.
  2. Developers often do not know the full power of the system they are writing, or even all it can do.
  3. Development environments are often slow or buggy. That doesn't mean the finished product is.
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    And when a developer is actively working on a product, it will often be in a state where it doesn't work right now. Like I have to do steps A, B and C to implement a new feature, and if you ask for a demo when step A is done and B is half done, everything may go wrong. – gnasher729 Sep 8 at 15:43
  • @gnasher729 - That's an indication of poor development practices, unless the product is so small that there's just one small team working on it. Development practices should prevent intermittently broken products from being the only product there is. See the Agile Manifesto -- the goal is to always have something that works, even if it does very little. – Julie in Austin Sep 8 at 20:02
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    This is assuming the interviewer was a developer, for all we know, the person doing the interview was from HR with no practical experience with the product/test environment/... – AsheraH Sep 9 at 5:22
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    @AsheraH now that I look at the post, yes it is not 100% clear if the interviewer was a developer. Yes they are. – Billy.Bob Sep 9 at 8:45
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    @JulieinAustin the mistake here was to ask a developer to do a product demo. They probably just opened up whatever they were working on and tried to make a demo with it. It is the same as a painter showing their early raw sketches. It is going to be barely recognizable until enough work is poured to turn it into a masterpiece. – Juliana Karasawa Souza Sep 9 at 9:44
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Imagine you're a machine operator, interviewing for a job in a shoe factory. You are being interviewed by other machine operators. You ask them to show you the company's shoes.

On the one hand, they surely know that the company makes shoes. They see the raw materials that make the shoes on a regular basis as it runs through their machines. There may be some specific, behind-the-scenes technical shoe-making details that they know very well - probably better than anyone else in the company. But the thing that they really know well is running the machines, not showing off the shoes. They are not sales people. They may not know how to measure your foot. They may not know what the shoes wholesale for, or what the retail prices are, or why their shoes are different than the competitor's. They may not even wear the company's shoes themselves!

So, there you are in the interview, asking them to demo the shoes. They wander over to the inventory room and grab a pair of shoes off a designer's bench, and it's a pair that's not even in manufacturing yet, so it's unfinished, untested, using different materials, not even your size, and it was stitched together by hand versus on a production line, so it's a bit sloppy. On top of it all, they've never tried to help someone evaluate shoes before. So - well - it's no wonder they stumble through showing the shoes to you.

Should that whole situation leave you feeling like this shoe factory is a bad environment for machine operators? Probably not. A better conclusion would probably be that machine operators make poor demo agents when they're put on the spot and unprepared. You are not left with a red flag, you're left not knowing what color the flag is.

As often as programmers and other technical resources like to complain about how our skill sets are not understood or appreciated by non-technical people, the same can be said about sales or demo roles. You might have an expectation that anyone in that shoe factory can show off a pair of shoes - I mean, how hard can it be? It's just a pair of shoes, and those machine operators are essentially the people making the shoes! Yet, there is a skill set, and a level of preparation, involved in showing off any product. You may have caught a pair of programmers who were generally not skilled at demos, or who may have been a little out of touch with the state of the test environment (maybe because they've been focusing on interviews!) or a number of other factors could have caused them to fumble - but, in short, it's probably not a good, trustworthy data point in terms of a red flag about the employer.

On the other hand - if you had gone in to the interview with both parties fully expecting there to be a product demo, and thing had gone that poorly, that might have been a red flag!

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