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In my company I am a Mechanical Engineer, but I take on a lot of programming projects on the side for my department and have created several tools that have helped save us a lot of time and headaches. I have little formal training on this but am by far the most capable on our team, and only one of a few in the company who could do this kind of work, and a lot of our projects seem to be really off the grid as far as large scale implementations I can find elsewhere.

My team is currently hiring new Mech Es, who will hopefully be able to take on some of the maintenance of these projects. My manager has asked me for ideas as to how to evaluate if a candidate who claims coding experience would be useful in this regard.

Ive been doing some searching and have found a lot of references to ask for a portfolio/github/StackOverflow, which all sound good. But a lot of technical questions, I wouldnt really know the answers to.

So are there any good ways to determine at the interview, without long tests, how helpful someones experience would be?

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  • No we dont have anyone like that
    – user77066
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 12:12
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    The expectation of judging a non-professional developer by any kind of portfolio seems a bit dissonant. Not even all professional developers have a portfolio.
    – Flater
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 13:03
  • This should be part of the job description that the hires apply to. I have tried getting a job where I was given maintenance tasks well outside the description I could have been told about - surprises should be pleasant. Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 10:05

2 Answers 2

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But a lot of technical questions, I wouldnt really know the answers to.

You're not looking for full time or professional developer, you're looking for someone like you (a mechanical engineer who knows some programming). So rather than trying to do questions on topics that you don't really know (such as the more formal computer science subjects, or development methodologies), ask question about what you know.

One of the key things is whether or not they know the languages and tools that you're using (because they're going to be the one maintaining them) - so whether that's BASIC or Python or VBA macros, you should be able to ask them some basic questions within the knowledge you have.

You could also give them some small programming tasks based on the things your tools do. Something like "Write me a quick $foo script that takes data from a CSV file, discards any column containing $bar and then calculates the total of the remaining rows" - or whatever sort of thing it is that you want them to be able to do.

If you want something a bit more open, you could show them a (small) example of one of the tools you've written, and ask them to explain the code to you, and whether they have any suggestions on how it could be improved.

Ultimately you're not looking for a world-class developer - you're looking for a mechanical engineer who knows enough programming (and has enough interest in it) that they can be useful to you. So a full-on developer interview isn't really appropriate.

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    This I think is the best way forward, Ive got some basic questions and a couple of examples of my code prepared. The current plan is for my manager to bring me in if he likes the candidates mechanical capabilities so I can get an idea of their coding capacity.
    – user77066
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 13:31
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So are there any good ways to determine at the interview, without long tests, how helpful someones experience would be?

No. This is something that experienced technical folk struggle with, there is honestly no chance that a non-technical person will be able to do so.

If you want to go down this route, your best bet is probably to hire someone who is a good enough mechanical engineer to do the job, and hope they manage to contribute productively to the software side; the other option would be to outsource some of this work to a development agency - you can start them off with a small piece of work and evaluate if they are what you need.

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