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What are specific ways to learn meaningful information about company culture in interviews?

I have been working for 3 & half years as a software engineer.

It was difficult to find out about the work culture, specifically the project condition and the processes followed, before I joined the company.

I believe that the day to day work environment is even more important than the company reputation.

What questions should I ask to clarify these things before I join a company?

  • Hi Quoi, I have edited your question to read better. I hope I did not change the meaning while doing so. Please edit if I had made any mistakes. – Oded Oct 17 '12 at 12:50
  • I think this question is not a duplicate, because at the heart is what questions should you ask, not passive ways to find this out. Maybe just change the title? – Amy Blankenship Oct 17 '12 at 17:07

I've actually thought quite a bit about this, because I keep winding up on teams where ideas like "loose coupling" are controversial. It really depends on what you're really looking for in a workplace, so you should start with a good hard look at that, and define your questions to not be too pointed, but to get at what you really need to know.

For example, I might ask a question like:

What is an example of code I could write that would automatically fail a code review?

If the answer is, "we don't do code reviews," that opens up a discussion into why not and whether they'd be open to instituting them.

Other answers would tell me how high their commitment to code quality is, and how they even define code quality.

If I got stuck, who would I go to for help, and why?

This tells me how in touch the manager is with the strengths and weaknesses on the team.

How often do people on your team go to User Group meetings (or conferences), and what are some ideas that you've incorporated based on this participation?

Shows their commitment to ongoing learning, and that people don't just go off and learn things, but are able to talk about new ideas and hopefully encouraged to do so.

What are the performance measures for this job, when will I be evaluated, and what happens as a result?

You should ask this one no matter what. This tells you what the financiall incentives are for the team, which can be a good predictor of behavior. But equally important, it tells you what your career progression is likely to be, and what the trajectory of your salary will be if you stay with the company.

  • 4
    I'm stealing that code review question, it's brilliant. – HLGEM Oct 17 '12 at 14:59

You have to understand that companies have their own ways of doing things. They may write their code formats in a special way and make it the status quo across the company. In some cases, this information may even be confidential. It doesn't hurt to just outright ask your prospective employer if they use certain methodologies in the way they handle x, y, z.

However, asking them what the current project conditions are may send mixed signals. On one end, it sounds like you're interested in the current projects that the company is working on and wish to learn more about them before being hired. On the other hand, it may come off as being nit-picky, that you're not looking to join in on projects that may be difficult or that are in a pinch. I would just make sure to be clear what your goal is for asking this.

EDIT: I also want to add, don't de-emphasize company culture over work environment. Both are equally important, and many managers take their company culture seriously. It's what builds and holds teams together and has the ability to give above-average motivation and results. Do you want to work for a company that does every single work process as you wish they would, but is where you come into work, you're not allowed to speak to anyone, and they have completely ridiculous, unattainable deadlines?

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