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What I would look for in a junior developer

tosbourn profile image Toby Osbourn ・3 min read

In various jobs I have held I have had to sit in and conduct interviews for a junior developer role. Junior developers by their nature have very little industry experience and very few projects which they can discuss at length.

It is about Passion

In those interviews I wasn’t looking for someone that had all the answers, I was looking for someone that I thought the team would enjoy working with and teaching.

What I look for in a junior developer is passion. There has to be a fire in their belly and a genuine desire to learn about things that right now probably seem so unknowable.

It is about Communication

Junior developers generally won’t have had too much interview experience, so I would not be looking for a candidate who maintains eye contact at all times and answers everything without first taking time to think.

What I do look for is someone who can communicate – even with my limited experience as an interviewer I feel it is apparent when someone isn’t communicating well because of nerves, or isn’t communicating well because it isn’t in their nature to communicate.

Communication is a massive part of our job, we are telling stories through code and through commit messages and through support emails. I am not good enough to teach someone how to be a good communicator so I would like to hire people who are by their nature communicators.

It is about honesty

I look for honesty.

I was once in an interview where the interviewee said they had looked at our website’s source code (we asked). Before putting out the position we had introduced a comment at the very top of the site saying something along the lines of;

<!-- Hello there, if you are interviewing with us and mention that you seen this comment, you will score major points! -->

We asked what they noticed and they had no comment (and clearly looked very nervous). There was no way we could hire them.

It doesn’t have to be this extreme of course, what really turns me off about a candidate is when you ask them “Do you know much about technology y” and instead of answering “No, but I have heard it is like technology x which I know about”, or “No, sorry, is there another name I might have heard it being called”, they answer with “Ummm yeah, I think so, it is like this thing that lets you do this thing that…”

It is honestly better to be honest!

It is about the mindset

When asked a hypothetical question like “The client is reporting that the email form we built them isn’t working, how would you handle this” we generally aren’t looking for technical answers.

I want to know about how you think about things – being able to think on your feet is incredibly important and I want to know what type of thought process you use.

I also want to know about how you might communicate the issue with your hypothetical teammates and this hypothetical client.

It is about the questions you ask

In my experience the questions you get asked at the end of an interview are very telling and say a lot about the interviewee.

First up, have questions. There is nothing worse than asking nothing.

Second up, know that there are no dumb questions – you won’t get marked down for asking something you think everyone else knows.

Good questions I have heard before include topics such as;

  • If there is a training budget
  • What is a normal day like for a dev in the company
  • Who would I be reporting to and what is their role
  • Why has a position opened up
  • Are there any main projects that I would be spending most of my time on?

It is about… Time I wrapped up

If you're a junior developer who has landed an interview, you may be interested in my post interview tips for junior developers.

This article originally appeared on tosbourn.com

Discussion

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jmervine profile image
Joshua Mervine

I love this post! Especially these two points...

It is about honesty
It is about the mindset

I got my first job (HTML Intern) in tech in the mid-90s by saying "I don't know anything, but I'll work really hard." That was mostly honest, I showed up with a printout (it was the 90s) of a simple site I had written in pure HTML.

I asked that manager a few years later why he hired me and he said, basically, that it was my honesty and mindset.

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chains5000 profile image
Pablo Fradua

I don't think you can't judge half the things you say you'd look for in a single interview.
Passion? Easily faked.
Communication? Shy people could not be themselves, or the ones who really need the job and try not to make a mistake.

BTW, that comment on the page stuff is awkward, a really bad way to start a relationship with a potential teammate.

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tosbourn profile image
Toby Osbourn Author

What suggestions do you have to judge someone who doesn't have any coding experience to draw upon at interview?

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chains5000 profile image
Pablo Fradua

Let him talk about his preferences, he must have a favourite language, IDE, domain of interest, and build up from that. Let him feel safe.

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tosbourn profile image
Toby Osbourn Author

Good suggestions; however they would surely only be useful to work out how passionate they are about those things? You couldn’t hire someone for liking a certain IDE.

Might I suggest they/them over he/him

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chains5000 profile image
Pablo Fradua

It's not about the actual response but letting them talk about something they're familiar with. An interview can be overwhelming for a novice developer, it's good to let them relax.
It's an interview with people without any experience, what you want is to try to get to know them, mostly to see if they fit your team.

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nilomiranda profile image
Danilo Miranda

I think I agree with both of you guys.

Letting a candidate talk about the technologies the likes, not asking the company stack is a great to measure his excitement, why?

I think that when you ask about the technologies that the company uses, if the candidate is not fully aware of how to use them, or only have a slight idea he may feel a bit uncomfortable and cornered.

However, if you let him speak about the technologies he's worked/experienced with, what problems he solved or tried to solve will be a better way to see his passion. People to talk about themselves, and letting the candidates talk about things in his personal experience would be a good thing and more practical one

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kyleljohnson profile image
Kyle Johnson

Passion is key for me. Sorry but I'm not interested in people that just want a good check. People that never keep up with their craft and only learn at work. My experience tells me they will only be mediocre developers at best. One of my interview questions is "What is the latest version of HTML?" Do you know 9 out of 10 people don't know the answer or they have to think about it. They are interviewing to be a web developer!

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laurieontech profile image
Laurie

I have to say this answer disappoints me. Being a developer is a job. Wanting to have interests outside of work where you recharge and reset your brain to kick butt in your day job is something we should promote instead of look down on.
Passion is too often used as an excuse to ask people to work longer hours for no more money. The idea that you’re a better developer because you spend your free time on the computer at the expense of family and friends has promoted a lot of messed up company cultures for years.
You want people who are eager to learn. You want people who want to do work they’re proud of. But people whose passion leads them to spend hours of their off time writing code? Those are the people who burn out.

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kyleljohnson profile image
Kyle Johnson

There is nothing wrong with it just being a job to you. I just prefer people that love what they do and put extra time into being great.

My advice to you is to find something to do that is not just a job. Life is too short for that crap.

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rachelsoderberg profile image
Rachel Soderberg

I adore my job, but I also adore other life pursuits. I wouldn't spend 12hrs a day doing martial arts or playing video games, so no matter how much I love my job, I'm going to draw a limit somewhere so my other passions don't suffer (and so I don't get burnout).

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laurieontech profile image
Laurie

I enjoy what I do. I put a considerable amount of time into both my work and the community around it. However, I’m at a time in my life where I am fortunate enough to give that time. Many others do not have that same privilege, and they are no less competent at their jobs or worthy of an opportunity to kick butt during the work day.

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jel111 profile image
dumdumdev

The idea that you have to work 24/7 is a little much. So we are basically working for free. I understand the fast moving field and the need to stay relevant but if all you do is code you will break eventually.

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jimutt profile image
Jimmy Utterström

I don't know if knowing whether 5.3, 5.2 or 5.1 is the current HTML spec says anything about passion or their value as a team member working with web development. I'm interested about the background to what makes you believe that it's a good interview question. Or maybe you meant just major versions? Then I'm ready to agree that you can question the passion of someone who will be doing front-end dev and have never heard of HTML 5.

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kyleljohnson profile image
Kyle Johnson

I meant just major version. Heck I didn't even know there was a 5.3. :) Thanks for that by the way. I need to go do some research.

But if you are a web developer you should at least know the latest major version of HTML. You should at least know the latest major version of CSS. I believe I can safely assume that if a person keeps up with things surrounding their craft, they are passionate about it.

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cheston profile image
Cheston

The way you're talking about CSS makes me think you dont actually understand how CSS versioning works.

There is no 'major version of CSS' CSS is a collection of modules that all have their own individual level based on how many iterations they have been through. Flexbox is CSS level 1, Grid is level 1/2, Fonts is level 4.

I understand the confusion, as they made this 'module based versioning' change around the same time a lot of changes happened in CSS that resulted in a lot of modules being labeled CSS level 3. People just took 'CSS 3' and ran.

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kyleljohnson profile image
Kyle Johnson

Thank you for the clarification.

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aminmansuri profile image
hidden_dude

I've had great success in hiring junior developers. More success than with seniors frankly.

I came to realize years ago that interview questions can be very misleading. There are people that are good at it and people that aren't. In my particular (international) market everyone is kind of bad at interviews. But that doesn't mean they don't have talent.

What I look for is the ability to learn and if they've learned something that I consider meaty enough to be interesting. Being a good student is also an important factor (but not necessarily a good predictor either). If we think they're smart, we put them through a trial process where they are taught many things and those that show that they can learn quickly are kept.

This has been more effective than playing a game of chance where people are somehow supposed to know how to react in your interviews to obscure questions.

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mvasigh profile image
Mehdi Vasigh

Good discussion, however I think the hidden comment on the page part is a bit silly. Aside from the fact that it is a leading question designed to trap the candidate, it's also something you'd rarely run into with modern apps and browsers. I can't remember the last time I used "view source," it's almost always inspecting specific elements on the page or looking at the performance, source or network tabs of my dev tools for insights.

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tosbourn profile image
Toby Osbourn Author

Fair point. This post was originally written about 5 years ago.

It wasn’t designed as a trap, just so happened the candidate lied.

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natonathan profile image
Nathan Tamez

My first and currently only software engineering job, I got mainly due to my passion and interest in software engineering and technology. Plus ‘my can do/willingly to learn attitude’ according to my teammates. I said it was my only job in industry as I left to go off to university. Because I was lucky enough to land the job without any sort of degree or formal train in software engineering. I have been invited back to work there as a freelancer over the summer.🤗

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nikodannemiller profile image
Niko Dannemiller

How many questions is too many?

I've only ever worked in restaurants and gas stations and every time I've had an interview I've asked tons of questions (one time annoying an interviewer, still have nightmares about that interview lol)

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tosbourn profile image
Toby Osbourn Author

Great question!

The main thing is to be aware of how long the interview was scheduled for and if you're running over you could say something like "if you don't mind, I have a few more questions but I realise we're running over, could I email them across for you to answer when you have time?"

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nikodannemiller profile image
Niko Dannemiller

That's a really good idea. Thank you so much

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sturzl profile image
Avery

In regards to "I am not good enough to teach someone how to be a good communicator so I would like to hire people who are by their nature communicators."

Communication can be learned and practiced like other skills, it might be easier for some for sure, but it's not really a big deal their nature sort of thing.

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iameugn profile image
imeugn

I think. you make a lot of good points... For a too idealistic world. I am myself in a position, where I have to hire developers. And there are some points, which can never be truly seen in any number of interviews. Let me give you an instance of what I mean:

The mindset question: Until today, I have had no junior, who answered from a human pov, rather than a technical one. Even if this were the case, the true answer can be seen, only when this soul under pressure from diverse points, gets an angry email/phone call from the customer. We all know the theory, but practically there is a whole different story. The answer can be easily faked and even well sold. For this part, what I have found, it can give a sort of an idea, is having a playing afternoon "interview" with the team and the new devs. We would play high pressure and competitive games. After some point, after they are already under pressure and tired, I would approach them (and not only me) and ask them dumb/ weird questions, to see how they react. It gives you an interesting view. I have had many devs, who are technically great, but really not great characters.

I really like your points, they are very up-to-date and forthcoming. But somehow, I fear, that a good candidate can really say, what we like to hear and check every point of this list, without truly being able to.
Maybe it is high time, we came up with a new method to inteview (junior) developers...

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tosbourn profile image
Toby Osbourn Author

Maybe it is high time, we came up with a new method to inteview (junior) developers...

YES! I'm fully behind this. I think something I should have said from the outset of the post is that this is my stab with a broken system.

Hiring needs a lot of work across the industry, especially when it comes to new folk coming in.

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jaydestro profile image
Jay Gordon

toby, as a 20 year vet of this industry i can say that "passion" is one of those words that masquerades as "a person who does too much work and will eventually burn out because they have a bad manager"

i appreciate your points made but i think you're confusing "desire for work" with "love of technology" - just my take.

thanks.

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steelwolf180 profile image
Max Ong Zong Bao

Hahaha, that's a really interesting way to show if a potential candidate is honest.

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desoga profile image
deji adesoga

You've made some really valid points. Especially about tips on the type of question to ask at the end of the interview.

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craddockbernard profile image
Bernard Craddock

Smarts, Passion, Mindset in priority I'll take 2 out of 3 but must include smarts

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serdarmustafa1 profile image
Serdar Mustafa

Good article, especially as I'm a newbie. Just wish the industry was the same in Estonia. They think of Juniors here as if they are seniors but willing to accept a Junior salary.

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vladimir_dev profile image
vladimir.dev

Good points. What I realized after my job hunt was finally over this year, is that a lot of it is about personality and culture fit.
Skills can be trained, but not your personality.

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thomcord profile image
Thomas Cordeiro

Great post! Couldn’t agree more with your view