5 Non-Technical Questions To Ask A Developer (Before You Hire)

We’ve been able to find those brilliant, empathetic and passionate engineers that make our team wonderful — and I know you can too.

We all know finding a developer isn’t easy. For example, here in New York, tech investment is heating up and tech startups are around every corner. The big Silicon Valley firms like Facebook, Google and Twitter have already been here for years and are hiring too.

So, when you find a talented developer for your startup, all of a sudden, you’re interviewing this person and realize that she has the technical chops you need: she’s performed well on coding challenges, her whiteboard exercises look great and she knows your stack. You have to bring her on board ASAP, right?

Not so fast. The right engineer isn’t just someone who knows their algorithms; it’s someone who communicates effectively and knows what it means to be part of a team. So, before you send an offer letter, ask some non-technical questions too.

Here are a few suggestions:


  • Share an example of a time you helped a non-technical person with a technical problem. How did you explain it to them?

    This interview question is a gem. You immediately understand if a technical person has worked with non-technical people in a meaningful way by the terms they use when describing non-technical people and the explanation itself.

  • Have you worked with QA (quality assurance) before? What were your feelings about it and how would you improve the process?

    Sometimes, a developer can be at odds with their QA team. Understanding if the engineer values QA, and how they handle the process, is important. This also goes for designers and project managers.

  • Have you ever worked in a customer support or a client facing role?

    At larger firms, it’s easy for engineers to get tucked away from end users. Knowing someone has experience interacting with people in a service role can be helpful.

  • What are your hobbies?

    This is a nice opener because it creates a bond with the engineer outside of tech. You can learn how they talk about something they’re passionate about.

  • What do you like, and dislike, about your current work environment?

    This is an opportunity for you to understand the energy of a candidate. I’ve interviewed a number of candidates who, when given the chance, berate their current employer or make unproductive comments about them. While it’s common for people to be unhappy in a role — which is likely why they’re interviewing with you in the first place — the way they communicate about it will give you a lot of insight into their personality.

Most importantly, empower the non-technical people on your team, whether it’s customer support, marketing, QA or anyone else, to interview the candidate as well and provide feedback.

Don’t get me wrong — a talented engineer is a hard commodity to come by. So, it’s important to look at these questions not as an additional hurdle to building your team, but as an acknowledgement that you don’t just value a person for their skills, but also for their personality and their heart. We’ve been able to find those brilliant, empathetic and passionate engineers that make our team wonderful — and I know you can too.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Darshan Somashekar is the co-founder of EasyBib, an online student research platform used by over 37 million students a year. Darshan has worked as an Associate Consultant at Bain & Company, as well as co-founded drop.io and Imagine Easy Solutions. Connect with @Darshan on Twitter.


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