Interviewing · Technical Recruiting

Any tips for interviewing technical hires without having a tech background?

Ankit Shah Ph.D. from UVa and NASA Langley and Founder of a Robotics Startup. I enjoy meeting people.

May 9th, 2015

I am trying to hire a couple of engineers for my startup but I do not have the same technical background as they do. How do I decide whether they are suitable for the position?

Andrew Lockley Investments & consulting for tech startups

May 9th, 2015

Codility. Or hire a CTO for the day. If you're London based I know good

Marlina Kinnersley

May 9th, 2015

Here's what I do:
  1. Interview them for cultural fit first. This is really crucial because a bad hire (especially for SMBs) can significantly harm your success & productivity. 
  2. Have  a technical friend evaluate their code base portfolio on GitHub (or other) for competence.
  3. Hire them as a contractor for 1 or 2 days and work on a small project together. This is a great opportunity to see if you can work together and if there's passion for your project. Consider this your last sanity check. If they don't have passion ditch them! No point as they will be a poor performer.
Hope this helps :)

Sam McAfee Building better technology leaders and teams

May 9th, 2015

Good answers. I think @Marlina's is the best. I'd add commentary that there are different technical skills required for an early stage company than later. If you don't have a team yet, this person is likely to be more of a rapid growth-hacking, prototyping, customer development type of engineer. You'll get everything you need to know by having a conversation about what they have done and how they worked in the past. Get some examples and ask them to explain it in layman's terms what the goal was and why they did it that way. Culture and communication, and just plain "get-it-done-ness" is the most important thing. You're going to be in the trenches with this person.

GitHub doesn't tell you anything, really. There are plenty of people who contribute a lot, but suck at working on a team. There are plenty of people who are amazing and don't have time to contribute at all. You really can't tell anything without actually working with the person. It's pretty low risk to just hire them as a contractor for a short one or two day gig, and just see how they work.

And of course, getting an outside technical assessment is definitely warranted, but only after they pass the bar for the above. Then just ask me :) I'll grill 'em for you.

Sameer Babbar Founder SVB Group; Board Member VEA; Founder @Bujbu, @Zapiator, @ Celevitation

May 9th, 2015

Start with basics on why they did for what they did. Ask penetrating questions about if they have to do the same thing again (lessons learnt) or if. They worked with others and what were the challenges ( interpersonal). Explain to you the bush ness benefit ( thinking outside box) how the technology is improved or what they would like to change ( technical challenge and raising the bar) It is never about technology it is about the value they have delivered and that is exactly what you will need to uncover With Best Wishes and Warm Regards Sameer

Michael Rothrock

May 10th, 2015

I can tell you what I'm doing right now to hire the first, and lead, engineer.

A common interview technique is to give a problem you're currently facing to a candidate to see how they would solve it.  This is great both for you, as it demonstrates how they are going be effective, and for them, as it gives them a real sense of the work.

We have specific technical milestones that we're trying to reach.  Following the above, I've cast one of our core challenges into a very simplistic version.  It doesn't reveal much about our "secret sauce", but implementing this is a necessary prerequisite to delivering the final product.

In my case, I email the candidate the problem after the phone interview, a few days before they come on site.  The expectation is that they will walk me through their proposed solution.  However, I let them know that they get bonus points for actually coding up a prototype.

If they can do that, then they demonstrate a) the ability to get something into code quickly, and b) a clear understanding of the problem and possible solutions.  That goes a long way for me.

Peter White Founder at Knowledgewerkz | Technologist, Consultant, and Advisor

May 9th, 2015

There's a lot of great advice in this thread. In addition to the above, here's my $.02...

1) The advice about seeing code/projects is great, but don't constrain yourself to only developers who have public code repos. If you think of the number of available developers vs. those who have the free time AND desire to open source their code, you'd be missing out on a lot of great talent. The lack of a Github account doesn't necessarily signal a lack of passion for one's craft - there are a lot of great developers who have pet projects with the goal of monetizing them at some point. That said, I'd steer clear of candidates who can't show you anything they've developed.

2) If you're hiring your first developer or two, you want strong generalists vs. "ninja/expert" specialists unless your domain requires specialized skills and technology that take a significant time (months vs. weeks, at your stage) to develop. Odds are, your strong generalists have experienced and surmounted more technical adversity than those who took the time to specialize in something and then stay within their comfort zone. You want people with diverse technical backgrounds who will use the right tool for the job rather than the one tool they know.

Shahab Layeghi Software Professional

May 9th, 2015

If you're looking for coding skills see the following thread:


May 9th, 2015

Ask them to explain something technical in "plain english." I like the suggestion of hiring a CTO for a day or ask one of your technically-oriented friends/colleagues to sit in on the interview. You definitely want to get a feel for how they will fit into your culture. Many techs can't work with people, unfortunately. Of course, if you're looking for someone who is basically going sit in a room by themselves all day, then human interaction may not be at the top of the list. What do you want in these folks? Will they present to stakeholders/board members? Are you looking for coders, IT management, or some other technical expertise? Different roles will require different skill sets.

Martin Miller VP of Engineering, Infrastructure, DevOps

May 9th, 2015

No magic here... and generic 

(1) Communication skills: Verbal and written
(2) Domain expertise within the  target  industry
(3) Educational match, hiring an Art Student to build a datacenter... could be a mismatch
(4) Background check...
(5) Trust your human instinct

Shahzad Umar Sr Engineering Manager, Groupon Goods

May 9th, 2015

Ankit, Glad to see your question and our team is building the perfect solution for these sort of scenarios. quantify and evaluates technical skills. Developers can build showcases with very easy to understand metrics. In your particular case you can ask your to-be-hired developer to solve some problems, build showcases and send it to you. We will also inject metrics for you to make an informed decisions. Here is an example