Swizec Teller - a geek with a hatswizec.com

Senior Mindset Book

Get promoted, earn a bigger salary, work for top companies

Senior Engineer Mindset cover
Learn more

    What interviewers look for in senior engineers

    Did you know people are starting to cheat in interviews using ChatGPT? It's obvious, doesn't work, and wouldn't even be cheating if you did it right!

    Here's a HackerNews thread about this -> HN link. Reading the comments I was shooketh. The brazen things people do 😳

    There's stories of people ctrl+a copying the whole question into a thing off screen. Your interviewer can see this. It's obvious. Stories of people pausing for several seconds after every question then replying verbatim with a sentence structure only seen on Wikipedia. Nobody talks like that.

    Even stories of people who look at the problem, ask zero questions, and BOOM the whole code with all edge cases covered appears in 5 seconds. At least type it in!

    But I get it there are moneys at stake. If you get hired, you'll make 6 months worth of salary before the wheels turn to get you fired for incompetence. Not bad, if you can hack it.

    The misconception at the core of it all

    I think people cheat because they misunderstand what interviews are about. It's not a test. You're not at school.

    A good interview question doesn't have the answer. It has many answers. The question exists to give structure to your conversation. To ground you in something tangible and create an even playing field for all.

    It's a conversation

    Good interviewers love it when you come up with an unexpected solution, if you can explain why and how it's good. Questions are supposed to leave enough room for creativity and going in different directions depending on what you think matters.

    Sometimes candidates write a lot of comments, others care about accessibility. Yet others worry lots about scale, internationalization, or supporting different browsers. It's all good! Interviewers want to see that.

    Ask. Don't fall down a rabbit hole, manage your time with "Okay here I have considerations a, b, c that impact our users in ways x, y, z. Which one should I focus on?"

    As interviewer I play the role of product owner and questions like that make my heart sing. This tells me you'll be a good partner to product, critical to building good products, and it shows me you care. Giving a shit is critical because we won't have time to babysit you. We need to trust that you'll raise a flag when something's unclear.

    We're looking for experience

    One commenter said that people cheat because

    you’d resort to ChatGPT to give the interviewers their desired robotic answers after 3 months of failing

    "robotic answers" is specifically not what we look for. Or at least I don't. Maybe it's different at large companies that just need foot soldiers? You don't wanna play that game.

    We interview senior candidates to tease out the difference between book knowledge and hands-on experience. We wanna know "Have you done this before or are you talking out your ass?".

    It's okay, if you haven't done the exact thing we're doing. Expected even! But you have to have done something.

    Experience is obvious

    We wanna see those battle scars.

    The way your face turns pale when we ask "Okay so what happens if these 2 microservices that you picked try to update the same user at the same time?" or when we say "Okay you picked NextJS with Vercel and we have European users, how do we make this GDPR compliant?".

    What I love to see are candidates who start their answers with "So this one time ..." or "What has worked in this one project ..." or even "I tried A and B and we never got it working right, it always felt weird because of X, Y, and Z. Do you have a better idea?"

    It's obvious when you recite answers from a book or google or youtube or a blog vs. when you have actually done the thing before. The hands-on experience oozes through how you talk.

    ChatGPT is good but it can't fake experience. Its answers sound like a book: High level, directionally correct, soft on details.

    You have to fill in the detail and if you do that, nobody will call it cheating. Use any tool you want.

    Tldr what do interviewers look for?

    • giving a shit
    • experience

    Cheating shows none of that.


    Published on February 1st, 2024 in Interviews, Mindset

    Did you enjoy this article?

    Continue reading about What interviewers look for in senior engineers

    Semantically similar articles hand-picked by GPT-4

    Senior Mindset Book

    Get promoted, earn a bigger salary, work for top companies

    Learn more

    Have a burning question that you think I can answer? Hit me up on twitter and I'll do my best.

    Who am I and who do I help? I'm Swizec Teller and I turn coders into engineers with "Raw and honest from the heart!" writing. No bullshit. Real insights into the career and skills of a modern software engineer.

    Want to become a true senior engineer? Take ownership, have autonomy, and be a force multiplier on your team. The Senior Engineer Mindset ebook can help 👉 swizec.com/senior-mindset. These are the shifts in mindset that unlocked my career.

    Curious about Serverless and the modern backend? Check out Serverless Handbook, for frontend engineers 👉 ServerlessHandbook.dev

    Want to Stop copy pasting D3 examples and create data visualizations of your own? Learn how to build scalable dataviz React components your whole team can understand with React for Data Visualization

    Want to get my best emails on JavaScript, React, Serverless, Fullstack Web, or Indie Hacking? Check out swizec.com/collections

    Did someone amazing share this letter with you? Wonderful! You can sign up for my weekly letters for software engineers on their path to greatness, here: swizec.com/blog

    Want to brush up on your modern JavaScript syntax? Check out my interactive cheatsheet: es6cheatsheet.com

    By the way, just in case no one has told you it yet today: I love and appreciate you for who you are ❤️

    Created by Swizec with ❤️