Monday, December 8, 2008

Questions to ask employers

After thoroughly grilling the applicant for a job/project, many interviews often end with the question - "So, do you have any questions for us?" I've read in articles by career coaches that it is a good idea to have a few questions to ask here - it shows that you are interested. But the first times I had problems coming up with any sincere and interesting questions.

After being at a number of different programming jobs now, big and small, I've come up with a list of questions. Some of these I intend to ask next time I'm in that situation. Not all of these questions require a "yes" answer from me, but at least that they know what these items are and can reason around them. If they answer "We don't know what these things are!", or "Yeah, yeah, I'm sure that's great stuff, but we don't have time for that sort of academic stuff, we have urgent deadlines to meet" that will be a strong warning signal to me to reconsider, or at least ask for decent pay to make up for the inevitable stress...

  • Do you use a version control system for your code? Which?
  • Do you use a continuous integration system? Which?
  • Development processes - none, Scrum, RUP, agile...? Would you say you follow them closely, or do you have you cherry-picked a subset of practices from them that you like/have found to work well for you?
  • Do you have an internal Wiki? Does anyone use it for project documentation, or do you generally use Word/PowerPoint/Excel files instead?
  • How do you handle incidents? Do you use a standard process such as ITIL or have you made your own? Either way, how do you integrate incident handling in development? Separate teams, or...? Branch the source often, or...?
  • How do you get things deployment ready and how do you deploy, are there many manual steps involved?
  • How are your enviroments set up, do you have separate environments for development, dev testing, integration, prod-test, production? (Or do they have a variant of the dreaded developmestuction environment?)
  • Very rough estimate, on a scale from say 1 to 5, how pleased are you with the unit test coverage of your codebase? Ever used any test coverage tools to check?
  • Has your team been required to do any all-nighters (or late-evenings) last year because of critical deadlines or major incidents? How many?
  • Do you use any code-quality checking tools such as Findbugs?
  • Are employees allowed to use work time to improve their skills? How do you handle that - do you decide what they should study, or is that up to them? Ever arrange any lectures, study groups or anything like that internally in the company? Are employees encourged to head these, or do you hire external people to lecture?

Feedback appreciated. What are your suggested questions?

Update - two good suggestions from David R. MacIver via Twitter:
  • Can you give me a coding sample? :-)
  • I also like to give them slightly bizarre questions like "Tell me why I wouldn't want to work here".