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Ilya Tulvio

Interviewing tips for people getting started in software engineering

Or, why I love software engineers who have prior careers

Originally published in Building LloydsDirect.

We’re building a third product team at LloydsDirect, so I’ve been doing lots of interviewing as a hiring manager. One of the nicest things has been meeting so many interesting people for whom software engineering is their second career.

It’s been fascinating to hear how people have gotten into programming and how their experiences give a different perspective into the role. As someone who believes in outcomes over implementation details, it’s been heartening to see how having come from sales or finance or rock climbing gives you a solid appreciation for the “whys” and the “who fors”, not the “what language” or which sexy framework.

I’ve met people who don’t know everything but who can navigate around what they don’t know. I’ve met people who ask what problem we’re trying to solve rather than asking for and not questioning the technical requirements.

I was blown away by one candidate’s answer to my question about what his dream job would be, which included (among other things) an eloquent description of a team that was supportive and respectful of cognitive diversity.

In short, having professional experience outside of the tech industry is a strength. (I’ve written before about the advantages and disadvantages of knowing only software engineering. Well, sort of that.)

Some advice

If you’re interviewing and you’re asked what you are looking for in your next job, by all means say you want “a role in which you can learn.” But please don’t leave it there. As a hiring manager, I’m pleased to hear you want to learn! Maybe this is a way of signalling that you feel you will need support in doing this, but do think a little deeper about what it is that you enjoy, what motivates you, and what you’re good at.

As a hiring manager, I’m trying to figure out if you would enjoy or thrive at this job. Learning is definitely important, but I dare say it’s almost table stakes. What I want to know is what kind of work do you enjoy? What are the aspects that factor into this?

If you are early into your career as a software engineer, looking for your first or second job, my heart goes out to you. It’s hard to get hired! A “proven track record” in the form of a CV with many years of experience is a safety blanket for hiring managers.

Taking on someone with less experience will require an investment into training or supporting them. It’s risky for you, too: I’ve heard horror stories of how both of these have been promised but never delivered.

While every new starter needs support, engineers early in their careers need this especially. For this reason, I hire “junior” engineers only when I’m confident my team has the bandwidth and desire to offer the necessary support and mentorship. (And even then, I worry that something will happen, which will jeopardise our ability to give this support.)

But hang in there. Keep doing the things you’re already doing. And show your interviewers what you’re made of, what you have achieved and how you’ve succeeded in the past — even if it isn’t in software engineering.

Something that I have to constantly remind myself of: in interviewing, the conclusion that a person and a role are not a match is not a failure. A failure would be a bad match. So, if you get rejected, yes, it will hurt. But it won’t hurt or harm your career as much as taking the wrong job.

If this resonates with you, check out our open positions.