Land Your Next Developer Dream Role: Software Engineering Interview Questions

Prepping for your next developer interview? Read Nylas’ top interview recommendations and software engineering interview questions.

Software engineering interview questions

The world of software development is thriving, and the demand for talented developers is skyrocketing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers to grow by 25 percent from 2021 to 2031, surpassing the average growth rate of all occupations. Despite the abundance of opportunities, competition can still be fierce, and even the most experienced developers can face rejection due to minor blunders during the interview process.

Whether you’re a seasoned developer with a decade of experience or a fresh-faced graduate from a coding bootcamp — like Thinkful, BrainStation, Springboard, Coding Dojo, or General Assembly — you need to know what employers are looking for in their software engineering candidates. You must be well-prepared to showcase your skills and prove your worth during the interview. 

As an API-building company that works closely with developers, we understand the importance of a great developer experience and what it takes to land your dream job. So, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of the most common software engineering interview questions and our top recommendations to help you ace your next interview and secure your next opportunity.

#1. Master the most common software engineering interview questions. 

Preparing for an interview can be daunting, especially when unsure of what to expect. However, anticipating top interview questions and practicing your responses can give you a leg up on the competition. 

Here are five common interview questions you’ll likely encounter as a potential software engineer:

  1. Tell me about yourself. This softball request is often used as an icebreaker to get to know you better. While it might seem like a throwaway, it’s an excellent opportunity to highlight your education, relevant work experience, and key skills and accomplishments. 
Dos and don'ts for software engineering interview questions

  1. What is your experience with [insert programming language or technology here]? While developers can learn many coding languages, it’s essential to understand the core concepts that apply across languages. Focus on algorithms, data structures, and design patterns. Understanding these concepts shows hiring managers that you can learn new languages more quickly.
  1. How do you approach problem-solving? This question is used to assess your problem-solving skills and thought process. Explain your approach and provide examples of how you’ve applied it in past projects.

Here’s an example of a step-by-step explanation:  

  • Step 1 Gather as much information as possible about the problem and its context. 
  • Step 2 –Break down the problem into smaller, more manageable pieces, and devise different solutions for each. I evaluate each solution’s pros and cons and choose the most efficient, effective, and feasible option. 
  • Step 3 – Collaborate with team members and stakeholders to get different perspectives and insights and ensure alignment on the problem and proposed solution. 
  • Step 4 – Test and iterate on the solution until I’m confident it meets the requirements and sustainably solves the problem.
  1. How do you handle challenging situations? Interviewers will want to assess your ability to handle stress and work through difficult situations. Be prepared to provide examples of times you have faced tough problems and describe how you tackled them. 

We asked ChatGPT for standout examples of responses to this question on April 6, and here are a few it came up with:

  • “One time, I was tasked with developing a new feature for a product, but it required a completely different architecture than what we had been using. I spent a lot of time researching and experimenting with different approaches and ultimately found a solution that worked and improved the product’s overall performance.”
  • “When faced with a challenging situation, I approach it logically and systematically. I break the problem into smaller parts, identify the root cause, and brainstorm potential solutions. I also like to seek input from others and collaborate with them to find the best possible solution.”
  • “I handle challenging situations by staying calm and level-headed. I try not to let my emotions get the best of me and instead focus on finding a solution. I also like to take a step back and look at the big picture to ensure that my actions are aligned with the company’s goals.”
  • “Communication is key when handling challenging situations. I keep my team members and stakeholders informed of the situation and any progress made toward a resolution. I also like to stay positive and motivated, as this attitude can inspire others to tackle challenges with the same enthusiasm.”

Would you agree with ChatGPT? Let us know on LinkedIn!

  1. How do you work in a team environment? Collaboration is key in software development. Candidates must be able to provide examples of working effectively with others in past projects and demonstrate teamwork. 

By anticipating and preparing for the questions above, you’ll be better equipped to present your skills and experience during your next interview.

#2. Research the company and ask fundamental questions during the interview.

An essential part of any successful interview is showing genuine interest in the company. Before your interview, take the time to research the company’s website, social media pages, and other online resources to understand its products, services, and mission. It’s also crucial to familiarize yourself with the industry and trends that may impact the company.

For example, let’s take a look at the rise of AI. According to recent IBM research, 35% of companies reported using AI in their business, and 42% said they are exploring AI. And with technologies like ChatGPT, Dall-E 2, and other generative AI coming into the spotlight, companies are racing to add these new capabilities to their products. Hiring managers will look for candidates enthusiastic about adopting new tools and workflows as they become available. They’ll also want to hear your views on quality and security for customers – a positive customer experience is critical to the sustained growth of any business. Be ready to explain how you still have a customer-first mindset despite industry disruptions like AI. 

“When thinking about the evolving role of AI in developer tooling and development work, I want to see a willingness to adopt emerging tools and workflows, as well as mindfulness – understanding it’s the company’s responsibility to ensure quality and security for customers.”

Ash Ryan Arnwine, Director of Developer Relations, Nylas 

To signify your interest and gain a deeper understanding of the business, ask fundamental questions during the interview. For example, you can ask about the company’s long-term goals, approach to customer service, or stance on diversity and inclusion. This will express your interest in the company beyond the technical aspects of the job and help you evaluate whether the position and the company are the right fit for you.

We asked our own developer hiring managers, and these are the questions they like to hear the most:

  • Can you tell me more about the company’s goals and vision for the future, and how does the engineering team contribute to those goals?
  • How does the company measure success, and how does the engineering team track and achieve against those metrics?
  • What is the process for prioritizing features and projects, and how does the engineering team collaborate with other teams in the company to make those decisions?
  • What are some of the company’s current challenges, and how is the engineering team working to overcome them?
  • How would you describe the company culture, and how does the engineering team fit into and contribute to that culture? Can you give me an example of a recent initiative or event showcasing company culture?
  • How does the company encourage learning and development among its employees?
  • Can you tell me more about the team I will work with and their backgrounds?
  • What is the development process like? How are decisions made on new features or changes?
  • How does the company approach testing and quality assurance?
  • What kind of mentorship or support will I receive as a new hire?
  • Can you share any upcoming projects or initiatives the team will work on?
  • How does the company handle technical debt and legacy code?
  • What kind of tools and technologies does the company use for software development?
  • How does the company prioritize work-life balance for employees?
  • Can you describe the career growth opportunities within the company for software developers?

“As a hiring manager, I like to hear candidates ask questions that show their interest in our business beyond just the technical aspects of the job. When candidates ask about our goals, success metrics, feature prioritization, challenges, and culture, it demonstrates their curiosity, critical thinking, and ability to see the big picture. It also helps us evaluate if the candidate is a good fit for our company and engineering team.”

Troy Allen, SVP of Engineering, Nylas

By researching the company and asking thoughtful questions during the interview, you can show the hiring manager that you’re technically skilled and invested in the company’s success.

#3. Communicate your problem-solving skills and collaborative abilities.

One thing to remember as a software engineer or developer: people are not code — you must be as strong of a communicator as you are a coder. A critical aspect of the job is approaching problems thoughtfully and communicating effectively with others.

Some recommendations for being an effective communicator as a developer: 

  • Ask insightful questions: Clarify requirements, identify potential roadblocks, and uncover hidden assumptions. By asking the right questions, you can get to the root of the problem and ensure that you’re delivering a solution that meets the needs of your users.
  • Collaboration is crucial: No matter your skill, you can always learn from others with different perspectives and experiences. Being receptive to feedback and willing to work collaboratively can help you build better solutions and foster a more productive work environment.
  • Use “I” statements: When giving feedback or expressing your opinion, use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For example, instead of saying, “You didn’t do this correctly,” say, “I feel like we could improve this by doing it this way.”
  • Use a North Star question: Having a North Star question or problem statement that gets repeated throughout a communication cycle can help keep everyone focused on the same goal. For example, “What problem are we trying to solve and for whom?” or “How can we deliver the best user experience?”

It’s worth noting that there’s rarely a single “right” answer to a software engineering problem. Instead, the best solutions often come from exploring multiple possibilities and considering different approaches to solving a problem. You can build more robust and effective software by thinking creatively and weighing the pros and cons of different methods.

“I look for candidates who are technically proficient and demonstrate excellent problem-solving and communication skills. It’s important to be able to ask good questions, collaborate with others, and think creatively to arrive at the best possible solution.”

Ash Ryan Arnwine, Director of Developer Relations, Nylas

#4. Showcase your personal and group achievements and how you handle failures.

When interviewing for a software engineering role, you must illustrate your contributions to previous projects and your ability to work effectively with others. This means outlining personal wins, such as specific challenges you’ve overcome and how they benefited the organization, and group wins that convey your collaboration and communication skills.

You likely won’t be asked, “How does your work directly lead to revenue?” However, your interviewer will be impressed if you can incorporate an answer to this in your interview (multiple times if possible). Hiring managers appreciate when developer candidates show they can keep their eyes on the prize and understand the organization’s business intelligence quotient (BIQ)

Additionally, transparency about failures and what you’ve learned from them is equally important. Interviewers want to see how you approach accountability and handle setbacks, so be prepared to discuss a time when a project didn’t go as planned and how you and your team learned from it.

Remember, the goal is to show how to bring value to the team and organization. Highlighting your successes and failures and discussing how they impacted the project or organization will give the hiring manager a better understanding of your skills and work ethic.

#5. Exhibit your awareness of system and information architecture. 

During a software engineering interview, displaying your awareness of system and information architecture is important. This means understanding how your work fits into the larger context of a project and your commitment to creating scalable, maintainable, and practical solutions. You can display this by discussing your experience working with distributed systems, microservices, or data modeling.

During the interview, you can provide examples of technical concepts you’re familiar with, such as how you would:

  • Approach database design
  • Implement security measures to protect sensitive data
  • Manage database backups
  • Optimize a system to handle increased traffic during peak seasons 
  • Ensure that a system remains secure while scaling

“Depending on the role, I’m also seeking some indication of system and/or information architecture awareness. This is another good way to see if, at a bare minimum, they are willing to consider a broader context before jumping in to solve a specific problem in isolation.”

Ash Ryan Arnwine, Director of Developer Relations, Nylas 

In summary, nailing a software engineering interview requires more than coding skills. You must highlight your problem-solving abilities, collaboration skills, accountability, and system and information architecture awareness. You can achieve this by sharing personal and group wins and losses, discussing technical concepts such as distributed systems and data modeling, and asking insightful questions during the interview. 

Remember to express your passion for software engineering and your willingness to learn from others. Following these five tips will increase your chances of standing out from the competition and landing your dream job. Good luck!

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