7 questions employers ask their dev candidates

Can you explain how the internet works? How do you stay engaged in long-term projects? We asked Philly hiring types for their go-to interview questions.

Jot down these key questions ahead of your next interview. (Photo by Pexels, used under a CC0 license.)

This editorial article is a part of's How to Get Hired month. Join at our NET/WORK tech jobs fair on Feb. 26.

This one is for all you technologists out there with a job interview on the horizon: Do you know what kind of questions are on the docket?

Trite job interview questions (like “how do you describe your work style?” or “what is your best feature as an employee?”) go right out the window when it comes to discovering how a potential hire will fit in a tech company.

From cofounder to hiring managers to chief executives, we asked a few people in Philly tech what kind of questions they use to spot the most talented folks from the lot.

(Psst,’s NET/WORK tech jobs fair is happening on Feb. 26. Learn more and register as a job seeker or talent seeker below.)

Get your tickets for NET/WORK Philly hbspt.cta.load(2084427, ‘1c772cee-56ed-4000-9c9e-527680893d3e’, {});

Hiring? Click here to exhibit at NET/WORK 2019 hbspt.cta.load(2084427, ’38b6c238-3b56-4a37-bd3a-585362f3419a’, {});

1. Do you know how the web works?

Here’s a clever one you’ll get once you’re in the office with Will Luttrell, cofounder of Aminoa 2019 realLIST honoree.

“Type ‘’ into your web browser, for example, and press enter,” Luttrell said. In as much detail as you can, the cofounder will ask you, the potential developer, to explain what happens next.

“It’s a great open-ended question that can be used to conversationally explore the depths of the candidates’ knowledge of everything from DNS to TCP/IP to HTML to HTTP to SSL to whatever,” Luttrell said in an email. “It’s shocking to me how many software engineers don’t know the basics of how the internet works.”

2. Do you also have business savvy?

IT veteran Darla Wolfe, founder of consulting firm Sweat EquitE, knows that candidates are usually at the end of the line in the interview process by the time they reach her desk.

“You wouldn’t be here in my office if you didn’t have exceptional technical skills and the ability to follow directions,” Wolfe said. “So, tell me about a time when you had to use your business acumen and/or creativity to improve or suggest changes to a product?”

3. How do well do you problem solve?

Brianna Wronko, CEO and founder of Group K Diagnostics, presents technical candidates with a problem, and then asks for tools and methods they would employ to solve it.

“I find this helps demonstrate not only solution skills, but also can they verbalize what they did and what questions they asked and how they worked with a team,” said Wronko, whose company, another realLIST honoree, is trying to improve access to point-of-care diagnostics.

4. Can I listen to you think out loud?

For Bill Piel, CTO at realLIST ’19 startup Vetd, it’s less about the answers candidates give, and more about the road they take to get there.

“More than anything, I want to hear the candidate thinking out loud,” Piel said. “I want to hear and understand the process they go through while trying to find a solution. I’m looking for someone that will be a valuable participant in the collaborative problem-solving process. They need to be able to expose their internal mental models so that others can learn or give feedback. They need to be able to explain where they lack knowledge or understanding that would aid in solving the problem.”

5. Do you know what esoteric means?

Is this a trick question from Vetd COO Zach Shapiro? You be the judge.

“I like to end every interview asking them to give me two esoteric facts,” Shapiro said. “Their answers indicate their level of curiosity plus if they ask what esoteric means, it indicates they aren’t afraid to admit when they don’t know something.”

6. How did you improve a product?

Relay cofounder Paul Raden said one of the key traits he’s looking for is grit. Here’s a question that helps spot it:

“Describe a project you had to work on for an extended period of time and how you stayed engaged? This question lets you see a candidate’s tenacity, and demonstrates their ability to see a project through to completion, despite distractions and obstacles,” Raden said.

7. Share an upside to failure.

ChopDawg CEO Joshua Davidson asks candidates to give him a quick FailFest talk of sorts. What was the best failure they’ve in their careers and why? It helps Davidson gauge their potential developer’s crisis management skills. And also, shows a human side that might not otherwise shine through.

“One of our developers told me about his own tech startup he’d cofounded at one time,” Davidson said. “He admitted to me that back then, he couldn’t work well with others, didn’t know how to communicate, and the company ended up folding. But through that experience, he learned the importance of empathy and how to work with a team. Today, he’s one of our senior developers at ChopDawg, using that experience to lead our team. I thought it took a lot of guts and showed personal growth for him to share that story with me.”

Peep the responses to this tweet for more key questions.

Get your tickets for NET/WORK Philly hbspt.cta.load(2084427, ‘1c772cee-56ed-4000-9c9e-527680893d3e’, {});

Hiring? Click here to exhibit at NET/WORK 2019 hbspt.cta.load(2084427, ’38b6c238-3b56-4a37-bd3a-585362f3419a’, {});

Companies: Vetd / HueDx / Amino / Relay Network
Series: How to Get Hired Month 2019 / Builders

Before you go...

Please consider supporting to keep our independent journalism strong. Unlike most business-focused media outlets, we don’t have a paywall. Instead, we count on your personal and organizational support.

Our services Preferred partners The journalism fund

Join our growing Slack community

Join 5,000 tech professionals and entrepreneurs in our community Slack today!


Here’s how the global tech outage impacted many of the vital systems across the mid-Atlantic region

Why Benefits Data Trust fell apart despite millions from philanthropy and government contracts

This Week in Jobs: Fall from the coconut tree and check out these 22 career opportunities

From Big Tech to a big bank, this leader puts innovation at the forefront of her entire career

Technically Media