Software Developer Skill Assessment: How to Hire the Best Software Engineer for Your Organization

November 12, 2021
Reх Huхford
Assessing the technical and soft skills of software developers is critical when building your engineering team. A bad hire can be costly and hurt team cohesion. Learn the best way to evaluate a coder's skillset.
Software Developer Skill Assessment: How to Hire the Best Software Engineer for Your Organization

It’s time to build your development team. How do you assess technical and soft skills for software developer candidates? Which skills are critical for your development team? How can you ensure you find the candidates that are the best fit for the role?

You know that a single bad hire can destroy team morale and cohesion — and it can be costly.

This guide contains a list of every skill you might need in a software engineer. Work through the lists and decide which are most important to your project. Read on to gain insightful assessment methods and get the best read on whether your candidate fits the position or if you should keep looking.

Core Skills to Consider

Core skills are those that every candidate should have. They include both technical and soft skills.

Technical Skills

Technical skills fall into several buckets:

Coding Languages and Framework

Software engineers should have a strong background in at least one commonly used language. Look for their mastery of that language along with basic familiarity in other relevant languages.

Use your software developer skill assessment to determine if the developer prefers structural or functional languages. Or maybe they know bits of lots of different types of languages. What language does your organization use?

It should be relatively simple to find someone specializing in one of these common languages:

  • C, C#, or C++
  • Java or Javascript
  • PHP
  • Python
  • Ruby
  • SQL
  • HTML/CSS

Beyond language competency, look for framework proficiency since a well-organized framework improves an application's quality, reliability, and robustness.

Do you need front-end or back-end experience? A full-stack programmer may be your best choice. A full-stack developer knows the software product from end-to-end, including the network, database, and hardware. They understand how everything fits together.

A top developer can come up with solutions to a problem at any stage of development.

Algorithms and System Organization

An algorithm is a set of instructions that tells the software how to perform a calculation to solve a collection of problems. The system organization is created by the various data structures used.

Your ideal software developer is strong in both algorithms and system organization. They can effectively organize the data and determine the proper algorithms to solve problems quickly.

Look for knowledge and experience of:

  • Database and computer architecture
  • Operating systems
  • Product enhancement, optimization, and strategic planning
  • Data structures
  • Linux/Unit, JS, Perl, and Shell
  • Design review and agile scrum team techniques
  • SaaS, web services, and web API
  • UI toolkits and frameworks
  • Microsoft ASP.NET MVC

An effective software developer understands the programming principles underpinning basic control structures and Boolean algebra. They can apply object-oriented programming (OOP), functional programming, and declarative and imperative programming techniques.

Essential data structures round out system organization. Can the developer handle...

  • ...basic structures like arrays, matrices, and objects?
  • ...caching and memorization?
  • ...hash codes, tokens, and encoding?
  • ...stack vs. heap memory?

Look for strength in algorithm and system organization theory and application.

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills

Just because someone can program a string doesn’t mean they have the critical thinking ability to move logically through the development process. There are plenty of programmers who can hammer out code for days, but is the candidate capable of finding troublesome lines in a program? Can the developer find a solution to bugs beyond calling them “undocumented features?”

There’s more to creating a software product than typing code. A developer needs skills in inductive and deductive reasoning, process analysis, and project management. A successful software engineer knows how to look for solutions.

Delve into the candidate’s methods of thinking to find out if they have:

  • The ability to break down huge, multifaceted goals into smaller ones
  • Parallel thinking skills to handle multiple complex issues simultaneously
  • Mastery of existing tools to create a solution to problems instead of reinventing the wheel or demanding an expensive tool you don’t have

Like scientists, software developers should apply the scientific method to defining and resolving problems. When chasing down an answer, they should have good research skills and ask the “five whys”. Lateral thinking, abstraction, and creativity are all elements of software development that enhance any product.

Overall, learn about the candidate’s risk management skills. Do they understand business risks and how to mitigate them during software development? Security is imperative.

Databases, Versioning, and Data Management

A software developer doesn't work in a vacuum. They need to know how to apply MySQL, PostgreSQL, or other database management systems (DBMS) that are important to you. Also, they should follow the basic requirements for properly backing up, securing, and managing a database.

Versioning is critical to source code management. The entire team relies on a logical structure. Everyone needs to follow the rules. Does the candidate understand the importance of versioning? Can they commit to best practices for micro commits, atomic commits, and descriptions?

Talk to them about short-lived feature branches, trunk-base development, and dependency management. Do they have experience with specific package managers? Do they know the risks of dependency problems?

Clean code is crucial for efficient software development and maintenance. The developer must acknowledge that naming is critical for code readability.

  • How do they approach naming files, classes, variables, attributes, functions, and methods?
  • Can they follow semantic versioning?
  • Do they write self-explanatory code rather than relying on comments to explain what the software is supposed to do?

Ensure documentation is top of mind for any developer under consideration. Many don’t believe documentation is necessary, but to minimize business risks and maintain code properly, producing documentation is every bit as important as writing the code itself.

Soft Skills

Soft skills may not apply specifically to one role at a company, but they are essential to your business running smoothly.

Time Management

Time management and project management skills are at the heart of software development.

Software development has tons of deadlines, it’s fast-paced, and a developer may handle multiple projects. Can the candidate keep everything straight? A developer needs to be able to prioritize, triage, and manage varying milestones. Multiple timelines aren’t unusual.

Can this candidate function under pressure and develop software in the allotted time?

Flexibility

It's improbable that any development project proceeds according to the original plan. Software engineers need the flexibility to adjust to changes within the company, the team, and the project itself. They should also be ready to learn new skills and technology in such a rapidly changing industry.

The ability to learn and adapt is particularly critical for software professionals. Software changes more frequently than skill sets in other industries or professions. A developer must dedicate significant time to professional development and continuous education to keep current.

Look for those who do not fear change and are comfortable treating any failure as a learning opportunity.

Communication — Written and Spoken

Communication skills have always been an essential part of any job. Your candidate must easily communicate with peers, team members, and management as well as clients.

Miscommunication is the parent to poor products. When both parties clearly understand the requirements and the finished product, development is more efficient and effective.

A software developer should convey ideas and solutions in simple language free of jargon and tech-speak. One way to test communication skills is to set up a scrum meeting with your existing team and watch the candidate’s interactions and communication style. Is the candidate courteous? Do they wait their turn to speak or interrupt constantly? Maybe you can have the team and candidate perform a task or solve a problem so you can observe the candidate in a realistic work environment.

Try to get a feel for written communication beyond documentation. You want your new developer to follow chat, email, and other best practices when interacting with others.

Collaboration and Teamwork

No developer works completely independently, no matter how much they might want to. Team members must be able to talk to each other about ideas, problems, and solutions. They should be able to innovate and compromise without discord.

Does the candidate appear approachable? Can they articulate work and project needs clearly? Most importantly, can they calmly collaborate with people whose ideas or philosophies differ from theirs?

A successful team player should handle disagreements and misunderstandings maturely to protect the deadline and team cohesion. Ask how they've handled previous conflicts in the past to get a feel for their collaboration and problem-solving style.

Emotional Intelligence (Interpersonal Skills)

The collaboration and teamwork section covers part of the emotional intelligence requirement, but your candidate needs to do more to cement a place on your team. Not only does the developer need good communication skills, but they also need empathy to interact positively with others on the team, within the organization, and with customers.

Look for a positive attitude. Negativity can ruin a team, even if the candidate is a programming rock star. You need someone who has a tolerance for the naturally occurring stress in software development. Identify candidates with a low ego who can be active listeners.

A software developer needs to provide constructive feedback, act as a good mentor, and willingly share knowledge with others.

Three Methods to Assess Software Developer Skills

Code portfolios, live interviews, and coding assessment tests together provide a well-rounded software developer assessment.

Code Portfolios

Ask to see a software portfolio parked in GitHub or StackOverflow. Does the candidate write a regular blog about the industry or software engineering? Do they contribute to open-source projects? Find a way to learn more about the candidate’s development knowledge.

The portfolio should showcase the candidate’s best work using the languages and software development skills necessary to succeed in your organization.

Live Interviews

Nothing gives you a better impression of a candidate than a live interview. Even if the candidate is well-rehearsed in answering typical interview questions, you have a chance to observe body language, communication skills, and, above all, passion for the profession.

Usually, a human resources professional pre-screens the candidate for the basic requirements to work in your company. They ask for work experience, personal traits, and preferred salary ranges. If the answers match your needs, the candidate is passed to you.

In an in-person or live technical interview, it's your job to learn about the candidate's technical knowledge and the extent of experience they have with various tools and processes used in your company. Don’t just depend on your impressions. Train team members in interviewing and ask them to sit in on the session. Companies that use a team interview environment tend to have better interview experiences and hiring outcomes.

Coding Assessment Tests

Even though you’ve spoken to the candidate and looked at a portfolio, you need to assess their actual coding skills in an environment where you can observe. Look for both code writing expertise and problem-solving skills in these tests.

There are several computer-based assessments available that tend to provide better answers than a written test. Both free and for-pay testing tools can be found online and are customizable for various languages and aptitudes.

A take-home test is a good alternative if you want to see a cate's ability to follow through on a more extended project. It also helps if your candidate is too nervous to show their skills in a live environment, as live assessments can be nerve-wracking.

See our post on best coding assessment tools to learn which platforms have the highest ratings.

Avoid Common Assessment Mistakes

Over time, candidates and hiring managers have provided feedback about the hiring experience. Some of the most common takeaways include:

  • Unpaid pre-interview assignments may be construed by the developer as "giving away code" instead of providing an accurate assessment of skills.
  • Take-home assignments can become too time-consuming, and candidates may drop out.
  • Misunderstandings occur when candidates are told to meet a stated requirement but are counted off for not fulfilling unstated ones.
  • Take-home tests can foster interviewer bias if the best candidate’s work is used as the standard to measure the rest of the interview group.
  • Interviewers and companies fail to provide feedback to candidates. They don’t let candidates know why they were or were not advanced in the hiring process.

Any job candidate can tell you that dead silence from a company after a lengthy interview process is the most dispiriting thing that can happen. It also leaves a poor impression of your organization.

Assessing skills for software developers is an essential part of hiring. As a manager or team member, you want to know you are hiring the best person for the job. You want to ensure they can do much more than write code. This is someone you will be working with. You need communication skills, emotional intelligence, and a talent for problem-solving and end-to-end software development. The assessment process is just as much for you as the candidate.

Take the time to do it right. Poor hiring practices result in high business risks and costs. A great hire brings more than programming skills to the party — they bring value to your entire organization.

Revelo - We Source and Assess Developers for You

You don't have to spend hours finding and evaluating developers when you can use Revelo. We are a platform that allows you to source and hire pre-vetted global engineering talent who are in US time zones. All the candidates we match you with are rigorously vetted on soft and technical skills through live interviews and coding challenges. Contact us to learn more.

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