This post was updated in November 2017 with new information.
If there’s one thing you should bring up to your developer candidates during the interview process, it’s asking them to tell you about their side projects. Although this holds true for other professions as well (like writers and designers, for example), it’s especially pertinent to engineers. In fact, 75% of developers who responded to our latest survey reported that they work on open source projects on the side. So why should you bring up side projects when interviewing developers?
If someone loves what they do so much that they do it in their spare time, you can infer that they are passionate. For example, developers who work in a “boring” industry might use their spare time writing code for a more interesting niche that they enjoy. Other developers focus on side projects as a way to learn a new language or improve on a specific technology. They say practice makes perfect, right?
Lazy recruiters and hiring managers will look at a candidate’s latest job title, read a tiny bit of their typical duties, and then make an inference if they are a good fit for the job. But that’s all wrong – they should take a deeper look into their developer side projects.
For example, if you’re hiring a Ruby on Rails developer, but this candidate’s current job has him/her using Python, you may immediately turn them down. However, what if that same developer has a side project that involves coding an entire website in Python? You need to do some deeper digging to really get to know that.
As you ask your candidate about their side project, you open up the door to a variety of follow-up questions that allow you to get a glimpse into their working style.
You can follow up and probe with the following questions to do so:
Asking a developer to describe a side project is typically enjoyable from their end. They get to highlight what they’re good at and show you their creative side. This question may come off as a nice change of pace from the nerve-wracking whiteboard coding exercises and can help put the candidate at ease.
It’s worth mentioning that some candidates simply don’t have the time or desire to work on developer side projects, and that’s perfectly fine. No developer should be thrown out of the interview process simply because they don’t have a side project. But for those who do have them, bringing this up during the interview process is a great way to learn more about the candidate.