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Interview a web developer in seven easy steps

By Jamie Mercer

Finding the right web developer for your business can be tricky. With such varied experience now available in the marketplace, knowing which interview questions to ask can help find the perfect hire.

Reports indicate over 72% of programmers categorise themselves as web developers, but with the constant release of new languages and frameworks, you’ll need to be specific in your requirements to hire a developer with the right experience.

Deciding on which questions to ask a developer can be a difficult task, so if you’re unsure what you should be asking during an interview, FRG Technology Consulting has put together these top tips on how to interview a web developer.

What to decide before hiring a web developer

Developing a web application from scratch will take significant planning, and if you fail to hire well, you’ll face an uphill struggle to complete your project on time.

Before you begin the recruitment process, it’s vital you decide on the programming language, frameworks, and APIs you want to use during development, as all of these will play a part in the type of developer you finally hire.

You’ll need to remember that choosing the wrong developer can be an expensive mistake. Whether you decide to go for a frontend, backend, or full stack developer, finding someone who fits the bill should be a top priority right from the get-go.

If you follow your development plan from start to finish, you’ll find a developer to match your requirements, allowing you to avoid any setback during the creation of your web app.

How versed are they in the basics of web development?

Hiring the right web developer can be the difference between a top-class or mediocre application, and before jumping head first into the particulars of web development, you’ll need someone who understands the basics.

Web development is continually evolving, and although developers will keep on top of the latest trends, you’ll still need someone who can get your application up and running before implementing the newest tech.

On the other hand, you’ll also come across developers with zero practical knowledge of application development and can only recall information from textbooks or developers’ forums.

While a theoretical background can offer some grounding, if you choose to hire a frontend developer who can’t actively programme in HTML or a backend developer who is unfamiliar with the practical application of .NET, it won’t be beneficial for your business.

Creating a successful app will take time and significant input from all of your developers. The last thing you’ll need is a developer who needs to be trained before they get involved in a project, so during the interview make sure you drill down into the fundamentals.

There will be an available developer who matches your exact requirements, and if you’ve found the right foundations, further questioning their experience of development can take you one step closer to the perfect hire.

1. Which programming language are you most familiar with?

Most experienced developers will typically favour one language, around which they’ve built their career. But if you’re looking to hire someone breaking into the web development sector, you should focus your questions on JavaScript.

Currently used by 63% of businesses to build interactive web pages, JavaScript works alongside HTML and CSS on all platforms to create high-end applications for browsers and mobile platforms.

What you’ll need to remember is while there are frontend specialists, some developers can be more experienced with backend technology. So if a developer prefers to use PHP, you may need to change your questions accordingly.

A further consideration you’ll also need to make is whether to consider full stack developers as suitable candidates to fill the role.

Unlike specialised front or backend web developers, a full stack developer will have more experience in a wider variety of programming languages which can lead to a more well-rounded hire for your business.

2. How willing are you to learn a new technology?

The tools used in web development undergo constant changes, and to keep one step ahead of the competition, you’ll need a developer who can work with these new technologies in a business environment.

Many web developers monitor the latest trends in their sector, so when interviewing your next hire, question their familiarity with these new technologies, and their willingness to learn them.

Start by asking a web developer about the frameworks they would normally use when creating an application, and if your business utilises something different, question how they would migrate those techniques to that framework.

Mobile development moves so quickly, so when bringing in a new developer, their ability to adapt and learn these new frameworks should play a crucial part in your decision-making process.

You may come across developers who refuse to adapt to new tech, and although these web developers will have years of experience behind them, refusing to future-proof an application with a language or framework can lead to issues further down the line.

During an interview, every developer should be prepared to talk about their practical experience, regardless of the outcome, and if during this process they express a keen interest in learning more obscure tech stack, it could open a new avenue of development for your business, if they’re hired.

3. What web frameworks have you worked with?

The world of web development is continuously evolving, and with the introduction of new frameworks constantly moving the goalposts when it comes to experience, you’ll need a developer who meets your requirements.

When looking for a skilled web developer, one of the major talking points during an interview should be their practical experience of development frameworks, and how they’ve used them to create web apps successfully.

Most web development frameworks will undergo regular changes and updates, and with these changes expected to continue to cope with new technology, you’ll need to hire someone with the right expertise.

Finding a developer with the right practical skills can be tricky, and you’ll need to question their everyday use of a framework, or how they’d utilise it to change your business to be sure they have skills you require.

What you’ll need to remember is not all developers will be an expert in every framework, so if you require something very specific like Backbone JS (JavaScript)or Django (Python), you may need to widen your search margins to find the right person.

You’ll also need to take into account the ever-changing nature of frameworks, and a developer’s ability to learn. If your chosen hire is unable to stay on top of the latest releases and new techniques, it could be a steep learning curve for both them and your business.

4. Where do you see your career in the future?

Before you commit to hiring a developer, finding out their long-term plans can be a significant telling point in whether they’re suitable for your business.

Every organisation will have their own agenda when it comes to app creation, and if you’ve planned for a web application to take two or three years to fully complete, you’ll want to bring in a developer who’ll remain loyal throughout the entire process.

During the interview process, you may find a developer who is the perfect fit for your business, but if they only see your organisation as a stepping stone, then you may want to reconsider offering them a contract.

While it can be difficult to pinpoint a developer’s ulterior motives, asking where they see themselves in five years can give some insight into their career plans, and whether they are willing to stick out a web project from start to finish.

When you begin the interview process, you’ll also come across contract developers who can fulfil your role requirements, and quickly turnaround your current project. But, if you bring one of these developers into your business, chances are they’ll be in and out within a few months.

While contract hires can be beneficial if you’re looking for fast project completion and long-term commitment then choosing a permanent hire could be the best route for your business to take.

5. Tell me about the projects you’ve previously worked on

Finding out a developer’s technical expertise is a vital part of the interview process, but when it comes to making a decision on whether to hire them, it’s their practical experience that should be the most telling factor.

Whether a web developer chooses to specialise in JavaScript, PHP, or Ruby, a grasp of basic theoretical knowledge should allow them to coast through interview questions. But if they’re unable to transfer it into code, they may not be the right hire for you.

All the hands-on experience a developer has should be a major talking point during an interview, and if they can explain in detail the frameworks they’ve used to complete a project, the platforms they’re familiar with, and if the project was a success you could be on to a winner.

Developers will normally have a GitHub account showcasing their practical experience; however, if they don’t have that information to hand, a detailed explanation of their last application could tell you all you need to know.

One thing you’ll need to remember is that although a developer may have the right experience, they may not have the necessary skills to scale up their development to meet your requirements. So always question the size of the projects they’ve previously worked on to ensure they’re suitable.

6. Make sure you test their coding knowledge

Before you commit to hiring a web developer, there is one final part of the interview you should have every candidate take part in to check whether they’re the right person for you.

During a face-to-face interview, a developer can talk about a language and its complementary frameworks, but if they don’t have the practical expertise to back up their answers, you may need to look elsewhere.

Most web developers will already have a portfolio with previous examples of code, but if they don’t have any examples to hand, a coding exam can help you make a decision.

Having a developer take a technical test will also give your hiring team the chance to see how they work in a high-pressure scenario and with the languages your business will use on a daily basis.

There are many ways for your business to clarify a developer’s aptitude when it comes to creating code, whether it’s through an online test or by giving them a pen and paper to solve a list of problems you’ve put in front of them.

Whichever method your business chooses to use, finding out if they can code effectively in your chosen language could guarantee them a role within your business.

7. The web developer marketplace

Finding the right web developer for your business won’t be easy, but with the marketplace continuing to grow, you should never be short of highly skilled developers to fill the gaps in your development team.

The tech boom is firmly underway, with many businesses now embracing what were once alien technologies to give themselves an edge over their nearest competitors. And it’s because of this that many organisations are now investing in their development team to maintain their company growth.

The permanent market is going from strength to strength, and by investing in your development team, they’re more likely to commit to your business for the long haul.

However, the contract market exists for large enterprise businesses, in which once they’ve completed a project, a developer will normally move onto their next placement.

Because the contract market can be so lucrative, it’s rare for a freelancer to commit to a business for the long haul after a project has finished, and if you need more work completing, you many need to hire a new developer.

Whether you choose to hire a permanent or contract developer, you’ll need to fully commit to the interview process if you want to secure the services of a top-class developer.

Diving deeper into their experience by questioning their knowledge of web languages and frameworks could find you the person who best matches your requirements. But if your developer of choice is a little rough around the edges, remember they can be moulded to fit the way you work.

Finding a web developer who’ll stick with your business should be a major consideration when hiring a permanent web developer, and if you’re willing to take the time out of your busy schedule, then you should find the perfect developer. However, if you don’t have the time to commit to solving your hiring headache, FRG Technology Consulting can help you find contract staff within 24 hours and permanent staff within 48. Our Candidate Search tool is quick and free – you’ll be shortlisting candidates in a matter of minutes!

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