5 Software Engineer Interview Questions and Answers

Whether you are preparing to interview a candidate or applying for a job, review our list of top Software Engineer interview questions and answers.

Describe the software development life cycle. What would you say are the most important phases?

This question can be answered with a textbook list of the traditional phases of a software project, such as communication, planning, modeling, construction and deployment. A candidate with past experience on multiple projects should bring more than a list of definitions to an interview, however. Look for insights into what makes a project successful and the phases the candidate has more expertise in. This can help you judge how well they will fit into your development team. What to look for in an answer:

  • Insider knowledge of the software development life cycle
  • Ability to relate past experience to theory
  • Ability to communicate technical information

Example: "The software development life cycle consists of requirements, planning, modeling, development, and deployment. In my experience, the planning and modeling phases are the most critical because they determine the success of the phases that follow."

Which software languages would you say you have the most expertise in?

Software engineers have generally built up several years of experience developing applications. Typically, they will specialize in a particular language, set of technologies or type of application. Asking this question will help you assess whether the candidate's strongest skill set matches your organization's needs. It's true that good engineers can learn new languages and tools, but it helps to have built up a body of experience beforehand, too. What to look for in an answer:

  • Programming languages and frameworks experience
  • Varied skill set
  • Technical and cultural fit with your organization

Example: "I've worked the most with Microsoft .NET technologies, using C# and Visual Basic to develop desktop applications and ASP.NET websites. I also have some experience with Ruby on Rails. However, I'm a quick learner and love learning about other languages."

Imagine you are developing an application for a financial institution and a major requirement is added. How do you adapt to the change?

One of the most common pitfalls of complex software projects is the discovery of oversights or bad assumptions made during the planning phase. Developers are suddenly presented with situations that could turn into delayed releases or cost overruns unless they can discover innovative ways to adapt to the changes. Asking this question will help you gauge a candidate's experience with these problems as well as their professional communication skills. What to look for in an answer:

  • Experience handling project changes
  • Professional communication skills
  • Ability to find innovative solutions

Example: "I would stop what I was working on and immediately assess what changes will be needed to meet the new requirement. If it's a major change, the team will need to collaborate closely to make the project a success."

What methodologies do you have the most experience with on past projects? Which do you prefer?

Major software development methods include waterfall, Agile and the Spiral model. Most organizations adopt one of these methods or create a hybrid that borrows from two or more of them to arrive at an effective way to organize their projects. This creates a specific culture for your developers, so it's important to assess the methods a candidate has experience with and what their preferences are. This will help determine how well they'll fit your development team. What to look for in an answer:

  • Knowledge of development methodologies
  • Preference for one method over another
  • Organizational fitness

Example: "I've spent many years working on small web development teams that used the Agile method. I'm most comfortable with this method and working on small, informal developer teams."

How do you manage conflict on a project when there are different opinions about how to achieve the same functionality?

Collaboration and professional communication skills are central to a software engineer's role in team projects. It's natural that strong opinions can form among technical experts, and software engineers need to manage conflicts that arise deftly to keep a project on course. A candidate should have examples in mind when they come to an interview to showcase their conflict management skills. What to look for in an answer:

  • Professional conflict resolution skills
  • Collaboration skills
  • Ability to relate past experience to current projects

Example: "It's important to assess ideas on a number of levels, such as time required to implement them, cost and effectiveness. I've found that suggesting that we all stick to these principles helps to keep everyone level-headed."

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