What I would look for in a junior developer

Some things which I think are good qualities in a junior developer, if I seen these shine through in a portfolio or CV, I'd be happy!

In various jobs I have held I have had to sit in and conduct interviews for a junior developer role. Junior developers by their nature have very little industry experience and very few projects which they can discuss at length.

It is about the desire to be a developer

In those interviews I wasn’t looking for someone that had all the answers, I was looking for someone that I thought the team would enjoy working with and teaching.

What I look for in a junior developer is a genuine desire to learn about things that right now seem so unknowable.

You see when you interview someone with many years of experience, you know they must kinda like working in development. When you are interviewing someone with no experience a question you need to ask is “do they actually want to be a developer”.

There is a difference between working on personal projects and working in a team and having meetings and tickets and all that fun stuff. We need some way to know you aren’t going to run away as soon as we ask you to learn how to test code, for example.

In practical terms this means being able to showcase things like;

  • watching a series on testing
  • following a tutorial all the way to the end
  • attending a meetup about accessibility

It is about communication

Junior developers generally won’t have had too much interview experience, so I would not be looking for a candidate who confidently answers things first time around.

I’ve been writing code for over 20 years, and will still umm and ahh my way through questions.

What I do look for is someone who can communicate. Communication is a massive part of our job, we are telling stories through code and through commit messages and through support emails.

Communication comes in different forms and for some folk, verbal communication is an issue. I’m not saying you need to be able to maintain firm eye contact and speak perfect English.

You do need to be able to get whatever is in your head out in to the world. So for example if you’ve received the questions up front and typed a response, feel free to share that with us.

It is about honesty

I look for honesty.

I was once in an interview where the interviewee said they had looked at our website’s source code (we asked). Before putting out the position we had introduced a comment at the very top of the site saying something along the lines of;

<!-- Hello there, if you are interviewing with us and mention that you seen this comment, you will score major points! -->

We asked what they noticed and they had no comment (and clearly looked very nervous). Turns out they didn’t look at our source code but thought the correct answer was “yes”. There was no way we could hire them.

It doesn’t have to be this extreme of course, what really puts me off a candidate is when you ask them “Do you know much about technology y” and instead of answering “No, but I have heard it is like technology x which I know about”, or “No, sorry, is there another name I might have heard it being called”, they answer with “Ummm yeah, I think so, it is like this thing that lets you do this thing that…”

It is honestly better to be honest!

It is about the mindset

When asked a hypothetical question like “The client is reporting that the email form we built them isn’t working, how would you handle this” we generally aren’t looking for technical answers.

I want to know about how you think about things and I want to know what type of thought process you use.

I also want to know about how you might communicate the issue with your hypothetical teammates and this hypothetical client.

It is about the questions you ask

In my experience the questions you get asked at the end of an interview are very telling and say a lot about the interviewee.

First up, have questions. There is nothing worse than asking nothing.

Second up, know that there are no dumb questions – you won’t get marked down for asking something you think everyone else knows.

Good questions I have heard before include topics such as;

  • If there is a training budget
  • What is a normal day like for a dev in the company
  • Who would I be reporting to and what is their role
  • Why has a position opened up
  • Are there any main projects that I would be spending most of my time on?

It is about… Time I wrapped up

I hope this has been useful.

If you’re a junior developer who has landed an interview, you may be interested in my post interview tips for junior developers.

2023 update

In a previous version of this article I used the word “passion”, in hindsight this was a poor word to use.

I still stand behind the context in which I used it. But passion is unfortunately used in this industry to gate keep and paper over terrible working practices. You do not need to be passionate about your job. Your job is an exchange of labour for money.

The reason I said before you need passion is because when hiring a junior developer, they won’t have on-paper experience to show they are happy enough working in development. In an ideal world you will hire someone for the next three years. Having examples to say “look, I really like this stuff” is the best stand-in for “look how many years I’ve stuck around” I know.

I have also reworked the section on communication, it unintentionally quite ableist before.

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