40 Questions Software Engineers Should Ask in Startup Interviews

Alex Gurr (Head of Engineering @ Cloudwave), Paul Kelcey (VP Engineering @ Displayr), Xavi Ferro (Head of Engineering @ Simply Wall St), Stuart Totman (Head of Engineering @ Campaign Monitor), Alexander Iskrenov Head Of Engineering @ Bluewater Control), Vinny Lawrenson-Woods (General Manager, Product Engineering @ Prezzee), Adrian Groch (Software Engineer @ Pendula), Jared Fraser (Director of Engineering @ Mr Yum), Dale Baldwin (Senior Software Engineer @ Culture Amp), John Wesley Salvador (Senior Software Engineer @ Zeller), Pratik Ghimire (Engineering Manager @ Car Next Door)

Authored by engineering leaders from Atlassian, Culture Amp, Mr Yum, Campaign Monitor, Cloudwave, Displayr, Simply Wall St, Campaign Monitor, Prezzee, Bluewater Control, Pendula, Zeller, and Car Next Door

40 Questions Software Engineers Should Ask in Startup Interviews

In this article, experts from the top Australian startups list the questions you should ask in software engineering interviews. 

**Looking for a software engineering job right now? Head to our job board here.**

Alex Gurr (Head of Engineering @ Cloudwave)

  • Why do you think your product will succeed/what makes it different in the market?
  • What are the future plans for expansion/scaling?
  • Do you believe in building software the “right way”, with testing and due diligence for writing production-ready code?


Paul Kelcey (VP Engineering @ Displayr)

Software engineering can be somewhat abstracted from how a business makes money. If you can ask questions around the business side then that will demonstrate that you are not only interested in your craft but also interested in understanding how the business works.

Xavi Ferro (Head of Engineering @ Simply Wall St)

Get a good sense of past performance. Get a good sense of future plans and how they are going to deal with growth and scale. Is it a good market fit? Is the company generous with new joiners? Is there an exit strategy? How soon? If not, what’s next?

Stuart Totman (Head of Engineering @ Campaign Monitor)

I would encourage you to ask a lot of tough questions:

  • How does the employer ensure growth of their software engineers? 
  • What does success look like in the first 6-12 months? 
  • Is this a newly created role or is it backfill for someone leaving the company? 
  • If so, why did they leave? 
  • What’s the average tenure of your software engineering team? 
  • How are new ideas encouraged? 
  • What are some of the recent successes and failures of the team? 


These sorts of questions will help you gauge the software engineering environment. If you don’t like the answers or you feel the interviewers are hiding something, run a mile!

Alexander Iskrenov Head Of Engineering @ Bluewater Control)

  • How will I contribute to the company goals?
  • What technologies will I be exposed to?
  • Will I have a mentor or some dedicated time from team members where I can shadow them or pair with them?
  • Will the company help me with following through my personal development plan?


Vinny Lawrenson-Woods (General Manager, Product Engineering @ Prezzee)

Focus on the questions that matter to you and not what you think you need to ask. Ask how they are going to set you up for success (which ultimately means helping the startup succeed).

  • What will be my growth path? 
  • What does professional development look like here? 
  • How does the company support organisational and cultural changes as they grow? 
  • What will a typical day look like for me? 
  • What’s your measure of success for me? 
  • What are the opportunities for innovation and experimentation? 
  • What project/product have you delivered that you are really proud of, and why? 
  • Can I make an impact here?


Adrian Groch (Software Engineer @ Pendula)

I think you should have a basic idea of the kind of questions that they’ll ask you, but on the flip side, have a bunch of questions you’ll want to ask them. Remember it’s a two way process/relationship, sure - they’re employing you, but you’re giving up your time. Make sure it’s a good fit for you. 

  • Get an understanding of who will be in your team, what's the development process?
  • How do releases work? 
  • What targets/milestones are you trying to hit? 
  • What growing pains are you experiencing? 
  • What tradeoffs have you made that you think will come back to bite you in the ass?


Jared Fraser (Director of Engineering @ Mr Yum)

One of the key things to an interview is understanding that it’s a two way street. While you are there to sell your skillset to the company, you should also be trying to answer if the company is right for you.

Some key questions I find interesting:

  • How can they support you with your career?
  • What will you be learning?
  • Do they provide access to learning sites such as Go1, Udemy or LinkedIn Learning? 
  • Do they provide a budget for conferences and travel?
  • What will you be working on?


Get to know the company that you are applying for to ensure that you’ll be happy working with that company. Seek opportunities that allow personal growth and development and where you have an opportunity to work with skilled engineers.

Dale Baldwin (Senior Software Engineer @ Culture Amp)

Do as much research as you can, this can be the difference between joining a startup you will thrive at and one you will be reaching for the exit clause in your contract before your first 6 months.

Lookup and add people you are interviewing with and even the CEO on LinkedIn. Have a search around for articles about the company on sites such Tech Crunch as this will help give you an idea of how well they are doing and how they might be financing themselves. 

Check out product reviews and see how their customers think of their product as well.

John Wesley Salvador (Senior Software Engineer @ Zeller)

I personally like to know the company I’m going to spend more than 8 hours a day of my life with and the people I’m going to be working with. One thing you should remember is that a job interview is a two way interview, the company has to know if you’re fit for the job, AND as a candidate, you have to know that a company fits in your goals. In saying that, you should prepare lots of questions for the interviewers. This will also gives them the impression that you are really interested in the job.

Pratik Ghimire (Engineering Manager @ Car Next Door)

Always ask follow up questions in between or at least three questions at the end of the interview. 

Common questions which you should ask are:

  • What keeps you in this company? 
  • What are the growth opportunities in this role? 
  • How do you see growth in this role?
     

Always send a thank you note after the interview to the interviewer. It increases your chances of getting hired. Not many people do this.

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