While at Intergen I have had the opportunity to interview a lot of prospective developers. In that time I have come to understand more clearly what it is that impresses me most. And it might not be what you expect.
Things that never impress me
- Being Late - just don't do it
- A Poor CV - you'd think that people would at least put the spell-checker on, or read over it and pick out the glaring grammatical errors. If I get a poor CV on my desk, you'll be lucky to even get an interview and that's regardless of how smart you are or what your experience is. In this industry an eye for detail is everything; and most good developers have it. A poor CV is a neon sign to your ambivalence and lack of attention to detail.
- Not Answering the Question - there is nothing worse than asking a direct question and getting the answer to a different question coming back. If you don't know the answer to something don't fake it! Instead, you could say something like, "I don't know the specific answer to that but this is the approach I would take to solve the problem..." or "I don't know now sorry, but give me 5 minutes in front of Google and I would find out...". If the question isn't clear then ask for clarification. To show that you're willing and eager to learn you should always ask what the answer is - the ability to ask questions as well as answer them is a key skill.
Things that don't automatically impress me
- Computer Degree - some of the most successful people I know do not have any official qualifications in their field of experience. Don't let this put you off a career in IT. Experience quickly supercedes the impact of qualifications. Note that if you have no experience and want to enter the industry then qualifications will of course be helpful.
- Straight A's - it may be a sign that your a smart cookie but on its own it doesn't necessarily translate into a great developer. I don't know about anyone else but I've noticed a lot of straight A CV's over the last few years - I'm sure it wasn't that easy when I was at university! Maybe I'm just making excuses for my hard fought B+ grades.
- Microsoft Certification - I run the risk of pissing off both my employer and Microsoft in one fell swoop here - but here goes. Microsoft Certifications tell me nothing about who you actually are and what you know. They tell me (at best) that you have a good memory for facts gleaned from appropriate swat books or (at worst) you're a great cheat and know how to use the various sites out there that will give you the answers to any questions you're likely to be asked. I sometimes get the feeling that someone with lots of certifications feels the need to prove themselves and doesn't think their experience and knowledge is enough. This is not to say that getting certifications is always a bad idea - if you are just starting out and don't have lots of experience then they can set you apart from the rest. Also, if you are learning a new technology they can help you get up to speed more quickly.
Things that will always impress me
- Passion - we're pretty lucky in the IT industry, there are so many people who have a passion for computers outside work and can bring that same passion to their work. This is exactly the sort of thing that makes coming to work so enjoyable; sharing a common interest, ideas and enthusiasm.
- Interests Outside of Work - this is a great indication of someone's initiative. To make the effort to get involved in something without being told to is awesome. In particular, if you're doing something IT related this is a great sign. Examples include, writing your own blog, being involved in user groups, selling your own software, being involved in open source projects. If you can bring in something to your interview that's excellent - perhaps it's an example of something you've written or an application you've built.
- Confidence without Arrogance - it's sometimes a fine line but one that is crucial to being a great developer. You've got to believe in yourself enough to be respected by others but also know your weaknesses and when to ask for help. You don't have to do a car salesman's routine to sell yourself but if you don't believe in your own abilities then neither will other people.
- Being Articulate - thankfully the stereotype of the geek with no social or communication skills is less common than it used to be. As more people enter the profession so do the variety of individuals you come across. However, those who can clearly articulate ideas and thoughts are going to be far more successful than those who prefer the company of play stations to people
So there you have it - a window onto the mind of one person's mind during an interview.