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A friend of mine has a developer (possibly the "mad genius" type) that has built a substantial system on which their small business is critically dependent. They'd like to get away from their current guy and replace him with someone more reliable, but the question comes up of how to know that the person they replace him with is a competent developer himself. As a developer, I know what questions I would ask and how to interpret the responses, but how would you advise a company void of development background to go about identifying the ones who know their stuff?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Hire someone they know and trust (like you) to do a technical interview. It makes sense to also have this "mad genius" interview the potential developer since he knows the system best, but you have to be careful that he doesn't try to weed out people who won't be obedient to him.

Beware that if it is a codgy system (which it likely is, having been created and maintained by one person for so long), most self-respecting developers will avoid it like the plague. They will need to make an offer compelling enough to attract the decent developers and avoid that (both financially and by offering control over their work).

I've seen this "in the wild" and the guy at the top kept hiring people who would never question them and if they did he would just play political games until they were out. I don't envy them in this.

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You should do two interview, one of them being technical and done by a programmer.

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the other...!!! –  abel Oct 4 '10 at 17:02
1  
@abel: The other non technical, done by management and/or HR. –  gingerbreadboy Jan 19 '11 at 17:09

In my opinion, screening questions should be provided by someone who knows programming. Questions leveled at the type of programmer you are looking for (like what is inheritance for beginning level programmers,etc)

The interviewer would be provided with correct answers (and variants) to these questions. After a candidate makes it through this screening process (and meets their other requirements) then a qualified programmer would have to do a second interview.

I suppose you could by-pass the second (programmer led) interview if the supplied questions were very comprehensive but you are taking a big risk there. In my opinion there is no real way around having someone qualified do an interview. The best hope is to limit the amount of hopeless candidates that person has to see.

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