Interviewing Engineers as a Startup Founder

It does not have to be a painful experience

Ali Kamalizade
5 min readJan 18, 2024
Photo by Rodeo Project Management Software on Unsplash

Many developers do not like interviews. And I can understand that. Plenty of interviews suck and it is often the fault of the interviewer. That is on top of interviews being a stressful activity, similar to exams in school when you feel like you are backed into a corner if you do not have the right answer.

The first few minutes often decide whether it makes sense to continue talking or whether to call it quits. I remember interviews in the past where I walked out knowing that I don’t wanna work there even if they want me. Or they don’t even want me in the first place despite me making my best impression. The interviewer might think similarly as they may receive a lot of applicants.

Sure, there are only few things I like more than coding and designing solutions that work well for users. It can be quite fulfilling to see appreciation for the work. Anyone reading my past blog posts should be able to guess that I have not worked in software engineering solely to pay my bills but because of my passion for this field.

Here’s the kicker: despite my love for the creative parts of my job, I like interviewing candidates: whether it is a first intro call to get to know someone that is interested in joining Sunhat or a coding challenge where I get to see how someone works in a real-life scenario. A key criteria for a successful interview in my eyes is when I leave the meeting, feeling like we have had a dialogue instead of a monologue.

Using a sports analogy I recently heard in an OMR podcast: any sports league would become boring if there was one undefeatable team and all other teams just lose all the time. But if there is competition and effort put in by all teams, you have to either step up to stay at the top or you step aside and someone will push through to the top.

So is interviewing: both the interviewer and the interviewee should do the best they can with their abilities and knowledge they have. I as the interviewer want the best people to work together with me, you as the interviewee probably want to work with smart and kind people on something meaningful that is also fun to work on. Sounds to me like these should go hand in hand.

Making interviews easier

For all these reasons I am sometimes disappointed to see little effort in preparation for interviews. As the interviewer, I want to give an accurate picture of what we do and why we are awesome (subjective but I hope you agree). As the interviewee, you want me to understand why you would be a good fit in our team.

Speaking for myself I am a person who can easily be satisfied by doing the little things right. Well, what could those little things be? There is no definite answer I can give as I would likely miss something. On the opposite side of things, there are plenty of little things that can quickly have a negative influence on the first impression. Some examples:

  • Typos and grammatical errors. Those can happen, especially as a non-native speaker (I myself do a lot of typos but I fix them quickly before most people have even read my messages). It just does not look good: after all, writing is an essential part of our job. Spell checkers and AI tools are an easy fix.
  • Copy pasta (this is an intentional typo). you do not need an AI to get a feeling if a text is a generic output written by an AI. If you are gonna use these tools you should at least level up your prompt game :)
  • Speaking in the third person. I am not sure who came up with the idea that this is good way to talk about yourself in the third person. Yo, you are probably not famous enough yet to have your own Wikipedia page and you likely do not have a dedicated social media manager person managing your LinkedIn account for you. Keep it short, simple and concise (hell, make it memorable!).
  • Not talking specifically about the role or the company. Don’t get what we are doing? That’s alright but there must be a reason why you’d rather work with us than somewhere else, right? A little bit of research can help tremendously. And if you don’t find anything you particularly like then you can at least have some tough questions ready to ask the interviewer.
  • Buzzword bingo. There are ATS resume scanners out there and I know that companies are using them. We do not. Most companies should not need to do either if you ask me. Too many times I have seen people flex with Kubernetes+Terraform+React+Kotlin+Rust+whatever in their skill set. Once you take away these tools or frameworks: what is left in your skill set? Can you still implement a basic program using .map() and .filter() in a language like JavaScript? If you can’t do that then this might not be the place you are looking for.

These things should not prevent you from applying to any job. Looking closely, you may notice that it can be pretty easy to not fall for these gotchas. By doing the opposite thing you can surely show the side you want me to see. If you have a good honest feeling about your application: by all means, please apply to that job despite any doubts you may have when reading the job description! Not everything mentioned in a job description is equally important. Worked in journalism and marketing before recently pivoting to software engineer? Then you are probably good in communicating ideas. Got an industrial engineer background? Cool, you may be used to approach problems with an analytical mindset. More of an introvert? Thorough preparation helps a lot to deal with nervousness.

If you’ve made it this far: thank you for reading my thoughts. Maybe this can be helpful to you, whether you are the interviewer or the one looking for a new job. Surely, this is an opinion and opinions vary. Another company in a different country in a different stage might value other things.

You can follow me and Sunhat’s journey. See ya!



Ali Kamalizade

Co-founder of Sunhat. Posts about software engineering, startups and anything else. 有難うございます。🚀