Code Review Interviews for Engineering Managers

Code review interviews are becoming a standard part of the interview process for software engineering managers. This article explains what to expect during a code review interview, how to successfully answer these questions, and how to conduct and evaluate and code review.

I have been part of a team that piloted code review interviews at my workplace several years ago. Over time, code review interviews have become a standard part of the interview process. I have also trained other engineering leaders on conducting and evaluating code review interviews. Code review interviews help companies hire great software engineering managers by hiring individuals who are both skilled in core technical abilities and coaching. They also do not over-index on hiring individuals who are actively coding in their current roles.

In a code review interview, you will be asked to review a change request (e.g., PR) from one of your team members. Your team member will have addressed a specific problem with this change, and you will be asked to review it as you would normally do in your daily work routine. The interviewer will evaluate your problem-solving skills, ability to understand the problem, ability to resolve basic and complex issues with the solution, and coaching skills.

What is a Code Review Interview and when is it useful?

A code review interview is a type of job interview in which the candidate is asked to review a piece of code and discuss any potential improvements or changes that could be made. This type of interview is useful for evaluating a candidate’s knowledge of coding best practices, their ability to think critically about code, and their ability to communicate their thoughts and ideas effectively. Code review interviews are often used when hiring engineering managers for software development teams.

A code review interview is useful as an alternative to a coding interview when the interviewee may have a technical background but may not have been actively writing code for a while. Most engineering managers would fall into this category. A code review interview allows the interviewer to quickly move into the core problem by providing most of the scaffolding. It also creates an opportunity to observe how the interviewee will use the code review as an opportunity to coach their team.

What happens in a code review interview?

During a code review interview, the interviewer will typically present the candidate with a piece of code and ask them to review it and discuss any potential improvements or changes that could be made. The candidate may be asked to identify any bugs or potential issues with the code, suggest ways to make the code more efficient or readable, and explain their thought process and reasoning behind their recommendations. The interviewer may also ask the candidate to make changes to the code directly, either by writing new code or by modifying the existing code. The goal of the code review interview is to assess the candidate’s ability to think critically about code and evaluate their knowledge of coding best practices.

What are the key tasks to accomplish and the end goal in a code review interview?

The key tasks to accomplish in a code review interview are to thoroughly review the code, identify any potential issues or areas for improvement, and discuss your thoughts and recommendations with the interviewer. The end goal is to review and identify issues in the code, address those issues, and end up with production-ready code. Along the way, provide coaching to the person who wrote the code by providing meaningful feedback.

How does an interviewer evaluate a code review interview?

An interviewer will typically evaluate a code review interview based on several factors, including the candidate’s ability to identify potential issues or areas for improvement in the code, their ability to make recommendations for improving the code, and their ability to explain their thought process and reasoning behind their recommendations. The interviewer will also consider the candidate’s knowledge of coding best practices and their ability to write clean, efficient, and readable code. In addition, the interviewer will evaluate the candidate’s communication skills and ability to work well with others. Overall, the interviewer’s goal is to determine whether the candidate has the necessary skills and qualifications to be successful in the role.

In this case, the primary points of evaluation (or necessary skills) would be:

  • Being able to understand a deep technical code base
  • Ability to show technical judgment, and make sound technical decisions
  • Possessing core technical skills even if those might be a bit rusty
  • Being able to coach junior members of the team to produce better technical outcomes.

How to conduct a code review interview?

To perform a code review interview, the interviewer should first provide the candidate with a piece of code to review. The code should be representative of the type of work the candidate would be doing in the role, and it should include a mix of simple and complex elements. The interviewer should then ask the candidate to review the code and discuss any potential issues or areas for improvement. This can be done through a combination of open-ended questions and specific prompts, such as asking the candidate to identify any bugs in the code or suggesting ways to make the code more efficient. The interviewer should also encourage the candidate to ask questions and clarify any points of confusion. As the candidate discusses their thoughts and recommendations, the interviewer should listen carefully and take notes to help them evaluate the candidate’s performance.

Bonus: Critical feedback on this blog post

I usually use writing assistant tools (e.g. Grammarly, and Word’s Editor feature) to improve my personal writing. Unfortunately, I do not always get the benefit of receiving critical peer feedback. This time, I was able to ask an AI-based tool for critical feedback and it shared the following:

The blog post provides a good overview of what a code review interview is and how it can be useful for evaluating a candidate’s technical skills and ability to think critically about code. However, the writing is somewhat repetitive and could be made more concise. Additionally, the post could be more engaging and interesting if it included concrete examples and anecdotes to illustrate key points. For example, the post could describe a specific code review interview experience and how the candidate performed, or it could provide tips and strategies for successfully answering code review interview questions. Overall, the post provides useful information, but it could be improved by making the writing more concise and engaging.

This is great feedback. Next time, I would improve by adding concrete examples and reducing repetition.