The interview question that shook me

I was recently applying for developer jobs and doing the interview rounds. During the final interview round with one of the companies, a non-technical “executive interview”, the guy (who probably had the final say in whether they hire me or not) asked me a simple question that threw me off guard and sparked a momentary existential crisis.

“So what do you do in your free time?”, he asked.

“I take online courses, do small passion projects, and sometimes freelance.”, I answered truthfully. Also I thought that is a good answer he’d be looking for.

“No, no, I mean what do you do for fun? What other activities other than coding do you do? Do you have any hobbies or play any sport?” I think I detected some concern in his voice.

I struggled to answer. I haven’t had a hiccup like this in any of my interviews before, technical or behavioral. That’s when it hit me: I have no life outside of pursuit of being a good developer. I need to avoid getting totally consumed by my passion for software development. I was in loss for words and managed to say that I like taking my dogs on walks and working out occasionally, and he said something about him liking to work out too and how important it is to keep in shape.

He was probably trying to build some rapport with an otherwise a machine-like candidate who seemed too focused on the craft. I think it’s easier to hire a good candidate if you both share an opinion or a habit. At the end of the day you can be the best expert in your field of knowledge, but if you have no life outside your work it will be hard for you succeed in the social aspect of working, especially as a software engineer who deals with clients on many occasions.

I now chat up my friends more, and got back to playing the piano. If technology disappears and we go back to the dark ages, I want to have other sources of fun!

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This is a good reminder that companies are looking for several qualities in an employee. Yes, you should have the technical skills to do the job, but you also need to have people skills and be a good fit for their company culture. Think about the type of people you want to work closely with. That’s what they are looking for too.

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