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What we’re looking for in a developer

I joined Xero four and a bit years ago when we were considerably smaller than we are now. Since then I’ve seen a lot of things grow, change and adapt but there’s one thing we’ve always prided ourselves on: Not lowering the quality of the people we bring on board to help the Xero boat go faster. We’re committed to maintaining a highly talented team.

When I was hired a lot of the interview focused on gut feel and referral by other people. This meant there was a level of trust (I got put forward through a good friend of mine and I’ll always be grateful for that). But as we’ve grown we’ve honed the interview process, such as putting certain questions or themes to candidates before meeting or considering them for an interview.

I’ve been one of the main people interviewing candidates for developer roles here for a couple of years, so I’ve seen quite a few people come through the process but I’m still sent curve balls every so often in terms of what candidates do or don’t know. So I thought it’d be interesting to outline what we ‘expect’ from candidates.

  1. Know who we are:  We used to forgive people not really knowing who or what Xero was but not now. You’d have to really impress if you can’t quickly tell us that we’re developers of an online accounting system or a personal financial management system or something along those lines. At least know that the Xero colour is blue!
  2. Know what the internet is, and how it works. We’re a web company, we don’t make desktop software. We expect a developer to be able to tell us how the web works. What happens when I type in a URL and hit enter? Can you explain the processes that happens behind the scenes?
  3. Languages != Frameworks ie, javascript != jquery, understand the difference.
  4. Don’t mention something if you can’t explain it, how it works, why it might be good, why it might be bad.
  5. Admit what you don’t know. We hire people for passion and fit and aptitude. Specific skills we need, we can teach.  For instance we’ve hired people who have no .NET experience before working at Xero and they’re some of the best developers in the crew.
  6. Have a reason to want to work at Xero. We want you to be motivated and sometimes you have to do that yourself – at least make us believe we’re not just on your of list of places hiring.
  7. Often you’ll be asked to describe a project you’ve worked on. Take the opportunity to really focus on what you did. This is a great way of telling your story. Also have a list of things you’d do differently if you were to do it again.
  8. Don’t tell us you’re a guru/expert in anything unless you can back yourself up. We’ll call you on it.
  9. Come along to places where you’ll meet us. This helps us get to know you before an interview and makes it easier for everyone involved. We’re easy to find at .NET user groups, design meetups, WDCNZ, TechEd. Come say hi!
  10. If you know someone who works here, ask them to put you forward. Referrals mean a lot.

You might also like to check out our development manager’s thoughts on interviews which he wrote while at Intergen but these still hold true.

The above won’t guarantee you’ll ace an interview. We still have to gauge team fit and various other intangibles that we don’t know till we see them. Oh and don’t worry about nerves, we see through these generally.

I can promise you the pay-off is amazing. There’s not many companies around like Xero: innovative, design oriented, fun, it’s got it all.

Think you’ve got what it takes? Let us test your interview skills:


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