How Stack Overflow hires engineers

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At Stack Overflow, one of our main missions is to close the gap between companies and developers during the hiring process. Though you may know us primarily as a Q&A site for developers, we are also a talent platform, and are in a unique position to connect developers with companies and jobs that they are best suited for. Here is our take on hiring great developers, especially for those that are finding themselves with a new influx in qualified applications during the changed situation.

What makes Stack Overflow unique?

More than anything else, we know developers. As one of the most ubiquitous developer-centric sites with one of the largest user bases, we know developer culture. Thanks to the data from our Annual Developer Survey we know what developers want from an employer and what technologies are trending. We also know the hiring market and have seen many of our Talent clients find success in addressing developers with content and information that speaks to them.

While the current pandemic has slowed hiring, even in technology, it hasn’t stopped. Companies large and small—including Stack Overflow—have been forced to furlough or even lay off workers in order to place themselves in the best position during uncertainty. Suddenly, there’s a whole new influx of candidates, so competitive openings may be flooded with applications, requiring more thought about how you refine your choices.

As an employer ourselves, we at Stack Overflow have always had strong brand recognition amongst developers, and so we’ve seen more applicants than our company size might suggest. In this post, we’ll explore the learnings from our Talent platform and also shed some light on our own hiring practices.

Our approach to recruiting:

  • Transparency: Our process is designed to be transparent. We believe that both developers and hiring managers can benefit from more transparency: developers can learn what to expect in similar processes, and hiring managers can pick up useful information and ideas.
  • Full team involvement: We also have the benefit of being a relatively small company, with a team of around 300 people distributed around the world. This smaller size allows us to include team members at all levels in the hiring process, which we manage by conducting interviews remotely, and using Greenhouse to track candidates.
  • Brand identity: Because we are well known among developers, our brand identity is pretty strong, which attracts many inbound candidates. However, we also believe that active sourcing is incredibly important when it comes to creating a diverse, specialized pool of candidates. If your employer brand amongst developers isn’t as strong, it makes sense to target passive and active jobseekers more directly. Make sure you focus on what makes your company a great place to work. For instance, consider these results from our survey, where we asked developers about the most important things that factored into choosing a company and a potential position there.

As you can see, factors like working with a preferred language or technology, opportunities for a flexible schedule, remote work, and company culture are all important to developers. One of our goals is to help companies consider what they are doing, or could be doing, to focus on these factors and make themselves stand out in the crowd.

  • Having a clear idea of who we’re looking for: At Stack Overflow, we focus on a specific set of criteria when looking for developers. We look for developers who are passionate and excited about their work and the field, who like to take deep dives into new technologies, who learn quickly and solve complex problems efficiently, and who - put simply - get things done. Our hiring process looks specifically for those qualities in a candidate, both in terms of past projects and proven track records, and in terms of how they present themselves and their work.

At this point, you may be wondering, “Okay, so we know what informs your approach. But what exactly does the Stack Overflow hiring process look like?” Here’s a breakdown of our hiring process. Note: since 80% of our engineering team has been remote even before covid, this process including interviews, is done remotely.

  1. Resume review: Our first step in the hiring process is a review of inbound applications. Because of our brand recognition, we get a lot of inbound applications from a wide range of candidates. We specifically review and screen inbound resumes for our target qualities (as mentioned above, experience, technical depth, passion, and the ability to get things done).
  2. Initial screen: For all candidates, we conduct an initial phone screen to check and expand on how the candidate emulates our target qualities, and to set expectations about the rest of the interview process.
  3. Code screen: All candidates are then given a 30 minute code screen with an engineer on our team. Every engineer on our team conducts these code screens. They basically establish whether or not the candidate can actually code. If there is any doubt on the part of the interviewer, the candidate is turned down.
  4. Full interviews: If candidates pass the initial screen and the code screen, they move on to three full interviews.
  • Algorithm interview: This interview is focused on a candidate’s technical depth.
  • Architecture interview: This interview is focused on a candidate’s ability to build something end-to-end.
  • PM interview: This interview is focused on PM and developer relationships.
  1. Manager interview: At this stage of the process, candidates are invited in for a manager interview. Before this interview, we determine a team match for the candidate. During the interview, we sell the candidate on the company, on their intended team within the company, and on the position. There may be a second code interview at this point, but only if it is deemed necessary to test for specific skills. If the VP or CTO have any outstanding concerns after this interview, the candidate may be invited back for a follow up interview.

Since COVID we have moved from a 40% to a 100% remote company, but we've always been focused on delivering a great remote experience for candidates. We believe in hiring smart people and empowering them to get the job done. Regardless of where they are located.

If you came across this looking for a job at Stack Overflow, you can find open positions here. Want to see what jobs are out there from other companies? Check out Stack Overflow Jobs - a job board for developers, by developers.

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