A software engineer is a skilled computer science professional, responsible for the design, build and maintenance of digital software. That software may fall under the category of a business-critical solution, like operating systems and networks, or it may be for customer use, like the software behind a mobile banking application for example.
Whatever the core function of their role, software engineers make up a growing percentage of the workforce. Our increasing reliance on technology – for both business and lifestyle purposes – means that organisations must invest in innovation, and software engineers are the ones that turn innovative ideas into reality.
As an employer, the challenge is knowing what a potential hire brings to the table, particularly if you’re not of a technical background yourself. Whilst academic qualifications in the field are becoming more common, many software engineers are self-taught, so it’s difficult to compare candidates objectively.
One solution is pre-employment testing. This article will tell you what to look for in a software engineer, and the tests you can use to measure the key skills and abilities required.
What should a software engineer be able to do?
Software engineers solve problems from the ground up. They make use of the right platforms and architectures and manipulate programming languages, to design and deploy digital solutions fit for purpose.
As well as initial design, software engineers also test, evaluate and improve systems and programmes: either those of their own design, or those built by fellow engineers.
On a day-to-day basis, a software engineer may be focused on:
- Interpreting a brief to understand project needs
- Communicating with key stakeholders, be they clients, internal teams or other development professionals
- Designing creative solutions to deliver on objectives
- Writing and testing quality code
- Troubleshooting and debugging
- Evaluating system performance and exploring ideas for optimisation
The specifics of their role will be determined by their status as either a systems engineer or an application engineer – but in both cases, a diverse skill set is required.
Software engineers need the technical knowledge to deliver working solutions and the soft skills that make them effective members of an organisation’s workforce.
Skills to look for in a software engineer
When constructing the profile of an ideal candidate, you’ll need to keep in mind the specific tools they’ll be working with, and whether or not you require existing experience with these.
For example, if you’re running cloud-based solutions in GCP, you may want to test for Google Cloud Platform skills. If your existing tech team has a preference for a particular framework, like Angular or Django, you may want to measure a candidate’s skills here too.
There are certain skills that apply in all circumstances though, and you must have criteria should include:
- Strong communication: a software engineer must be able to understand and deliver complex ideas and information. They must have the written and verbal skills that allow them to communicate effectively on both a technical and non-technical level.
- Problem-solving: from designing original solutions to fixing technical issues, problem-solving is at the heart of a software engineer's role, and they should be highly skilled in this area.
- Analytical thinking: this core skill goes hand in hand with problem-solving and is what gives a software engineer the ability to find the most effective solution when multiple solutions exist.
- Attention to detail: a software engineer can often sift through lines of code for hours on end, and must be able to maintain their focus to pick up on anything amiss.
Useful Abilities For A Software Engineer
Your ideal candidate profile should also focus on certain abilities that make an individual impactful in their workplace.
These differ depending on the role in question, and for a software engineer include:
- Creativity and originality: these are the abilities that fuel innovation, and the best software engineers are those that can approach a problem from a unique perspective.
- Time management ability: successful candidates should be able to manage their workload effectively, planning to meet deadlines and often juggling multiple projects at once.
- Logical reasoning: the ability to draw logical conclusions from new information and to link together seemingly unrelated processes is what makes software engineers so good at what they do.
- Selective attention: this is an ability that many lack but should prove second nature to a software engineer. They should be able to maintain focus on a specific task and not be distracted by external forces.
- Adaptability: the demands of a project can change at any given time, so candidates need the ability to adapt - be that adapting their work schedule or their approach.
Which soft skills tests could I use to hire a software engineer?
With your ideal candidate profile mapped out, you can move on to selecting the most appropriate tests to include in the selection process.
For soft skills, i.e. those skills relating to how well an employee applies their technical skills, you may choose to use the following:
Time management tests: will show you if a candidate is able to meet the demands of the role when it comes to their work schedule and organisation.
Teamwork tests: provide insight into how well an individual is likely to integrate into the team environment, and their ability to build and maintain effective working relationships.
Accountability tests: a software engineer must have conviction in their ideas, and take ownership when things don’t work as intended. An accountability test is useful for measuring these attributes.
Which Technical Or Aptitude Tests Could I Use To Hire A Software Engineer?
To measure technical proficiency, you should look to source programming tests that assess an applicant’s command of the programming languages and frameworks relevant to the role, as well as any software-specific tests.
Alongside these, you may want to consider the following aptitude tests:
Verbal reasoning tests: these are a measure of both language comprehension and critical thinking skills, ensuring an applicant can communicate effectively, as well as form sound conclusions from written information.
Numerical reasoning tests: similar to verbal reasoning tests, these are an assessment of critical thinking skills and a candidate's aptitude for interpreting information, though this time presented as data.
Logical reasoning tests: here you’re looking at non-verbal reasoning skills, asking candidates to identify rules and relationships in visual patterns.
Error checking tests: these are a measure of that critical eye for detail, and as they are timed assessments, they show you how well each applicant maintains focus under pressure.
Our recommended test battery for a software engineer
Our recommended test battery when recruiting for a software engineer is:
Verbal reasoning: to test for important communication skills and core logic.
Error checking: for assessing concentration, attention to detail and accuracy.
Teamwork: to be sure the candidate will work effectively with others.
Programming language tests: use the appropriate tests here to measure proficiency in one or more programming languages.
For more information on hiring software engineers, check out Picked’s software engineer test page.