Part 2 of How to Interview Games Developers
In the second part, I pick up from last time with a look at:
- Finding Passion – what is your candidate really excited about? Is it a good fit for your game.
- Do They Get Things Done? – what have they actually shipped?
- Step-by-step Interview Plan
- Making The Decision
Thinking in 3 Dimensions
Being able to compute and visualize in 3D is an aptitude not everyone possesses. It’s another one of those things that really differentiate the smart candidates from the also-rans.
So, ask questions on 3D math. As a couple even if you’re coding a 2D mobile game.
You need to find a candidate who shows enthusiasm – not just for games, or even just for games development, but for developing your style of video game. If you’re hiring for a couch co-op platformer, it’s no use talking to an FPS junkie who thinks Super Mario is lame.
You’ll know a candidate is passionate about something when they forget for a moment where they are. They’ll talk quickly and move their hands about.
- Ask them what they really liked about the last game they worked on.
- Ask what kinds of games they like to play. What is their favorite game of all time?
- Bad candidates don’t care and will not get enthusiastic during the interview.
It’s super important they find your kind of game exciting.
But Do They Get Things Done?
What Have They Actually Shipped?
This is hard to identify in the context of an interview alone. Most people can pull out all the stops to appear dynamic and engaged for the duration.
So, you can only really tell if they get things done by looking at what they have done in the past.
- Ask them to name all the games they have worked on. Then, ask them which games actually shipped.
- Were they still on the team when the game shipped? If not, why not?
- Ask directly about a time when they took charge of a situation to achieve a particular result. What hurdles were there? How did they overcome them?
- Check out mobygames.com to see if they’re listed. Most game developers that receive a credit should be listed in this online database.
Are They Active In the Gamedev Community?
Another good indication is that they’re active attend community meet-ups, or that they are writing and publishing material.
I live in Austin, Texas, where there are great local events such as Juegos Rancheros., but even if there’s nothing in your area there are national events such as GDC and PAX. Attending those underline their passion and it shows they’re actually doing something about it.
- Do they attend local events?
- Have they ever attended PAX, GDC or AGC?
- Have they had anything published on games development?
- If they have a blog, how regularly do they update it? When was the last time it was updated?
Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents a Poor Performance
Before the Interview
Before meeting any candidate, a phone interview establishes they are qualified for the job in general terms.
- Are they local, or prepared to relocate? (May not be critical if you work remotely.)
- Is the money right?
Ask them for a number on their salary expectations, rather than whether your offering meets their expectations.
- Why are they currently looking? Are they currently still working somewhere else, or between jobs?
- What specifically attracted them to your job advert?
You’ll be surprised how many candidates can’t remember your advert at all. While this shouldn’t automatically disqualify them, it’s better if they can show enthusiasm for something specific you are offering.
Keep this brief. You need to eliminate time wasters but you actually want to come into the in-person interview with as little information about the candidate as possible.
It’s hard enough to form a valid judgement on whether the person is smart – if you already know they have a nobel prize in coding, you’re going to find it hard to judge them on the merits they bring to the table on the day.
Putting It All Together: The Interview Plan
Here’s a good plan when you interview games developers:
Put them at ease and outline the general process for the interview.
Tell them you’ll go over the some questions and emphasize the importance of giving honest answers. Say you’ll describe your company and give them time to ask questions later. Do this so they don’t just feed back to you what they think you want to hear.
- Recent projects they completed
Get them talking. Look for passion specifically.
- Easy coding questions
As described in part 1. If they can’t field these questions adequately, politely tell them a bit about your business and bring the meeting to a close.
- Game-engine-specifc questions & Harder coding questions
For the reasons given in part 1, on longer-term engagements I wouldn’t automatically rule out anyone that doesn’t know your chosen game engine or platform, but if they have claimed knowledge you do want to test whether it’s true.
- About your company
Give them an outline of the company – how many people work there, what type of games you make and the basic process you follow.
- Do you have any questions?
You’re looking here for questions about the type of work you do, the methodologies or coding standards, say, and the kinds of games you make.
If they ask questions about the overtime rate or the number of vacation days, that’s fine too but watch out for candidates who are only focused on the material benefits. You really want to see a passion in them for the work itself, rather than its material rewards.
Always ask open-ended questions and take time to listen. Apart from the section at the end where you describe the company, it’s important to help them to do most of the talking.
When they run out of steam, ask about what they just said: “Tell me more about XYZ.”, or “Why did you decide to implement it using ABC?”
At the end of the interview, take time to thank them for their time. Be sure to follow up with all candidates, regardless of whether they got the job.
The point of the interview is to decide:
- Or No Hire
Be like Yoda: there is no Maybe.
If you have any doubt at all, it’s a definite No Hire. Don’t hire people because you really need help and they’re the best you’ve seen today. Wait for the right person.
Depending on your team size, have at least 4 people interview each candidate, including at least 2 who would work alongside them. If any 1 person decides No Hire, then it’s a No Hire.
Rejecting a good candidate is a lot less damaging than hiring a bad candidate.If you miss out on someone good, well that is a shame but there will be other good candidates for you. If they’re good, there will be plenty of other opportunities for them.
If you’re anything at all like me, it’s hard to let people go, once you have hired them. You’ll make excuses why you should give them a bit more time. Firing people is bad for you, it’s bad for them and it’s bad for the whole team. It’s better not to hire them in the first place.
The perfect time to make a decision is within 5 minutes of the end of the interview. Have each of your interviewers write their decision down on a piece of paper immediately following the interview, followed by one or two paragraph justification. This reduces the chance that any discussion after will cloud their own opinion.
Make the decision quickly. Get back to the interviewee with your decision as soon as you can.
If it’s a No Hire, highlight a few things they did really well and give them pointers about what they could do to improve their chances in future interviews.