As a software engineer, you’ll go through multiple rounds of interviews that each test a different part of your skill set. There will be hands-on tests, technical interview questions, and general interview questions. With a strong knowledge of coding and software engineering concepts, you’ll be able to successfully answer software engineer interview questions. Here are some of the top software engineer interview questions for entry-level roles and how to answer them.
Coding Software Engineer Interview Questions
One of the most important hard skills in software engineering is coding, which is why initial software engineer interview questions focus on your coding skills. Hiring managers will ask you to show off your coding skills in a live interview, called a whiteboard test, or in a timed, take-home coding test.
A whiteboard test, as the name suggests, are interview questions you do on a whiteboard — virtual or physical — so the interviewer can see how you solve a problem in real time. While you may feel pressure to get everything right on the first try, the most important part is showing how you approach the problem. It’s OK if your strategy doesn’t work out at first.
To approach whiteboard problems, try using the UMPIRE interview strategy:
U: Understand the problem
M: Match the problem with the interviewer
P: Plan your approach and solution
I: Implement your solution
R: Review your solution
E: Evaluate your solution
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This approach structures your thought process and demonstrates your problem-solving skills to your interviewer.
How can you know what problems to expect in a whiteboard interview? LeetCode has hundreds of practice coding problems that can help build your skills and emulate what your potential whiteboard questions will be like.
When practicing these questions before an interview, it’s crucial to walk through how you’re thinking about the problem and working on the solution — and practice what you’ll say as you complete the task, too.
Unlike whiteboarding, you’ll do these problems independently. You typically have a few hours to complete the test and generally one to three problems to complete.
The hiring team will usually give you a link to a common code editor, like Codility or HackerRank.
“These may be based on a specific framework or language,” Arun Godwin Patel, director of Halo Technology Lab, CTO and co-founder of Audico, and Forage program consultant, says. “Other times, they won’t fuss about the language but they’ll be more interested in how you solve the problem. It is always a good idea to know in advance what languages and frameworks the job you’re interviewing for uses and to brush up your skills on these before the interview.”
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Technical Software Engineer Interview Questions
After you’ve demonstrated your coding skills, you may be asked technical software engineering interview questions.
“For the fundamentals, you might be asked to define and explain various software engineering concepts, revolving around things like object-oriented programming, data structures, or language-specific concepts,” Becca Miller, freelance software and game developer and Forage program consultant, says.
What programming languages do you use?
What software development tools do you use?
Be honest about what software development tools you do and don’t know. Some common software development tools include:
- Integrated development environments (IDEs): Visual Studio Code, IntelliJ IDEA, PyCharm
- Version control systems: GitHub, GitLab, Beanstalk
- Package managers: Pip, Maven, Homebrew, Npm, Gradle
- Debugging tools: Chrome DevTools, Xcode Instruments, Visual Studio Debugger
- Testing frameworks: Selenium, Cypress, Playwright
Be sure to look in the job description to see what the company is looking for, and share which of those tools you do know. It’s totally OK if you don’t know a ton of tools, or even all of the tools in the job description. While hiring managers want you to have basic technical knowledge, they don’t expect you to be an expert when you’re a junior software engineer.
Describe the software development process.
Software development is a lifecycle that breaks up the development into smaller parts, including:
- Requirements: Determining the client’s expectations, needs, and requirements. The team strategizes, plans their work, and allocates resources.
- Design: Designing the software’s algorithm design and high-level architecture design to map out how the software will work.
- Development/Building: The actual coding that makes the software.
- Testing: Testing the software to ensure it works as intended.
- Deployment: Installing the software and making it available to the client and users.
- Maintenance: Regularly updating and debugging the software to ensure it continues running as intended.
What different software development life cycle (SDLC) models are available?
Like there are different leadership styles, there are different approaches to the SDLC. SDLC models include:
- Continuous integration
- Incremental development
- Rapid application development
What is agile software development?
A majority of software developers — 86%, to be exact — use agile methodology. Agile software development, also known as agile, is an incremental, collaborative approach. Agile is a method focused on continuously delivering work rather than waiting to deliver one big product. Because of how this process works, teams can improve the software as it’s developed, making it a more efficient delivery process.
Even if you don’t have experience in this work environment, hiring managers may expect you to understand agile methodology and workflow — as it’s a vital part of many current software engineers’ roles.
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What is DevOps?
DevOps (a combination of development and operations) is another approach to software development as well as a workplace practice. Like agile, this methodology prioritizes continuously delivering and iterating software. However, DevOps expands on this process into a workplace philosophy. Companies that use DevOps are highly collaborative and everyone involved in the process takes ownership for the outcome of the software.
Explain the difference between verification and validation.
Both verification and validation are about ensuring your software does what it needs to do, but they focus on different aspects of the software. Verification ensures a function of the software works correctly; validation ensures the entire software works as the client wants it to.
Explain the difference between computer programs and computer software.
A computer program is written code that performs a specific task to achieve a particular result. Computer software is a collection of programs, instructions, and documentation.
What is debugging?
Debugging is the process of finding bugs (problems or errors) in your software. If a user or another team member reports the bug, you should first reproduce the issue to understand when and where it’s happening. Once you’ve figured out where in the code the bug is coming from, you can fix it — and test it again to ensure your fix didn’t lead to further bugs.
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What is software re-engineering?
Software re-engineering is a process used to update software, where engineers may add new features or functionality or amend or alter the software to improve it.
What is software scope?
Software scope is the project’s boundaries, meaning everything software will be able to do (and limitations on what it won’t be able to do). Software scope can help determine the needed resources, budget, and development timeline.
What is SRS?
SRS stands for software requirements specification. An SRS is a full description of software, from what it’s supposed to do, to what you’re going to build, to who’s going to build it, to what resources you’ll need, to when you expect the software to be developed.
Companies use an SRS to help save time and money when it comes to software development. By requiring software engineers to write out all the details of the software first, they can foresee any issues they need to address, get the team aligned on a clear plan, and ensure what they’ll build is what their client or company is looking for.
What are CASE tools?
CASE tools are computer-aided software engineering tools. They make the software development lifecycle more efficient by storing information and providing helpful tools to make a software engineer’s life easier. Examples of CASE tools include analysis tools — that can identify errors or inconsistencies in diagrams, reports, or forms — and coding generators that can help autogenerate code.
How would you explain API to a non-technical person?
API stands for application programming interface. It acts as a messenger that allows two programs to talk to each other. For example, if you’re looking to go on a vacation, you might try to use a site that lists all available and cheapest flights on the days you want to travel. An API connects that site to airline flight information so you can quickly and easily get an aggregate list without combing through all the airline flight information.
When explaining a technical term to a non-technical person, explain any field-specific jargon you use. Adding an example of how the technical process, term, or system applies to something they may already be familiar with can be helpful, too.
General Software Engineer Interview Questions
After questioning your coding skills and knowledge of technical software engineering principles, a hiring team member may ask general, more standard interview questions. These software engineering interview questions may involve your practical experience, projects you’ve worked on, and your work style.
Why do you want to go into software engineering?
Talk about what interests you in the field! For example, why are you passionate about software engineering — is it because of a project you’ve worked on, technology that fascinated you, or because you love problem-solving? Try to keep your answer personal rather than generic, and pull in any relevant experience or learnings that have motivated your search for a job in software engineering.
Talk about a project you completed successfully.
Interviewers ask this question to understand your workflow and what you’ve worked on before. You probably won’t need to focus on the technical details here. Instead, summarize the project’s purpose, how you approached it — including who you worked with, how you managed time, etc. — and what the outcome was.
Tell me about a time you overcame a problem in your software development.
This question helps the interviewer understand how you approach roadblocks in the development process. Show off your problem-solving skills by explaining your challenge, the steps you took to address it, and what you learned. For example, did you call on others for help? Did you test and test again until you found the solution? Be specific about your actions and how they helped achieve the right outcome.
How do you keep your skills sharp and up to date?
Mention any personal or open-source projects you’re working on, courses you’re taking, or other upskilling work you’re doing to keep your skills sharp. Especially in the software engineering field, hiring managers are looking for people who are continuously learning to keep up with new methodologies, applications, and changes in technology. Even senior software engineers upskill to keep up with adapting technology!
What are you working on right now?
Like the last question, you’ll want to answer this one with any projects you’re working on, including personal and open-source projects as well as any academic work you’ve been doing. In this answer, you can focus more on how you’re contributing to the project and the project outcome.
>>MORE: Learn how to talk about your impact on a project in an interview by using the STAR method.
Why do you want to work at this company?
Show off the research you’ve done on this company when they ask you this question. What about their mission and values aligns with what you’re passionate about? What projects or products are they working on that strike your curiosity? Be specific about what uniquely makes you interested in this company. Explain how your background and values can help contribute to the company’s work and company culture.
Software Engineering Interview Question Tips
As you’re expected to show off both technical and soft skills, software engineering interview questions can be daunting — but it’s possible to crush the interview process when you’re prepared for what’s coming.
- Practice your coding skills. Coding is a highly valuable and integral part of software engineering, especially for entry-level roles. Use practice problems to help refresh and strengthen your skills, and get comfortable explaining your problem-solving process.
- Know your technical terms. Some interviewers will ask technical questions to see how familiar you are with software engineering concepts. You’re not expected to know everything. However, it’s crucial to understand the software development lifecycle, including how to ensure quality software development. Knowing how to explain technical concepts in simple terms is also a plus. It shows your soft skills in communicating with non-technical coworkers and stakeholders.
- Show why you’re uniquely interested in the role. There’s a lot of opportunity in software engineering, so you should show the hiring team why you’re specifically interested in their company. Do your research and talk about how their mission and work align with your values and goals.
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