Developer interviews are different than most other places, because not only do you worry about the people you work with, benefits, job description, etc., you also have EXTRA to worry about after getting the job. Writing two application with exact requirements can be vastly different if you're working in a loud vs quiet environment, using VS2003/.NET 2.0 vs VS210/.NET 4.0., using SVN vs VSS.

Is it ok to give the potential employer the straight-up Joel Test? I try to ask as many questions to get the type of environment I will be working in, which is extremely important from my perspective, but what's the best way to cut to the chase and just ask the tough questions (like they ask you during the same interview).

NOTE: By the "Joel Test" I mean a specific list of things that are deal breakers that are important to you (not necessarily Joel), but you may not have time to get out using the traditional casual "conversational" way of asking them, so you decide to either email or schedule another meeting, or ask other people, etc.

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    "Is it bad humour to ask at [Fog Creek] how they score on the Joel Test?"
    – mlvljr
    Nov 9, 2010 at 7:42

5 Answers 5


A job interview goes both ways -- a company is interviewing you and you are interviewing the company. I wouldn't come out literally with a "what's your Joel Test score?", but I would ask the individual questions that were particular deal-breakers for me in a work environment.

It doesn't need a huge build-up. A good time to ask these questions as at the technical part of the interview process, when they say "do you have any questions for us?". You can lead in with something along the lines of "can you describe a typical day on the job here?" and go from there.

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    Absolutely. I wouldn't take job where they find questions like this insulting. I respect an interviewer as much as I except him/her to respect me. If they don't, then there's a ton of jobs for programmers out there. I guess we are somewhat lucky. Sep 27, 2010 at 13:50
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    I've been asking "What do you use for source code control?" for most of the past decade when job-searching. Sep 27, 2010 at 14:06
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    In addition here's a list of other questions you can ask them: programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/1319/… Sep 27, 2010 at 14:21
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    +1. While I don't like the Joel Test very much, it's a good base to build the Ryan Hayes test. Yes, you have your own expectation, and like Anna said, interview is a two way process. Asking question will also show you are actually interested in the company.
    – user2567
    Sep 27, 2010 at 14:40
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    +1 for "a job interview goes both ways." Don't cower before an interviewer and beg for a job - offer your services. Even at the best, most professional organizations in the world, you should be confident that you can bring something new and good to the table, and that confidence is indicated by you asking critical questions of your potential future employer.
    – nlawalker
    Oct 27, 2010 at 21:35

Is the Joel Test your device to gauge how good a potential employer is?

I went for a job interview and the office was open plan thus noisy, had lots of disparate systems, a bug backlog, they didn't use many commercial tools, there were no testers, we wrote no code during the interview and no hallway usability.

..but you could take your dog to the office, you got one day a week to work on your own projects, there was 24x7 food with awesome Sushi, chill-out areas, a slide to get down stairs, free coke/coffee/OJ, and they make some of the most amazing software on earth.

It scored low on the Joel test, as far as I could see, but would you turn down working for this employer# based on this?

If it's noisy - you can put headphones on. If there's no testing, champion unit and/or automated testing. If there's no nightly builds, write a cron job or get CI installed somewhere.

By all means, use the Joel test as a guide to what questions you might want to ask, but there are lots of other metrics, some which may matter more to you than others.

(No prizes for guessing who the employer was!)

  • My question is less about the content of the test and more about how to get the answers in the best and most efficient way possible, especially in an interview where you're shorter on time. I was using the Joel test as an example list of requirements. Good answer, though.
    – Ryan Hayes
    Sep 27, 2010 at 18:31
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    Google doesn't have testers? Is that really true? Sep 27, 2010 at 20:25
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    @Tim: Google does have testers (although they emphasize automated testing). See, e.g., googletesting.blogspot.com/2010/03/google-is-hiring-sets.html. Sep 27, 2010 at 21:29
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    You are very likely going to write code during an interview with Google, at least for a technical position.
    – Remy Blank
    Jun 7, 2011 at 21:47
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    @JBRWilkinson: Yes, I have, and had plenty of code to write on a whiteboard. But maybe it's only for software engineering positions.
    – Remy Blank
    Jun 17, 2011 at 21:13

I've never worked at a place that scored higher than a 4 on the Joel test. When I go, I have a small packet I bring with me which includes another copy of my resume (I've come across recruiters putting my name on top of someone else's resume) as well as a bunch of questions, some of which were the joel test shuffled around. No one ever mentioned that they recognized the questions.

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    Wow, that's ridiculous that they'd rewrite your resume. I guess that's a good reason to bring your own.
    – Ryan Hayes
    Oct 28, 2010 at 0:45
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    @Ryan: Many recruiters will take your resume and replace the contact information with theirs. This prevents the company from approaching you without the recruiter knowing. If you interview enough, you will find some recruiter pasted someone else's resume when they intended to paste yours, and that leads to an extremely tense situation when they ask you about something you never did. Sometimes, recruiters will add features to your resume because they want the commission and hope that you'll get the job anyway. There are enough bad apples out there that you'll take precautions.
    – Tangurena
    Oct 28, 2010 at 4:02
  • Interesting. Dec 1, 2010 at 18:59
  • That is the most amazing thing I've ever heard. I always bring a copy of my resume and transcript anyway, but I never thought I would have to deal with something like that!
    – riwalk
    Dec 8, 2010 at 21:43
  • It's very common for recruiters to reformat your resume with their letterhead, and sometimes edit a bit, but putting your name on someone else's resume is clearly unethical and makes you look like a jerk by association.
    – Ken Liu
    Sep 14, 2011 at 0:30

The Joel Test inspired me to ask questions 'like that'. What version control, bug tracking, testing, ...

I usually ask a ton of questions at the end of (or during) the interview. If anything, it shows you're interested in best practices/quality assurance/.... If they don't do those things already, maybe they will be interested in you implementing eg: unit testing.

Best case scenario: they haven't thought about those things already, but they're amazed at what you can improve in their development process.

Worst case scenario: they dislike the fact you're asking so many questions, thus have no interest in improving their process, in which case you probably don't want to work there.

PS: just make sure you know what you're talking about, not just mindlessly walking over some list.


I have 3 questions about the development environment for which a negative answer to any one is a show stopper.

What version control software do you use?

What issue/bug tracker do you use?

Does your development process resemble Scrum?

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