Being able to explain a technical topic effectively to a variety of audiences is key to collaboration and cross-functionality, says Jacob Kaplan-Moss, in a recent blog post exploring commonly asked interview questions.
Kaplan-Moss, co-creator of Django and Principal Engineer at Hangar, says that asking software engineers to “explain a topic at multiple levels” is one of his favorite interview tactics and that “strong performance on this question correlates very highly with high job performance.”
“Engineers on my teams need to be able to communicate effectively with their colleagues, who will have a wide range of software experience,” says Kaplan-Moss. “An engineer who can’t talk about their work with others on the team isn’t a good team member and isn’t someone I want to hire. This question simulates something that happens on these cross-functional teams: the need to explain technical topics and tailor the explanation for the audience’s skill level.”
Although evaluating a candidate’s answer is relatively straightforward, Kaplan-Moss warns that the process also carries a high risk that unconscious bias will color your perception. Keeping the following points in mind can help control for such bias:
- Be careful about making judgement based on accent.
- Be wary of judgement based on communication behavior that may be triggered by nerves.
- Remember that, with this question, you’re primarily evaluating communication skills, rather than technical knowledge.