12 questions to ask when hiring a web developer
written by craig, 24 February 2007
Hiring a good web developer is not easy. Many people consider themselves experts after fiddling with FrontPage for 5 minutes. Then there are developers who don’t know their own limitations but attempt your website anyway.
The following questions can be used as the basis for an initial interview. A knowledgeable web developer will be able to answer most questions or at least tell you how they would find the answers.
1. Show me your portfolio
If nothing else, get their portfolio. A good developer will have a set of completed websites and can explain their role on each project, the features they like, and the problems that occurred. Above all, they should be passionate.
2. What does <insert acronym> stand for?
Decent web developers have to use acronyms every day. If they struggle with something basic like HTML (HyperText Markup Language) or CSS (Cascading Stylesheets), then it’s not worth asking further questions.
3. Which web browser do you use?
The ideal answer should be “as many as I can”, although they may real off a list.
You can follow this with “what’s your default browser”? If they answer “Internet Explorer” then they better have a good reason! Whilst IE is the predominant browser on the web, it offers very few tools for web developers. By comparison, Firefox makes it easy to examine and debug code using tools such as the DOM inspector, Firebug, Web Developer Toolbar, HTML Validator, Console2 and more.
4. Can you code HTML by hand?
Every professional web developer should be able to do this. It’s especially important for semantics and implementing progressive enhancement techniques.
Personally, I find hand-coding significantly quicker than using a WYSIWYG tool. The code is leaner and easier to modify than the tag soup produced by most visual editors.
5. How do you layout your pages?
If there’s any hint that they use tables, then don’t waste any more time! Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is the best answer, or at least they should say “it depends on the content and the design”.
6. What are web standards?
These are web building recommendations published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). A decent developer should be able to explain that they use them and what the technical and business advantages are.
7. What is meant by semantic HTML?
HTML should be used to describe the structure of a document – not its layout. At a basic level, this means using the right tag for the content, e.g. if it’s the main heading, it should be enclosed within an <h1>.
Semantic HTML is important: it optimises your code for search engines, it ensures the content works in older browsers, and it helps screen readers.
8. What are microformats?
Microformats apply minor syntactical changes to a web page so information can be read by machines as well as humans. In essence, an application can find a microformat within a web page and translate it accordingly. The most widespread example is hCard – if your address is published on a web page, it can be converted to a new contact in your PIM.
9. To what level will you support W3C Web Accessibility Guidelines?
Few web developers know about accessibility. If they are aware of the guidelines, they will either answer Priority 1, 2 or 3, or A, double-A or triple-A. Bonus points should be awarded if they mention the UK Disability Discrimination Act Part III, US Section 508, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
10. What aspect of web development do you find most difficult?
If they don’t have an answer or find everything easy, then they have not discovered the difficulties of web development! A good answer would be “cross-browser compatibility”.
11. When should you use the <noscript> tag?
This is a tricky one! Reasonable developers will know, or guess, that it contains content which is only shown when the user does not have scripting enabled.
However, there’s a good argument to say that you should never use it. A good developer who knows about progressive enhancement can make most systems work whether scripting is enabled or not.
12. What websites do you like and visit the most?
Most developers should be able to name half a dozen technology web sites and blogs that they use on a daily basis.
So you now have a group of candidates who have answered your questions adequately … or did they just happen to find this article?! Always follow up the interview with a written test to assess their abilities before you sign them up.