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What questions can I ask a potential new team?

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Mid-Level Software Engineer [L4] at Target2 years ago

I'm looking into a team switch, and I was wondering what I could ask to figure out if the team works for me. My priority is to find a team with good growth opportunities, so I can make the jump to L5 (senior). I know in Taro that it's suggested that you talk to engineers, but talking to engineers has been tricky from my experience with Target's team-switching culture. Questions that I can ask to just the engineering manager would be great!

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  • 44
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    Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    2 years ago

    I'd ask a combination of questions around the new manager's background along with the prospects of what project you'll work on.

    The reason the manager is important is b/c the mid-level --> senior promo is typically done within the org (and certainly this is true for junior --> mid-level). That means a promotion doesn't need approvals all the way up to VP+ level, and as a result, your manager will have an outsized impact on getting promoted. Some questions to ask:

    • How long have you been a manager? How many perf cycles?
    • What are the common issues you've seen among mid-level to senior promo?
    • What have you found as the most effective way to grow someone in this org?

    I'd also ask questions about the projects you may work on. If the promo is imminent, you want to make sure you get a good project soon after joining:

    • What are the top priorities for the team? Who's working on them now?
    • What do you anticipate to be the main challenges for the prioritized projects in the coming half?
  • 42
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    2 years ago

    First, I highly recommend this Q&A from a mid-level engineer at Amazon with a very similar situation: "What questions can I ask to my to-be manager about the team I'll be joining?"

    On top of the questions I covered there, I recommend these 3:

    1. Can you give me some examples of other engineers who have grown on the team? - In particular, you want to see instances of this manager getting their reports to L5 and beyond. The best way to know if someone is capable of doing X is if they have already done X before!
    2. What does the collaboration model of this team look like? - When it comes to growth and promotion, I have found that a collaborative team is way better for that than a more "individualistic" team where everyone is a lone wolf that just sort of codes on their own. I'm huge on acting selflessly and helping others, so I would ask this in interviews word-for-word, "Back on my old team, I could go up to anybody, tap them on the shoulder, and they would drop what they were doing and immediately help me. Can I do that on your team?" If the answer was "No" or something more hesitant in general, I simply wouldn't go to that team. Of course, you will need to translate this question into a remote-work era, haha.
    3. Can you give an example of a bottoms-up project an engineer got onto the roadmap? - A bottoms-up environment is much better for growth than a top-down one as it means you aren't dependent on the manager/leadership in general to give you scope. Creating scope is one of the most powerful ways to become a senior engineer, so this question helps you understand if the team is a place that's supportive of your autonomy and ability to pursue your own ideas. For advice on how to create scope, check out this extremely detailed Q&A about it from an Apple engineer: "How do I come up with innovative, impactful ideas and bring them to my team?"

    Stepping outside of the bounds of the original question, you should get signal outside of the answers to these questions as well. Back at Meta, I would do a ton of research when I was considering a team, going through their launches in Workplace and reading through their code, both how they wrote and reviewed it. I imagine Target is more closed than Meta is, but I would try doing these if you can. The code and the culture around it are particularly important:

    • Does the team strive to write high-quality, scalable code?
    • Is code review feedback thorough and respectful?
    • Are pull requests well documented and tested?

    To learn more about what high-quality code looks like, check out our masterclass about it: [Masterclass] How To Do Amazing Code Review