10 Programming Interview Red Flags

Last Updated: 30 September 2023

Several years ago, I was thrilled to be interviewing for a front-end software development position at a company what was a super short walk from my home. Especially, since I had been doing a 50 minute commute.

But that is where the goodness ended. At first I was flattered that the Team Lead was very interested in my skillset. But it soon got a little awkward. Some companies try to sell you on working for them, I get that.


This guy was over the top in his efforts to convince me to work for them. Kinda reminded me of a dog begging for scraps or that guy who bends over backwards for a girl and is oblivious to the fact she will never say yes.

If a software company seems desperate to hire you, there’s a good chance it’s not a good place to work.

At least this team lead didn’t hold back. He threw out red flags like candy at a parade. If you encounter bad company vibes during the interview, don’t ignore them.

When he showed me the web application they were working on, it was in shambles. They didn’t have front-end experience and they were quickly closing in on a deadline they weren’t going to make.

Poor management leads to chaotic and stressful work environments. Not worth it. One of the worse things you can do is inherit someones failure right before crunch time.

The backend dev who had been doing some of the front-end work had quit and there was a fair amount of turnover. The lead trash talked the devs who left for not being committed.

He was looking for someone who was committed. Someone who would take ownership in the application and was willing to do whatever it takes to make it succeed. Even work overtime if needed.

Companies that really emphasize a do anything level of commitment tend to use and abuse their employees. Even if they don’t say it, high turnover is often an indication that employees aren’t happy.

These guys seemed desperate with some strong family owned mom and pop shop vibes.

Mom and pop shops usually can’t afford to pay you what you are worth, try to nickel and dime things and won’t be great for career growth. The exception is if you are self-taught and trying to get your foot in the door for your first job. In that situation it can be helpful just don’t stay for more than a year or two.

Now, he really wanted me, but there was a catch. It would be a contract position working part time for a month and a half. He was sure they would get more funds at that time and I would go full-time but no promises.

So basically part time pay but wanting someone to work overtime without any long term commitment.

This suggests one of two things. Either they are highly likely to go broke and you could be looking for another job soon, or they are trying to bait you into short term work and really don’t plan to hire you.

Any company that thinks it’s reasonable for you to give up full time employment for something with no reciprocal commitment is not worth it.

Also, if they are vague or hesitant when you ask about a 40 hour work week or work life balance, then they don’t have a good work life balance.

He asked about my pay expectations. I threw out a reasonable salary. He looked like he about lost his lunch in his pants.

He lectured me on how unreasonable my price was. He was the lead and didn’t make how much I asked.

He told me that they pay 50-70k for software engineers with over 10 years experience. He thought 45k was more appropriate for my experience level.

Here’s the thing. I was already making significantly more than that at the time and it was full-time work. I also knew what offers some friends had recently received. I told him he should ask for a raise.

At a place like that you have no future. If you ever get a raise, it will be bad. Places like this also tend to resort to toxic behavior to try to guilt you into staying.

This guy was trying to sell me a turd in a punch bowl. Fortunately for me, he forgot to fill it with punch, making it easy to see what was really going on.

A couple of years later, I had a really good interview at another company. I was prepared to accept an offer until I met the CEO. Some places have you meet with someone in upper management for the final stamp of approval.

The CEO was nice, but he started asking about my hobbies and how much time I spend on them each night.

Uh. That’s none of your freakin business dude.

He told me he wanted to make sure I was available in case things go wrong at work.

What?! How often do things go wrong?

I am ok with the rare late nights to fix a problem. But some companies have the attitude that they own you. They don’t respect your personal boundaries.

The offer was competitive, but I turned it down. He called me around 10pm at night to find out why and try to convince me to accept the offer.

Another example of not respecting boundaries and I didn’t even work for them. Someone like that will have no problems expecting you to hop, skip and jump for them at any time for anything big or small.

One hiring manager, liked to tear down and dish harsh criticisms to job candidates to “see how they react”. He was also very condescending to anyone who doesn’t have a computer science, math or physics degree.

I was young and it was an opportunity to break into an enterprise level company so I took the job. Fortunately, I didn’t have to interact with him much. During one of his interviews he was so mean that one gal left the interview crying.

If people are mean spirited during an interview, then it can be a sign of a toxic company or team culture. Don’t expect it to change once you get there. Toxic work environments aren’t worth the toll on your emotions and well being. Imposter syndrome is worse at these places.

Life is too short to waste on bad software companies. If you see any of these red flags during your programming interview, you should move on.