Question: Tell me about a time where you were exposed to your customers or their feedback?

The candidate works for a direct competitor to Amazon.

There was some discussion about who the candidate’s customers were since he was working on projects exposed only to internal users.

The candidate gave a story about how the customers thought a new version of their software was to slow for their use-case and threatened to move to another internal product. To solve this, he implemented a quick bug fix and then later a long term solution.

Question: How do you prioritize what customers want vs what the business needs?

The candidate gave the same story as in Question 1, describing the tradeoff between doing it fast and doing it right. He quickly did the hotfix for the customer even at the cost of the codebase and then later did the long time solution to fix the codebase.

Analysis

Competency asserted: Customer Obsession
Job title: Software Development Engineer (SDE II)
Interviewer role: Software Development Manager, Software Development Engineer (SDE III)

Vote: 👎

The candidate demonstrated a tendency to blame customers for deficiencies in his software (for example: “users were writing SQL queries in a strange way” even though the queries were perfectly valid).

This shows a lack of customer obsession because he should have tried to understand the problem from the customer perspective instead of calling their view “weird” and incorrect.

The candidate struggled to provide examples of situations in which he actively advocated for improving the products he maintains on behalf of his customers. Often his first examples didn’t address the question and required multiple follow-ups to understand the connection.

Similarly, examples of making tradeoffs between customer vs. business needs were limited in depth.

Learnings

Respect your customers. Without customers, there is no business. Without business, well, you don’t get paid.

The candidate kept saying the users (customers) described their problems in weird ways. This seems problematic because he should be trying to understand his customer better from their perspective.

I have observed a common trait in many software engineers after more than a decade in Software Engineering. Software Engineers tend to blame customers for misusing their applications. Instead of saying, the customer did something “weird,” you could rephrase into: “We were not supporting/handling that customer usage.” Blaming rarely pays off.

Big tech companies are customer-centric. They understand the value of customers. They don’t want to hire people who don’t care about customers because those engineers may not build the right thing.

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