10 Software Engineer Interview Questions + Example Answers

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn some of the most common software engineer questions and how to answer them.

[Featured Image] A woman wearing glasses sits at a computer in an office.

You've submitted your resume to a software engineer position and have been invited to do an interview. It’s an exciting opportunity, but you know how competitive software engineering jobs can be, so you want to make sure that you stick the landing.

This article is for you. While software engineer interviews have many similarities with traditional interviews, there are also some key differences – like whiteboard and coding tests – that make interviews in this field unique. 

In this article, you’ll find common software engineer interview questions you may encounter during your interview and learn some strategies for answering them. At the end, you’ll explore courses that can help you improve your interviewing and job-relevant skills today. 

Whiteboard and coding interview questions 

As a software engineer, you’ll be tasked with solving a wide range of programming problems in a professional work environment. Many employers want to make sure that you have the technical skills needed to be a good fit for the position, so they use whiteboard and coding tests to see these skills in action.

Here’s what you can expect from each type of test. 

Whiteboard test 

As its name suggests, a whiteboard test is a test given to a job applicant during an interview in which they must demonstrate their technical skills by designing a solution to a software problem on a whiteboard or a piece of paper. Versions of the whiteboard test have been a part of software engineer interviews for decades and are often critical to demonstrating that you have the skills it takes to handle the job. 

During the test, you will be given a problem and then asked to solve it on a whiteboard as the interviewer (or interviewers) asks you questions about your problem-solving process. Rather than asking you to do something tricky, the test will simply ask you to solve a problem that requires you to use the exact skills you might use in your day-to-day job as a software engineer. This means that so long as you have the required skill set, you should be able to solve the problem. 

The exact problem you’re asked to solve will vary from one interview to another. Tests may ask you to do everything from designing algorithms that identify palindromes or draw circles to partaking in the Fizz Buzz challenge, which asks that participants create a program that can print the numbers 1 to 100 with all multiples of ‘3’ replaced with “fizz” and all multiples of ‘5’ replaced with “buzz.”

During the test, make sure to explain your methodology for solving the problem and succinctly answer any of the interviewer’s questions.

Coding test 

Coding tests, like whiteboard tests, ask that you solve a problem as part of the interview process. However, unlike whiteboard tests, coding tests are usually administered over the internet via a link that takes you to a platform to solve a coding problem within a set amount of time. This means that you will do the test independently rather than in front of an interviewer. 

Coding tests can take many forms, such as asking you to use a particular programming language or relying on a certain framework. While some employers may be simply interested in seeing that you solved the problem effectively, others might be more interested in the way that you solve it. In effect, it’s best to explain all your work on the test, so that the reviewer can get a sense of your thought process. 

To prepare for the coding exam, brush up on your programming and problem-solving skills in advance. 

Technical software engineer interview questions

Technical interview questions ask you to describe your technical skill set and to demonstrate your knowledge of technical concepts. These questions ask you to demonstrate that you thoroughly understand the concepts you’ll be using every day as a software engineer. 

1. What programming languages are you familiar with? 

This is a straightforward question that asks you to detail the programming languages that you know. Common programming languages include Python, C++, C#, Java, JavaScript, and HTML. 

You can prepare for this question in advance by looking at the position’s job requirements and identifying the programming languages they list. You may also find additional programming languages in the “preferred qualifications” section. 

If you don’t know one of the required programming languages, emphasize your competency in the other required languages that you do know instead and simply state that you’re confident you can learn other languages quickly. 

Read more: Most Popular Programming Languages in 2024

2. What is the software development process? 

The software development process, or software development life cycle, refers to the process used to create new software. Typically, the process includes six to seven steps: (1) brainstorming, (2) defining requirements, (3) prototyping, (4) coding, (5) testing and validation, (6) launching the product, and (7) ongoing product maintenance. 

While the precise formulation of the development process varies from one organization to another, these primary steps required to take a product from concept to commercialization are common among most employers. 

3. Describe the Agile methodology and its benefits. 

Agile methodology is a project management approach that uses incremental, iterative steps paired with continuous feedback to complete a project within a relatively short time period. Many software development teams use Agile because it allows them to complete projects more quickly than traditional project management processes, which usually progress very linearly and take a significant amount of time to finish. 

When answering this question, provide a clear description of the process and use examples to illustrate how you’ve used an Agile methodology in former positions or in school projects. 

4. What are the characteristics of these data structures?

This question asks you to describe the characteristics of different data structures, such as arrays, stacks, trees, and graphs. 

Hiring managers ask that you analyze data structure characteristics because they want to see that you have a firm grasp of the topic. As a result, when answering the question, identify all the unique characteristics within the data structure that make it unique. You can make your answer even stronger by noting how the data structure’s characteristics make it different or similar to other types of data. 

Read more: Understanding Different Types of Data

5. What are the differences between SQL and NoSQL databases?

If you’re working with data, then you’ll need to have a strong grasp of both Structured Query Language (SQL) and Non-Structured Query Language (NoSQL.) 

SQL is a query language that allows users to query and manipulate data within a relational database, which organizes data in columns and rows in a table. NoSQL, meanwhile, is a type of non-relational database that is capable of storing and managing large amounts of structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data

When answering this question, focus on distinguishing between the two databases using examples of the kinds of scenarios you might use each for. 

Read more: SQL vs. NoSQL: The Differences Explained + When to Use Each

General software engineering interview questions

General interview questions encompass both behavioral and situational questions that ask you to reflect on how you work, what you’ve accomplished in the past, and how you might face challenges in the future. Here are some questions you may encounter during your software engineer interview. 

1. Why do you want to work here? 

Hiring managers ask this question because they want to hear why you’re interested in working for the organization specifically, rather than just landing the job. To answer this question, do some research into the kind of projects the company works on, the opportunities they offer, and the company culture they embody. 

You can find this information on the company’s official website, through their social media channels, and even on websites like Glassdoor. Keep your answer positive and note some ways that you feel you’ll contribute to the company’s mission and culture. 

2. Describe a problem you’ve encountered in software development and how you solved it. 

This question is all about problem-solving. Interviewers love to ask questions like this because it gives them insight into the methodology you use to solve problems and the ways you may collaborate with your team. 

Questions like this are very common during job interviews, so it’s best to prepare a specific answer in advance. Focus on a concrete software challenge you’ve experienced in the past and describe your exact process for solving it, emphasizing the impact you had and its outcome. 

3. How do you handle conflicts or disagreements within a team?

Teamwork is critical to successful software development. As a result, many employers want to get a better idea of how you work with other team members during the development process, especially when difficult circumstances arise.

When answering this question, focus on the positive steps you’ve taken in the past to resolve disputes within teams. Your answer does not necessarily have to focus on your experience working in software development. For instance, you may discuss personal challenges you encountered in the past and then describe how you’ve brought the same attitude to your professional workplace. 

Read more: Important Teamwork Skills and How to Improve Yours

4. What would you do if you were assigned a project with a technology you're not familiar with?

Technology is constantly evolving. So, during your interview, the hiring manager might ask you what you do to learn technology that you’re unfamiliar with in order to get a better idea of how you meet this common demand when you’re under pressure. 

When answering this question, discuss the different ways that you learn about new technologies, such as by reading up about them in publications, taking continuing education courses, or reaching out to others in your network for support. Consider including an example of when you encountered precisely this scenario in the past and what you did to overcome it. 

5. How do you stay updated on the latest industry trends and technologies?

Much like the previous question, this one is asking you to explain what you do to stay up-to-date with industry knowledge. There are many ways you can keep yourself informed, but some common methods include reading trade publications, attending conferences, networking with other professionals, and continuing your education by obtaining or updating relevant certifications.

Get interview-ready on Coursera

A career as a software engineer can be as fulfilling as it is challenging. If you’re looking for an entry-level software engineer role or a new position, consider honing your job-relevant skills by taking a cost-effective course or Professional Certificate on Coursera. 

In the University of Maryland’s Advanced Interviewing Techniques course, you’ll learn detailed strategies for handling tough competency-based, or behavioral, interviews so that you can communicate the knowledge, skills, and abilities that you have and that employers demand.

In IBM DevOps and Software Engineering Professional Certificate, meanwhile, you’ll gain hands-on experience and build a strong foundation for your future career by learning about Python language, REST APIs, and microservices, as well as automation tools and Agile and Scrum methodologies.

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.