linkedin Skip to Main Content
Just announced: CoderPad Play! Engage your team with fun technical challenges.
Back to blog

How To Use CoderPad To Interview Software Architects

Engineering Management , Interviewing

Software architects are the masterminds behind the design and structure of software systems, ensuring that projects are scalable, maintainable, and aligned with business goals.

Unlike more hands-on engineering and development roles, assessing architect skills in an interview relies much less on watching them code and more on their ability to drive software design principles and influence the organization-wide direction of software architecture. 

While they’re generally pulled from the ranks of experienced senior developers, the ideal candidate must possess a blend of technical expertise, strategic thinking, and strong communication skills that go beyond managing a single application.

This can make hiring one a challenge, as passing them a coding test or asking them to solve a typical sorting algorithm won’t give you any indication of their actual skills in designing scalable and maintainable systems.

In this guide, we’ll explore how you can use CoderPad Interview to help you identify the best architects for your team using what matters most: their skills.

What makes a good architect?

Before we discuss how to interview architects, it helps to know what you’re looking for!

While they may share many common traits, what makes a good software architect differs from what makes a good software developer because architects generally work at a higher level of abstraction and across multiple teams within an organization.

Here are a few key traits you’ll want to look out for when interviewing architect candidates.

System design fundamentals

This one might be obvious – it’s why you need an architect to begin with!

System design and design patterns are central to a software architect’s role. These skills are crucial because they impact software systems’ scalability, maintainability, and success. Here’s a quick look at these design skills and their importance:

1. Scalability: Designing systems to handle increasing loads efficiently ensures that the system can grow with the business without significant rework.

2. Maintainability: Modular architectures and clear interfaces make systems easier to update or extend, reducing technical debt and facilitating long-term development.

3. Performance: Ensuring the system meets performance requirements involves making informed decisions about data storage, caching, and load balancing.

4. Reliability and availability: Designing for redundancy, fault tolerance, and failover mechanisms is crucial for mission-critical systems to avoid downtime.

5. Security: Proper authentication, authorization, and encryption mechanisms protect sensitive data and ensure attack resilience.

6. Design patterns: Proficiency in design patterns like Singleton, Factory, and Observer helps create robust and flexible architectures. Knowing when and how to apply these patterns is essential in designing high-quality software systems.

These skills ensure that software systems not only meet current requirements but are also adaptable to future needs, driving business success and growth.

Ability to understand tradeoffs

It’s one thing to know how to design systems. It’s a very different – and more complex – skill to do it with the many constraints that are involved in business decisions.

System design is all about tradeoffs, like:

  • Build vs. buy: Which components are worth building in-house, and which ones should you buy? How much customization do you actually need, or can existing products solve those needs?
  • Consistency, availability, or partition tolerance: Per the famous CAP theorem, “any disturbed data store can only provide two of the three guarantees.” Architects should be able to reason which one they’re willing to sacrifice and why.
  • Caching vs fetching from a database: Which transactions can and should be captured in a database, and which can be cached for quicker access by the user?
  • Asynchronous vs synchronous processes: Slow processing can kill the user experience, but having everything done synchronously can quickly consume computing resources. Knowing which components can do which type of processing is an essential skill for architects. 

Any high-level decision-maker must also make more fundamental tradeoffs, specifically between cost, time, and scope. 

An architect should have at least a basic understanding of budgeting and project management. While everyone likes to see their company adopt cutting-edge technology, it may not be the most appropriate design consideration given the cost or time it would take to implement.

Ability to drive architectural change 

A big part of an architect’s job is driving and leading architectural change across large teams. The role requires a unique blend of technical expertise, leadership skills, and strategic vision. 

Understanding how a candidate approaches this aspect of the job can provide significant insights into their suitability for the role. Below are some key points to consider when interviewing software architects about their experience and approach to leading architectural change.

Vision and strategy

A successful software architect must have a clear vision of the architecture’s future and a strategy for achieving it. 

Ask candidates to describe a time when they had to implement a significant architectural change. How did they develop their vision? What factors did they consider in their strategy?  How did they drive this strategy across the organization they were a part of? This will help you gauge their ability to think strategically and plan for long-term success.

Communication and collaboration

Leading architecture change involves effective communication and collaboration across various teams. 

Probe into their communication skills by asking how they convey complex architectural concepts to technical and non-technical stakeholders alike. How do they ensure that everyone, from developers to business leaders, understands the vision and their role in achieving it? 

Change management

Implementing architectural changes often involves navigating resistance and managing change effectively. 

Inquire about their experience with change management. How do they handle pushback from team members or other stakeholders? What strategies do they use to encourage the adoption of new architectures? 

Understanding their approach to managing change can reveal their resilience and ability to drive projects forward despite obstacles.

Technical leadership

Architects must not only lead in strategy and communication but also provide technical leadership. 

Ask about their hands-on involvement in coding and reviewing code. How do they stay current with emerging technologies and trends? What methods do they use to ensure the technical quality and integrity of the architecture? 

Their answers can shed light on their technical depth and continuous learning mindset.

By focusing on these areas, you can gain a comprehensive understanding of a candidate’s ability to drive and lead architecture change across large teams, ensuring you select an architect who can effectively guide your organization through complex technical transformations.

CoderPad features for architect interviews

Now that you have a solid understanding of what you’re looking for in a software architect, how exactly do you evaluate those skills?

While many of them, like leadership and how they develop vision and strategy, will depend on more soft-skill style interview questions, you can easily view more complex skill sets like system design and evaluation using a platform like CoderPad.

Drawing mode

With drawing mode, you can watch a candidate design a system based on your specifications or set up a system design for them before the interview and have them critique it. As they walk through the system set-up or critique, you can have them discuss their thought process, including some of the abovementioned tradeoffs. 

Drawing mode can be accessed inside any live-interview pad. To open it, click the Drawing button in the top left nav menu.

The draw button is highlighted in the left tab menu and the draw window is open in the center of the screen.

Both you and the candidate have access to open/close drawing mode at any time during the interview. 

Each participant controls their environment, meaning when an interviewer opens drawing mode, it will not open for the candidate. If you decide to close drawing mode, the contents of all participants will still be accessible upon re-opening.

That way, you can add details to the diagram during the interview to create opportunities for follow-up questions or to facilitate discussion on more complex system design concepts.

A common use case of drawing mode when interviewing candidates for architectural roles is the following : 

  • Upload an existing architectural diagram to drawing mode.
  • Set context on the architecture with the candidate.
  • Describe a problem set for which you want to test the candidates’ skills – scalability, redundancy, etc.
  • Ask them to make changes to your existing architecture in drawing mode to solve this problem set.

For more details on how to use drawing mode in your architect interview, check out our documentation.

Multifile projects and frameworks

To examine an architect’s ability to facilitate the implementation of their vision, you can have them create their ideal application design or critique an existing one. 

CoderPad Interview offers a multifile IDE in several languages and frameworks that replicate the primary working environments of the developers with whom the architect will work.

A common use case of multifile projects and frameworks to assess architectural skills is the following : 

  • Drag and drop an existing project used internally – this ensures that the candidate is solving a real-world problem you are facing today within your business.
  • Pose a set of questions around the design of the software.  These can include :
    • What critiques would you have for how this software is designed?
    • What design patterns would you use to improve this project?  How would their application improve this project?
    • What stands out as far as the scalability of this application is concerned?  How would you approach changing the design to address these concerns?

From there, you can use the environment to test a candidate’s knowledge of design patterns using pseudo-code or actual code, discuss potential performance and scalability issues, or any other technical skill you may want in your architect.

Check out the documentation here to learn more about setting up and using a multifile environment.

Additional helpful features

Interview review

There are four features you can use to make the most of your post-interview evaluation:

  • After the interview, you can access any diagrams the candidate created for review. 
  • During the interview, you’ll also be able to take private interviewer notes—visible only to you—that you can reference once the interview is over to assist you in evaluating the candidate.
  • As long as the candidate opts in, you’ll have access to a time-stamped interview transcript.
  • If any typing or coding was done in the IDE during the interview, you’ll have access to that in the interview playback that is available once you end the interview. 

Audio/visual capabilities

Are you hiring for a remote role or for a candidate who is currently out of the area? CoderPad has full audio and video capabilities to assist with this. This includes the ability to turn on closed-captioning for interviewers or candidates who may be hearing impaired. 

Conclusion

Interviewing software architects requires a thoughtful approach that goes beyond simple coding tests. Understanding their ability to design scalable, maintainable systems, make informed tradeoffs, and lead architectural changes is crucial. CoderPad Interview can streamline this process by providing tools that allow candidates to demonstrate their skills in real-time.

From utilizing the drawing mode to assess system design capabilities to leveraging the multifile projects feature to dive into architectural implementations, CoderPad offers a comprehensive platform for evaluating the diverse skill set required of a software architect. Additionally, post-interview features, such as interview review and audio/visual capabilities, ensure you can make well-informed hiring decisions, even for remote candidates.

By focusing on what truly matters – strategic vision, technical expertise, communication skills, and leadership – you can identify the best software architects who will drive your projects to success. CoderPad Interview empowers you to see beyond the code and into the architectural mindset, making your hiring process more efficient and effective.