“How Familiar Are You With THIS Programming Language?”

OK, so this question comes up a lot. Apparently one of the most often asked questions at a tech interview.

The problem? The premise of the question is fundamentally flawed.

It doesn’t matter how familiar or ‘good’ you are with a programming language.

I’m going to let you into a not-so-secret secret. The programming language for your next job in one, two, five years time hasn’t been invented yet. Or if it has, it’s being widely mocked or under utilised.

Why do tech hiring managers still look for experience with a specific programming language? Based on the theory that you’ll hit the ground running and it’ll lead to rainbows and butterflies. This is probably one of many reasons why new hires often don’t work out.

Good programmers are good programmers.

Ever ask at interview how the Mancunian person is going to adapt to working in your shop in Yorkshire? No, because that would be silly. Same goes for this favourite tech question.

Good programmers will pick up a new language in no time and fly along. That’s the best test of someone’s skill. Hire someone with experience of a specific language? It may work out for you. But it may have taken that person the past 10 years to hit their current form and it may also be their peak.

Within three months, you’ve got a good gauge on the skill of a programmer new to a language. Everyone else, it’s neither as easy nor as effective to work out their true skill because you don’t know nearly enough about their background to get there.

Tech companies that want good programmers need to stop asking this question!

It literally gives you nothing of value beyond a potentially limited short term gain of they will ‘hit the ground running’. But compare the good programmer with zero language experience and the programmer experienced in your language choice six months later and one will have flown right past the other – and it’s not the one that hiring managers usually think of.

From experience, the reason junior hires often have a much higher success rate is we don’t expect the experience we seek with more experienced roles and manage to avoid this terrible tech interview question.

Ever wondered why tech start-ups seem to come out of nowhere and fly past the big boys? Because they’re stacked with junior developers with the raw skills to thrive in software development.

So, there’s no value in experience?

Absolutely there is value in experience. However, the process used to assess experienced candidates is fundamentally and fatally flawed. Hiring managers, give something a go. Interview for your experienced positions in the same way you interview for your junior ones. Sure, relevant experience is great but focus on the raw qualities and skills that you do in junior interviews:

  1. Problem solver
  2. Team player
  3. Passion for tech and the industry
  4. Collaboration over unnecessary struggling
  5. Finding over knowing.

Start doing this and your bosses are going to look on at you like you’ve hit the jackpot!

Any more tips? Throw them in the comments below.

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