The Worst Interview Question

Posted June 24, 2012

“What programming languages do you know?”

Asking that is the equivalent of saying “I don’t understand programming.” Every great programmer I’ve ever met wasn’t great because they had a large stable of programming languages that they’re proficient with. They were great because they know how to pick up new languages and technologies quickly. When you’re interviewing you should check for general programming aptitude and flexibility.

In the hands of someone who knows a thing or two this question can reveal how much variation the person has been exposed to. Variation of languages and technology in a given timeframe can give some indication of flexibility and learning ability. More often than not this question is asked by someone who doesn’t get this. They’re looking for you to check off the items on the list their company uses.

Even if the interviewer knows what they’re asking, the interviewee has that stigma associated with the question. They expect the interviewer will only accept the list of technologies that company uses, so they lie and get caught in the lie. It’s a complete crapshoot of whether you lie and get asked a language question you can’t answer, or tell the truth and the interviewer doesn’t understand that JSON isn’t that complicated, you just haven’t seen it yet.

It’s so bad that I’m tempted to look up the most common technologies and shove them into this site just so I can claim proficiency. Or I could keep trying to argue that if you’ve successfully written programs in C++, C#, Lua, and Haskell, then you’ve basically covered the spectrum. If you’ve written your own language, that works decently, then you win programming… congratulations.